As we pulled out cash to pay for a camping spot, a guy on a golf cart pulled up to the open door behind us. “Nope, that’s not a camper.”
The desk clerk had just agreed that our Dodge van, with its electrical connection, was an acceptable camper for their private campground. He’d explained that some people camped in mini-vans and ran an electrical cord out a window, sleeping on the seats. That wasn’t allowed. We’d assured him that our handmade camper van with its beds, electrical outlets, and portable toilet was a real camper.
As the guy in the golf cart sped off, my husband, Jerry, turned toward the door.
“Don’t bother. That’s the owner. He’s made up his mind. I’m sorry.” Red-faced, the clerk handed back our forty dollars.
After Jerry and I pulled on our seat belts in our unacceptable camper, we looked at each other.
“What is this all about? It does not make sense. Why have so many campgrounds refused to let us in?” He frowned as he started the car and pulled out of the gravel parking lot onto Highway 1. We’d been travelling up the coast of California as part of a three month retirement trip and many places had rejected us.
“I know. I guess I can sort of see why, in Malibu, they didn’t want surfers staying in their cars. But it’s hasn’t been just Malibu. That one the other day that only took commercially built campers less than ten years old.” I stared at the white-capped waves.
“They just want the rich. We’re too poor for them.”
“I guess. Sure, our van is fifteen years old, but it still looks good.” Jerry’s anger made sense. “But, you know what, this must be what minorities feel all the time. Rejection for no rhyme or reason.”
“Yeah, it’s like something’s wrong with us. Nobody has a real reason. They just don’t want ‘our kind’.” Jerry glanced at me. “There’s something to write about.”
After that, we began to avoid places that, in our campground directory, said ‘no tents.’ If they allowed tents, we knew they’d take us. But we had to pay for a motel in Portland, when the only place close enough to mass transit said, ‘no tents.’
Like no previous situation, this experience gave us, a white sixty-something couple, an unexpected lesson in empathy. I got the tiniest glimpse of what minorities experience regularly. I’ve heard our elegantly dressed African-American friend describe being followed around women’s clothing stores. I’ve listened to my Sri Lankan friend say, “The white schoolmasters couldn’t believe I and my brother could be so brilliant.”
Now I understand just a bit of my friends’ pain and anger.
Jesus, I thank you that you always understand. You know, you see, and your justice will prevail. (Matthew 12:20)