Those following my family’s trek across America know that we are trying our best to stick to a $100-per-day budget. That sounds generous enough, but the Element burns through a gallon of fuel every 14 miles with the Shasta in tow, and this is a big, honking country. Needless to say, in order to extend the trip as long as possible, we are always on the lookout for ways to skimp.
But who wants to be fiscally conservative in one of the country’s foodie meccas? We had a gastronomically good time in Austin, Texas, running the old credit card through countless food carts’ Square readers until it was hot to the touch.
With the Texas capitol in the rearview, it was time to tighten the belts. I poked around the Passport America site for an RV park that was on the way to Dallas, and found four that were reasonably close to the trajectory. $22.00. $17.50. $24.00. This was not looking good. The fourth was listed as a new campground with full hookups and a fresh bathroom. The price? A mere $8.50. 30 seconds later, the GPS had us routed to the American Legion Lake Whitney Post 522 RV Park.
We rolled in around 6:30 pm. Next to a white, clapboard bar and VFW hall were ten gravel spots in an open field. The tumbleweed grass was plopped with meaty ant hills, and the lot was peppered with rusted pickup trucks. I left the wife and the boy safely in the car and shuffled through the hinged screen door. The lights were low inside and billows of tepid cigarette smoke hung thick in the air. I heard the crack of billiard balls and the buzz of a pink and blue fluorescent jukebox that had blown out its bass cabinet sometime in the 80s.
The place was stuffed with older folks in a gamut of plaid and mesh hats, many with double-bridged glasses and most lacking teeth. This skinny city boy had all eyes upon him as I stood there, motionless, hoping that someone in charge would notice me and come to my rescue.
You may be wondering if I stayed, and if so you may be questioning my judgement. My sentiments exactly.
Cheap is cheap, so I handed the bartender-gone-campground-host a ten. He rummaged around in the cash drawer, laid a sweaty single in my palm, and dropped two quarters on top. “You can pick any site that suits you best,” he groused. We figured all of them were about the same — gravel, no shade, ant hills — so we turned into the nearest one. Wheel chocks down, stabilizer jacks up, hoses fastened, extension cord plugged in.
“Um, Josh… The power isn’t working.” Groaned a disheartened Margaret.
My manly method for testing the site outlets is to plug my wife’s hair straightening iron directly into the box, turn the power on, and check if the LED indicator turns green. It didn’t.
We tried a few other sites, then a few more. No dice. It looked like I won a free trip back into the belly of the Veteran’s hall. The bartender offered a knowing nod when I mentioned the problem. “Let me call the maintenance man. Gimme a minute.”
“Good,” I thought, “A maintenance man. At least this place is official enough to warrant a dedicated staff member to take care of the campers’ needs.”
“Rusty!” the bartender gruffed across the bar, “This guy needs you to help ’em with the ‘lecturcity.”
A wrinkly potato sack of a man with a wavy, yellowed beard looked up from his double scotch. His hands were covered with bits of dried white paint, and his ripped, whitewashed jeans sagged from pilled black suspenders. A thick cigarette hung from his bottom lip, and his double-bridged silver glasses frames glistened in the glow of the jukebox. He heaved himself up from the wooden stool with noble effort and managed two words, “Follow me.”
So there we were, a string bean with a shaved head in rubber flip flops, and a live-action rural anti-cigarette shock ad, ambling around the makeshift campground with my wife’s straightening iron, checking plug after plug to no avail. When all hope seemed lost, Rusty finally raised an eyebrow. “This one here’s got ‘lecturcity.”
A pregnant dog ambled by as the only other RV’er in the park wandered over to supervise the commotion. Standing 6’ 8″ and sporting a barrel belly and the forearms of an elephant, the man looked as though he could — and maybe wanted to — eat me for breakfast. I mumbled a quick prayer that our paths would never cross again.
Now perched on the field’s one electrified spot, I know that tonight’s sleep will be light at best, with each passing truck, barking pregnant dog, and rumbling jeer from the increasingly raucous bar will cause my eyes to fly open in nervous wonder of the doom that may befall me.
When morning breaks, I will feel much better about the place, as is my custom. But for tonight, I am retooling the strategy and committing to shelling out the twenty-a-night rate, even if it means coming home a couple of days early.
For the worried-relative sector of the BlinkPack blog readership, this post was written a day ago, and we are now enjoying much more welcoming accommodations — for a fee of $27.50.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Whitney, TX and headed toward Dallas / Ft. Worth. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!