Campground neighbours are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.
This, to me, is a big part of the appeal of RV’ing. I think people watching is an endlessly fascinating activity. It is difficult for me to get in and out of MoHope, or to help with the setup and teardown at all, but quite easy to eyeball the neighbours, surreptitiously peering out MoHope’s windows to take stock.
And so earlier this summer, as Mike settled MoHope in place, hooking up lines and putting out the canopy and such, I checked out the neighbours.
First, the left side. She was in her late 60’s- early 70’s, rocking a floral strapless jumpsuit, cat’s-eye glasses and a Brigitte Bardot circa 1960 hairdo. Under the trailer canopy, she read a book and occasionally sipped from a cup that rested on a small table next to her. The table was decorated with a cloth and vase of fresh flowers, quite civilized.
He emerged shortly thereafter, swept the carpet that covered as much ground as the canopy shaded, and brought out a guitar to rest on their picnic table seat. I was quite taken with his hair–a thick thatch of pure white.
Not likely any issues with these good folks, thought I. They seemed content in their time travel portal, and so I turned my attention to the other side of our rig.
To the right of us, a vintage VW camper pulled up. A middle-aged couple emerged, speaking French (the European kind, not French Canadian). This couple appeared to be too much into each other to be concerned about any neighbours. They snuggled, held hands as they walked, and retired early to bed. Adorable, I thought, perhaps a second honeymoon.
Further right, a car arrived, spewed out a dubious pair who whipped up a tent, lit their small barbecue and started to cook wieners. I say dubious, as she was seen only peering out of the tent through a haze of suspicious fog whilst he sported that classiest of male attire, the muscle shirt. Chest hair ran wild above the shirt’s misshapen neck, his belly button making a break for freedom in the space where the undershirt ended and the sweatpants started. There’s camping casual, and then there’s this guy.
Next thing, Mike was staring out the window, past the honeymooners and onto the soft shells (tenters). Look Lizzy, he whispered, transfixed. I peered over to see that Muscle Shirt had finished cooking hot dogs and was scarfing them down as quickly as they came off the grill. It was indeed impressive, and my earlier derision melted as an appreciation for his enjoyment of his food, so reminiscent of Newfoundland dog puppies, took its place. Slow clap.
Looking back to the time travel portal, I noticed for the first time a plastic pink flamingo, solar light embedded in the crook of his leg, separating us and them. A nice touch, I thought. Perhaps not a solar light at all, but maybe how they would beam back to their youth when they were done camping? I didn’t think about that for long though, as I noticed the picnic table was set, and in quite the style. There were heavy candle holders set on each end (practically, as these would also hold down the cloth), silverware, crystal wineglasses and china, a basket with napkins (cloth, I’m sure), and a silver wine bucket. I noted the four place settings, sure enough another pair joined them, a younger couple–perhaps one of their children and spouse?
How delightful! They sat at the table, the host barbecued, the hostess poured wine, and it looked they were in for a wonderfully civilized evening. Not so on the other side, where Muscle Shirt was joined by several carloads of friends. The cars that make really loud noises, via bass-heavy stereos or exhaust systems that sounded like V8 engines under the hood.
These guests, unlike the sedate neighbours to the left, poured out of the cars with much yelling and high-fiving and yo-bro-ing, carrying cases of beer and an air of mayhem. Could be a long night. (Although the campground had quiet hours after 11, we are not the snitchy sort to call and tattle.)
By 8pm, we were settled into MoHope playing Battleship. Due to our dry summer, there was a fire ban in place, and it had started to cool down, with the forecast calling for high winds. The second-honeymooners were long secured in their van, and the clinking glasses and lively conversation to the left said the dinner party was in full swing. We wondered when the guitar playing would start, not overly concerned about noise. I could imagine what was on the playlist-a little Peter, Paul and Mary, perhaps, or some early Johnny Cash if they veered more toward country. Muscle Shirt’s party was still going on, but not as raucously as we expected.
Just before 9pm, we heard the party cars revving up, the noise level increased exponentially, and then suddenly POOF! The soft shells’ guests were all gone, and Muscle Shirt and the missus were zipped into their tent, snug as the proverbial bugs, with not a peep to come from that side for the rest of the night. Not so much as a can remained, not a trace. Now that’ll teach us for judging books by covers, won’t it?
But that wasn’t to be our last such lesson of the night, because that lovely dinner party on the left? No more dinner, all party. The talking grew louder, and louder, and a woman started laughing-nay, braying, at some uproarious tidbits someone was feeding her. Then the guitar playing started, and it was not at all what we predicted. No John Denver or Jim Croce for these folks, no sir, nope.
dun dun dun, dun dun DU dun…yup. The unmistakable opening chords of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.
And with that, the sound amped up. Guitar, playing just a few chords of a vast repertoire of songs, all of which sounded increasingly worse as the hours dragged on. The whooping was as loud as the departure of the soft shell guests, and that horrendous, cackling, shrill, ear-splitting bray pierced the air at intermittent intervals.
We, who had been lulled into a false sense of security by appearances; we, who thought we might drift to sleep to the sound of quiet conversation and guitar strumming to the left of us; we were awake until 1am, long after quiet hour and long after our last nerves had been danced upon. Finally we fell asleep from the sheer exhaustion of trying to be understanding of neighbours who just wanted a little campground fun. It helped that the wind picked up, blowing much of the noise in the other direction.
Next morning, all was quiet. We raised the blinds and surveyed the scene next door. The canopy had fallen down, the support poles laying askew on the ground. The bedraggled picnic tablecloth hung by a corner, the fine china, glasses and flatware long gone. Wine bottles and beer cans were strewn willy-nilly around their camper. The only thing left standing was the flamingo.
I surveyed the scene, laughing (not at them, at ourselves for our hasty, clearly wrong, judgement). Then I spotted the host through the window of their camper. One hand on his head, the enviable thick white hair now stuck on end; the other hand with a death grip on a coffee mug. Looking ever so much like a hungover Einstein, he surveyed what was left of his little kingdom.
He looked up, and I unwittingly caught his eye. He shook his head balefully. Raising my own tea mug to him, I smiled sympathetically, as if to say “Been there, friend, done that”, all trace of last night’s irritation vanishing at his befuddled look.
Lesson learned. I look forward to the next box of chocolates.