Certainly, Good Sam’s was not my first pick, but at thirty seven dollars for one night it was half the cost of the next accommodation in this beach side, New Hampshire town of Seabrook, one mile from the intersection of I395 and I95 and on the Atlantic Coast.
I was granted the very last tent spot 47A which has no official parking spot, but does sport the highest spot in the campground at some ten or twelve feet from the roadbed, a picnic bench, fire pit, and a view down and into the court yard of the half dozen adjacent RVs, none of which is more than thirty feet distance.
The smell of camp fires mixed with bug spray, cleaning supplies from the nearest bathhouse, outdoor cooking, and diesel from a large truck which just passed by. Across the road and a few meters down, a father crept beneath the window of the RV in which his kids were playing cards, popped up to slap the glass and yelled in his best monster voice. The kids screamed and then laughed in quick succession. The same interaction likely plays out night after night and neither grows wary, at least not until the children grow to be teenagers and dread the very presence of their father as much as the mandatory, summer family camping trip.
In the toilet and shower facility I quickly discovered that the men’s and women’s units were separated by a wall but shared an open ceiling space, all conversations moving without resistance into the adjacent facility. Two girls, perhaps in their late teens dared each other to pee in the shower, I gathered, without taking a shower at all.
When I finished brushing my teeth and left to walk back to my rental car, I recognized the voices of the girls who exited their side of the bathhouse at the same time.
One said to the other, “Where are we”?
“I don’t know. You live here, and you don’t know?”
“No. I’m lost.” She then turned to me, “You know where we are?”
Given that we were in a campground whose density of patrons matched that of Japanese tube hotels, and roadways the narrow streets of old Barcelona, I played along, “No. No clue. I was hoping you knew,” as I approached my car and reached into my pocket to grasp the key remote. A few more steps, and I pressed the unlock button. The lights flashed and the horn chirped.
“Is that your car?”
“Oh, so you DO know where you are.”
“No, but I do know the location of my car.” She didn’t catch the subtle challenge in that response and said only, “Oh!”
I stopped to open the back and they continued. I lost track of them quickly as the road was dark, lit only by the camp fires, porch lights, and rope lighting of the RVs.
Escape from Ourselves
I sat on the bumper and looked around. The Good Sam’s campground took on a new form in my mind. I was less offended by the obvious eye sore and more interested in the social experiment at play.
For the prior three nights I had been staying in cabins whose tenants were amateur astronomers, assembled for the intent purpose of sharing their passion for observing, for exploring the night sky. They maintained the utmost respect for each other by using only red lit headlamps, car dome lights, flash lights, pen lights, and perimeter lights on their scope legs and bodies.
Here, I originally found the stimuli overwhelming as loud voices contended with car doors slamming, kids screaming, fire crackers, televisions, radios, and the laughter of drunken adults who freely expressed all they had withheld since their last escape to the great outdoors.
With the words of the second girl, “You live here” I realized the unique qualities of this place in that it was congregation of semi-permanent residents with transient campers, like me. In a subtle way, everyone in this place agreed to a certain level of compliance to an unwritten set of rules which enabled the place to function without major confrontation.
The residents understood that their neighbors may come and go, staying one, two or a half dozen night before moving on. Those who passed through understood this was home to some people, and therefore deserved a level of respect for property and space.
I walked the entire perimeter and all interior roads twice, once to explore and then again to capture some time lapse photographs, the shadows of the night giving way to streaks of illumination as burning wood yields dancing flames. This is what I experienced.
A couple sat to the side of a fire, an open bottle of wine and two glasses reflecting the light. They said little, mostly staring into the flames. Several fires burnt unattended, the flames dropping between my first and second pass. A father played cards with his daughter at a picnic bench, their faces illuminated by the blue glow of a lantern reflecting from the inside of a suspended tarp. A dozen teenagers sat ’round a large fire on the edge of the campground, one boy played guitar and sang, his audience completely engrossed. A half dozen adults spoke aloud from stackable plastic lawn chairs, a block party unfolding.The side of their RV was adorned with string lights up and across the awning supports and around the bumper. Some RVs showcased plastic deer, white picket fences, water fountains, and an American flag. A preteen boy raced by on his BMX bike, apparently able to see well into the midnight spectrum where the rest of us walked with caution. A man in his sixties leaned over a picnic bench, his glasses low on his nose as he attempted to read the instructions of a manual printed in too small a font. The battery powered lantern to his side cast a cold, nearly white light upon his face, the bridge of his nose the divide between the light and dark portions of the rising, crescent moon.
Everyone came to this place to get away from home, with the understanding they would be living a simpler life for the duration. One bowl, one plate, one spoon. A small cook stove with few pans. Simple foods, and for most, no television, laptop, or cell phone. This is a retreat from the very things we work our entire lives to acquire, only to be overwhelmed by them in return. These people, myself included, are happier living this way. And yet, they will soon return to the complexity of ownership of more things, things which were not forced upon them but acquired of their own accord.
Ironic, it seems, that we must escape the very life we have created for ourselves. What keeps us from just living this simple life every day? Why are we afraid to stop acquiring, to say “Enough already! I don’t need any more.” There seems to be a process which takes us from tent to camper to RV, from Coleman fuel camp stove to four-burner propane kitchenettes. Is this the process which also takes college students from Raman noodles and masonry block book shelves to IKIA and eventually a custom built home which is challenging, if not impossible to afford?
I cannot help but laugh when I walk by the RVs whose small yards harbor miniature flower gardens, a sense of order and beauty surrounded on all sides by the chaos of an over crowded, noisy, dusty campground. They have established their island in this flotilla of drifters and weekend bums.
The Good Sam’s Utopia
I grew up with Star Trek which presented a vision of neat, clean, highly organized society filled with people who were content for their station in life. Everyone was important, everyone was needed, well educated, and capable. In contrast, Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” books present an accurate portrayal of human society unfolding in a confined, isolated space. How many years would it take for highly trained military personel and researchers to resort to their human tendency of wanting more, to take more at the cost of their neighbor? How many generations would it take for humans to carve out camps which battle each other for resources? How soon would God intervene, showing her face in the diversity of fragmented expressions which somehow oppose each other, despite their common body and figure head?
But somehow, if I were to envision utopia, I am not certain it would be all that different than this–given a few hundred people in a completely new setting, the first to colonize the Moon or Mars, a campground is more likely an example of how humanity will touch the face of the next world. Synthetic reminders of a home far away, time made to play musical instruments at the end of a day, children free to ride their low gravity bicycles from the living quarters to the community bathhouse as long as they come right back and don’t bother the others, a loose sense of community and a respect for personal space.
Perhaps, if we are lucky, the first off-world colonies will not follow our own history played out again and again as the Rama saga depicts, rather, a Good Sam’s campground will provide the model for a perfect, human utopia.
© Kai Staats 2011