Submitted by Charlie on Sat 24 Sep 2016 - 07:36

Modern Camping

"How many of you drove your house to school today? . . . Well, I did. No, I'm not Superman. I just own an RV." - Milhouse's Grandfather


Last night I pitched my tent at a big campground here in the lovely Amish-Mennonite country of north central Indiana, although the term "campground" might require a little explanation. A huge multi-acre complex, there are 136 individual sites listed on the map they gave me when I checked in. Of those, fourteen are for tents, i.e. the more traditional definition of "camping". The other 90% of the sites, comprising all but a tiny back corner of the campground, are for RVs and big trucks pulling bigger trailers.

This is camping with all the comforts of home and then some: beds, kitchens, satellite television, comfy chairs in which to watch said television, and serious air conditioners. There was a sign posted in the bathroom warning people that - no matter how high the temperature - to please refrain from using more than two (2) full air conditioner units per RV/trailer. (Somewhere, Carbon Footprint Jesus weeps.) And while I am the only occupant of what is quaintly termed "Tent Lane", the rest of the park is mostly full, a sprawling, if temporary, rural downtown.

After I got my tent up and took a shower, I moseyed down to the "Community Fire Pit" to eat my gas station dinner of cookies, trail mix, and chocolate milk. Sitting there, happily chatting away while a couple of logs burned, were five people, two married couples and a man whose wife had apparently already retired for the evening. The youngest of them looked to be in her mid-sixties, and the oldest couple were easily in their 80s. Grandchildren were mentioned, and they were not tykes, but rather people in their 20s.

They were friendly and polite (the harshest word used was "butt"), and we swapped tales of life on the road, me discussing rush hour traffic in Grand Rapids, they the time they accidentally went down a road that was marked "Not recommended for RVs" on the map. It was fun. I have little to no conception of retiree life, much less retiree life when six months of the year is spent driving around North America (one couple had taken their RV all the way to Alaska). There are unfortunate breakdowns, broken windshields, and nightmarish encounters with customs at the US-Canadian border where an entire RV can get unpacked by some young pups showing off their authority.

In the back of my mind, however, I couldn't help but silently contemplate this vagabond armada of old people, traversing the country in vehicles that get single digits to the gallon before pulling into a "campground" like this one to hook up to a 50amp electrical box and blast the twin air conditioners needed to keep something that poorly insulated from becoming a sweatbox. Careless doesn't even begin to describe that lifestyle, especially given temperatures in the 80s this late into September. 

And yet, I can't get mad at them, or even their deeply irresponsible choices. They certainly seemed like honest people, and they worked for decades, saving pennies along the way, to enjoy what the industries that advertise to them euphemistically refer to as "sunset" or "golden" years. The only thing these people are guilty of is failing to realize something that billions of dollars per year are spent to prevent them from realizing, namely that their home away from home is going to make their adult grandchildren's retirement considerably less pleasant. They are in effect, if not intention, stealing from their progeny.

But to tell them that they cannot have this life that they labored for and enjoy is its own kind of theft. (It would also spoil the amiable mood around the campfire.) The couple who'd been to Alaska have been coming to this campground for thirty years, that's more time than its been since James Hansen's famous testimony before Congress in 1988. They're never going to get talked out of it, and there's no point trying.