Greetings from Old People Camp

A trip to campers’ paradise

March 29, 2013 

Campgrounds and RV parks are the topic of discussion today, so if you are a “room service only” person, you might want to skip this one. Or then again, you can keep reading and chortle over the fact that you’re not me, and consequently too cheap to stay in hotels.

You may be saying to yourself, “Not another column about her cross-country trip with Mick!” But for God’s sake, we were gone for two months, living in 180 square feet ... together. Believe me when I say I have reams of material!

At the six-week mark, we’d been on the road so long I knew I had been remiss in my duties as hostess and director of the South County Chapter of Old People Camp. Realistically, I’m sure my campmates were thrilled that I’d been out of the state, but I liked to hold onto the assumption that they’d missed my pedantic ministrations. I’m not sure how they managed to keep actively engaged in meaningful pursuits with no one to boss them around.

However, I’m pleased to report that during 10,000 miles of travel I was able to pick up quite a few tips for enriching the retired life. For instance, who knew one could camp in New York City? In a city of more than 8 million people we were able to find a $10-a-night campground, and it fit perfectly into my budget!

Turned out, New York City camping was in Brooklyn at an old, mothballed airfield called Floyd Bennett Field. The feds own the property and it’s ever-so-slowly being transformed into a recreation area. Might I add, I use the word “transformed” very loosely here.

I’ll save the Big Apple drive for another column, but for now, I can report that we arrived at Floyd Bennett emotionally traumatized, but not physically scarred. We drove on for what seemed like miles of vintage runways, past the city sanitation workers’ training facility, the model airplane club and the $10 showers.

As it turned out, we needn’t have made a reservation. But then again, it was October. We were the only campers in the place! Amelia Earhart RV site #47 had all the amenities — i.e., well-worn asphalt and a picnic table. Lance, the RV, was snuggled up near a rusting World War II era warehouse with a view of Jamaica Bay. A real adventure in a dark, dark place, teetering on the edge of a megalopolis. We awoke the next morning to 22 trash trucks parading , elephant-like, by our window — fledgling drivers in training, I’m sure. We haven’t gotten so much enjoyment out of $10 in years. We passed on the showers.

Another campground that made the writability cut was just outside of Buffalo. It was late on arainy, let’s-get-off-this-road kind of afternoon, and things were tense in the cab of the truck. I could hear the wine bottle shouting from the trailer: “I can save your marriage ...”

Why we both walked into this particular hotel and campground — which was not-so-aptly named after a certain fairy-tale princess — I’m not sure, but probably it takes two of us to remember the numbers on the license plate and the debit card PIN. Chivalrous Mick held the door and I entered first. I thought at the time he was being a gentleman, but upon reflection, perhaps it was a sense of impending doom, and after the day we’d had, he was willing to sacrifice me to save himself.

A vintage Ronald Reagan movie was in progress on an old TV, and flopped on a ’70s-era couch was the proprietor — grimy T-shirt, four-day growth, gnarled bare feet and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. He gave us a surly nod. The door slammed shut behind us.

Leveraging his considerable bulk off the couch, he headed behind the counter and, with a grunt, pushed the registration form in our direction. The fingers between the second and third knuckles of his meaty right hand bore the letters of what I euphemistically call the “eff” word. I’d watched enough Alfred Hitchcock movies to know that, in spite of the fairytale moniker, the place had a Bates Motel vibe, and we had just encountered Norman. To lighten the mood, I asked in my brightest Pollyanna voice, “Any idea what the weather is supposed to do tomorrow?”

Norman “Eff Knuckles” looked me in the eye and snarled, “I have no idea.” I’m sure he didn’t. I doubt he’d been outside in a week!

To quote a largely unknown author, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Free or not, we obviously avoided the showers, and, after a fitful night spent listening to the wind and watching the door, we awoke to yet another day of inclement weather. With all due respect to Mr. Knuckles, even I could have predicted that!

See what you miss with room service?

Suzanne Davis’ column is special to The Tribune.

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