We were back on the road, headed east through Arkansas, south of Memphis, and down toward Mississippi. We spent the night at a mammoth RV park that was emptying out after a two-day swap meet that had been held on the grounds. We steered Winnie Cooper (our 29 foot Winnebago RV) into our spot and set up. We waved at some neighbors who were next door in patio chairs, sitting in the gentle glow of a bug zapper. Outside the tiny trailer were two parents and three school age kids. Dad was spooning out a casserole of some kind while Mom fed a newborn. The kids squabbled and Dad had some sharp words.
Some RV parks are like resorts. They have swimming pools, jaunty workers who buzz around in white golf carts, and the grounds are immaculate, cleaned by unseen hands in the overnight hours. You can pay more than $50 a night, and you park alongside rigs that sometimes costs up to a half million dollars. Other parks are full of broken down trailers and motorhomes, some 30 years old, many clearly not going anywhere ever again.
Most parks, like this one, are in between. Rent is cheap in these places, sometimes as low as $10 a night, or $150 a month. When people’s options narrow, RV parks and campgrounds – always with bathrooms, showers, and coin laundries – become homes. Folks struggling to put food on the table for their kids share spaces next to rich retirees who might be towing a stainless steel barbecue the cost and size of a small car.
State or national parks offer the fewest amenities – but the best views. You’re lucky if you can get a water line; it’s very rare to have power. High-end campgrounds allow you to plug in not just water and electric, but sewer lines, cable TV, and telephone service.
The typical RV Park is more “RV” and less “park” than we first thought. Some larger parks have 500-1000 spaces. There may be trees dotted through these places, but for the most part they’re parking lots with water and electric stands popping up every few feet. The showers, bathrooms, and laundries are usually in good shape, clean, located well. But it’s not very verdant.
Once we’re parked, though, we’re home. There’s a soft fabric cover that we connect to snaps that separates the cab of our rig from the back, and once that’s in place we don’t even think about Winnie Cooper as a moving vehicle. We cook. We fire the computer up and tell folks where we are. We take a stroll through the park. We peer in at folks playing bingo in a small hall. We might take a shower, do some laundry, and then catch “Sex and the City” reruns before going to sleep.
When we got up this morning I opened the blinds to the family next door. They were eating cereal out of plastic bowls and the oldest two kids were putting on shoes and socks. Dad was buttoning up a blue work shirt that had “Carl” stitched above the pocket. On the furthest reaches of the park I could see a small yellow school bus weaving through the disappearing rows of RVs. It kept rolling until our neighbors flagged it down. The bus driver talked to the Dad for a bit while the two oldest kids filled a plastic bread bag with unwrapped sandwiches, an orange, and a banana.