Friday, September 27, 2019

The Gay Ghetto - Gay Campgrounds


Why live with things second-rate?

Minority groups often fall victim to the ghetto mentality. They tend to believe that they are not entitled to all the wonderful things life has to offer, and often settle for second-rate and rundown substitutes.  Not only that, it is difficult, as a minority, to rise above depression which can lead to things to self-destructive behavior such as drug use, alcoholism, criminal activity, and the like.

Of course, one way to avoid this is to move away from the ghetto, but many people think this is impossible to do.   It is all-too-easy to fall into a comfort zone, even in a place which is uncomfortable.

We have traveled across America and most of Canada by RV, staying in campgrounds in nearly all 50 states and almost all of the Canadian provinces except for the Unexplored Territories and the Disputed Lands.    Campgrounds vary from run-down dilapidated places filled with meth heads living in clapped-out campers. to high-end Motorcoach Resorts that cost hundreds of dollars a night and are manicured within an inch of their life.

On the whole, I would say the average Campground, whether it is privately owned or a State or local government run campground is pretty decent.  There's usually a certain level of amenity one gets used to and accepts.  There are few places which are just truly amazing wonderlands that are often quite inexpensive, and then there are other few places where you turn around and leave before checking in, because they look so run down and scary.

And over the years we've been to at least a dozen or more gay campgrounds.  And while most of them are pretty nice and the people are pretty friendly, none of them rise to the level of the even an average regular campgrounds.  In fact most of them tend to pale in comparison to the average campground.

One thing most gay campgrounds seem to have in common, is a lack of respect for sewage treatment. Many, if not most, do not have hookups available for your sewer.  Or if they do, it is so poorly engineered that you may end up getting sick because the sewage is dripping into the well water.  And I am not kidding about this, we went to one of the largest gay campgrounds in Florida, which touts itself as "America's first gay community," and we were not told there was a boil water advisory until after we had left.  And yes, we got sick.

The problem with Gay Campgrounds is often they are under-capitalized.  They try to grow organically through the use of profits and cash flow.  Many of them start off as a piece of property owned by an individual who invites some friends over the weekend.  They pitch tents in the yard and enjoy themselves in the pool, and the next weekend somebody brings an RV and asks to plug in to the outlet in the garage.  Others, ironically enough, are former Christian Bible Camps.

Fast forward 20 or 30 years and you have 25 to 50 or even a hundred permanently ensconce campers and only sketchy infrastructure to support them. Many campground owners spend more time maintaining glitzy displays of Christmas lights than they do the basic infrastructure of electricity, water, and sewage.  People try to paper-over these fundamental defects in infrastructure with lots of glitz and glamour.   A few disco balls here and some twinkle lights there, and it's all good, at least after dark.

One famous gay campground, which is actually owned by the residents as a condominium-like arrangement, has the very same problem with the sewage treatment.  When the owners were polled as to whether to spend money on a proper sewage treatment facility or to spend more money on glitz and glamour, they all voted for glitz and glamour.  Unfortunately, this means a lots of strings of half-broken Christmas lights and tinsel stapled up over cardboard, which after a few rain storm starts to look kind of sad.

We've been to some of these gay campgrounds where they keep putting up more lawn lights and streams of Christmas lights and rope lights and pink flamingos another tchotchke until it becomes rotted, mildewed, and dirty, at which point they just add another layer of glitz on top of the previous layer.  It starts to look very sad and cluttered after a while.  Regular campgrounds very rarely look this way.

After visiting will more than a dozen of these sort of campgrounds, one wonders, why can't gay people have campgrounds as nice as heterosexual people?  And the answers are complex and various.  Again, as I noted before, the lack of capital is part of the problem.  We recently visited a KOA Campground in Nashville located next to the Grand Ole Opry.  They clearly have an awful lot of money to spend renovating the place, particularly after a recent flood. They have a beautiful in-ground pool and the grounds are manicured and well-kept.

Notably missing from the KOA was stapled up strings of Christmas lights, disco balls, or plastic Pink Flamingos. The owners of the campground invested their money in infrastructure, not in superficial things.

But I think lack of capital is only part of the problem.  I think with most minority groups, there is a sense of low self-esteem that attaches to identifying yourself as a minority, separate from the rest of society.  People often convince themselves that they're only entitled to something less than what everyone else gets, and thus they are more than willing to accept something that is substandard or shoddy.

You need only drive through the cultural ghettos of any city of America to confirm this.  People living in ghettos have to settle for shopping at convenience stores that charge outrageous prices for substandard goods.  Housing is often decrepit and run-down. The streets are often dirty and unsafe. Most people won't tolerate those sort of conditions, but as a minority, you may feel this is all you're entitled to or all that you deserve

I'm not sure there's an answer to this problem, other than once people enter the mainstream of society, they realize that better things are available to them and then abandon ghetto culture.  Our American history is full of examples where cultural ghettos evaporate once people realize that better, mainstream services and products are available to them.  I noted before that in Ft Lauderdale there used to be a black business neighborhood that existed during the segregation era.  Since blacks could not shop in white department stores or other retail venues, they settled for black-owned businesses which made many black business owners fairly wealthy and created a black middle class.

When segregation was abolished, blacks realize they could shop at any store they wanted to, and they chose more mainstream outlets which had better pricing and better selection of goods. Overnight, the black shopping district evaporated, and many prosperous blacks fell out of the middle class.

Today, we see the same thing happening with gay bars.  At one time there were gay bars in nearly every city in the country, usually many of them competing with each other.  However, in recent years they've declined in number as younger people realize they can go to any establishment they want to and be accepted for who they are.  This is progress.  When given a choice, they choose something better rather than settle for some run down, crappy, over-priced bar, located in a bad neighborhood, and run by the mafia - as many gay bars were.

Ironically it seems that in recent years more and more gay campgrounds are opening up.  But maybe this just reflects the increased number of people buying RVs and going camping in general.  However, for the long-term, one might wonder if these gay campgrounds will survive if they continue on their current path.  Eventually gays will demand better services, better plumbing, and safe and clean water.  They will value the basic infrastructure over disco balls and flashing lights.

Perhaps, but then again maybe not.  A lot of people are blinded by flashing lights and glitter and fail to see the lack of underlying values.

So, what's the point of all this?  The point is, that if you have low expectations, they will be easily met.  But, if you push for higher standards, you may achieve more.  When I was a young stoner working various low-wage jobs, I assume that this is all I was entitled to.  If you were to tell me back then that someday I would become an engineer and then a lawyer and have my own law practice, I probably would have laughed in your face.

But then I came to realize after a long while, that these are not things that only other people were entitled to, but something that I could achieve - if I put my mind to it.  This is not to say everybody is cut out to be a surgeon or a lawyer or research scientist, only that we are all capable of doing better then we are.

Once we start to accept the mindset that all were entitled to is crappy second-hand merchandise, then our lives will slowly go downhill. This is not to say you can think your way to success, only that once you stop accepting mediocrity as all that you deserve and try to achieve more, you may surprise yourself.

As for the gay campgrounds, I think like the gay bars, they may go extinct very soon if they don't up their game to be competitive with the rest of the camping world.