So it’s official, we are dirtbags.
After leaving Kim’s place in Seattle, we encounter Fife – the land of sprawling RV centers and the home to Camping World, a well-known mecca for RVers. Since we’d already used our one backup cabinet latch while on Vancouver Island, we decided to stop and grab a couple more for future cabinet dysfunctions.
Camping World was overrun with very nice Class A RVs (that7s forty feet or longer) so we felt perfectly at home as we wandered the store resisting the impulse to buy welcome mats or doilies for houses on wheels.
After 15 minutes of wandering, staring, asking for help and finally having a door latch box break open in my hands and its metallic contents rain heavily on Tod’s mending toe, we decide to leave.
“I’m getting hungry…how ‘bout you?” Tod asks me as we wander out.
“Hmmm, yep, I could use some food”, I reply
As if granted by our very evolved expressed intentions for food we don’t really need, we manifest before our very eyes a plate of hot steaming double chocolate chip cookies.
I watch as Tod makes a straight beeline for them and would have pushed small children and the elderly out of his way to grab the plate.
Once there, he slows down and saunters over casually once he notices the two friendly folks behind the table guarding the plate. Asking non-chalantly what their booth is about and oh, by the way, can he have a cookie. I must admit I’m impressed with his discreet style and am utterly convinced that they in no way suspect he was there only for the cookies.
Turns out this is a spiel for a campground membership group – the archrival of Thousand Trails which my parents belonged to since I was a child. We’d go there for family reunions and my cousin Brian would put frogs on top of my head down by the pond and I would cry. I LOVED Thousand Trails.
As I’m having these thoughts, my vision blurs to Matrix-like slowness and I watch as during a 3 minute song and dance Tod eats at least five cookies, all the time nodding thoughtfully. I hear at the end “$50 gift certificate at Camping World just to listen to the Presentation” and much to my surprise Tod says sure.
From my position crouched before a map, I look up and him and with more cookies in hand he’s heading for the door behind the cute, bubbly sales girl. I mean, I thought we were in it for the cookies.
“I have the Honda Accord” she says, “ and you can follow me to our main office. Where’s your RV”
We exchange glances. “Well, it’s sort of small, and er, older….actually it’s the 1984 camper van with brown stripes – behind the big RVs”.
She nods hesitantly and we walk off to our rig wondering if anyone in a van this small or this old has ever gotten talked into the Presentation.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this” I say. “Maybe we should just bolt for the highway once we hit the main road”.
Tod thinks this over for only a second before deciding“Nope, the $50 certificate would be great, I’m sure we can use it for something and we also get the free 3 days of camping”.
So I acquiesce, wondering if it is clear that we’re just in if for the free stuff. Will they yell at us and kick us at when they figure it out? I sit and worry about this for awhile.
Ten minutes later we arrive in front of a two story white building with Greek columns at each side of the entryway. It looks a bit ostentatious in Fife, across from the high school in an industrial district.
Entering the building we felt like we entered a bizarre sales cult. Everyone was extra nice, offering us coffee and juice, asking where we were from, what we did. It was just a little too sugar-coated and I kept thinking these guys have a great sales gig going here but we’re not going to fall for it.
We get passed off to one of the senior sales guys who is all amiable and we sit down to start the Presentation.
Again, I’m wondering whether or not they can tell we’re dirtbags posing as RVers. But Tod did just shave and I am wearing my city clothes so I suppose we are looking quite respectable.
The facade soon starts to crumble.
Question 1: How many days a year do you camp?
Tod jumps in “Well, probably about 25 days a year.” Where’d THAT number come from I wonder.
Question 2: How much do you pay when you camp?
Ahhh, the pause and furtive glances exchanged.
“$20, probably” I say.
Tod chimes in.“Yeah, but, well, that’s only when we pay.”
Another pause. The guy is starting to look at us strangely.
Tod goes on. “Our style of camping is usually to just drive up a Forest Service road and pull off to the side of it”.
A light is slowly beginning to dark in the Presenter’s eye.
“I see,” he says. I watch as he starts crossing out large portions of the questionnaire, questions to remain unasked apparently.
After going on another five minutes about the rules and regulations of the programs and how it’s significantly more flexible than Thousand Trails, he announces for the fiftieth time what must be the three greatest selling points of the program:
1. For today only (an obscure Wednesday in the middle of a month), they are waiving the $2000 entry fee.” Well that’s nice. We’d never pay that anyway.
2. “When you camp, you only pay $8 per night.” That’s great, but you also have to pay $325 for an annual fee on top of that so you’d have to spend 22 days a year at their places. Forget it.
3. (his personal favorite) “It would take you four and a half years to stay at each campground in the system.” But why would we stay in a campground in New Jersey?
“Alright” the Presenter stands up. “Now let’s begin the video”.
Panic rises in me.
“Video, what video?”
Well, the video that shows you the campgrounds in our system.
I’m looking at the water before me, wondering if something was put in it. Will we ever escape this place if the video really starts. But I simply can’t talk…this is so unlike me.
Tod, seeing my predicament jumps in.
“Wait a sec, how long is this going to take? We’ve got to get to Portland for an appointment.”
The Presenter looks at us deeply and says “It’s forty-five minutes, they should have told you that before you came over”.
I manage to start shaking my head and Tod is looking wide-eyed too. We’ve got to get out of here.
“Sorry, we can’t be here that long and nobody mentioned forty-five minutes. Really, we have to get to Portland so we’re sorry, but we’ve got to go. Plus, we’re going to Panama for the year so we couldn’t really use it then but maybe when we get back”.
“Of course,” the Presenter says. He’s is being gracious, but we’re certain that since we didn’t do the whole Presentation we’re not getting the $50. This deflates both of us a little bit.
“Let me get your $50 for Camping World. Or did you already finish shopping? I can get you a gas card instead”.
What? We can’t believe our good luck. Only half the Presentation and we still got 7 cookies, a free cup of coffee AND $50 in free gas.
As he escorts us to the door and sees our van for the first time, it all becomes clear that we are two freeloaders working a scam.
As we drive away, laughing, Tod simply says:
“$50 an hour, that’s not too bad for a dirtbag.”