We left Ohio fully loaded as usual. Anyone looking at our RV might think “boy, these people are expecting a lot of action.” Taking into account a 40’ RV, our tow car decorated with kayaks and bikes, I suppose we do have the appearance of a circus train. Our destination was several days away, and we carefully orchestrated nightly stops to see that each stop would accommodate us, our gear and especially our dogs’ need to have a place to pee.
Our first overnight stop was in Merrillville Indiana, at our usual Bed and Breakfast—Walmart. I wrote in an earlier post that the tradition of free overnight stays at Walmart is fading away due to the bad behavior of some campers. I have an app called Allstays that categorizes the stores as allows/doesn’t allow overnight parking, and I was dismayed to see that our chosen spot was in the ‘doesn’t allow’ column. When you click on the store name in the App, you see notes from previous travelers. It seemed that the parking ban was fluid, as some were allowed to stay and others weren’t, so I gave it a shot and called. The first person I talked to was unsure. “Hold on, she said, ‘I’ll get my boss.” I was transferred to Amy, the assistant manager. Amy turned out to be a pragmatic person. “Well, there is a city ordinance, but Walmart doesn’t care if you park here. The police have better things to do than shoo people out of our lot. Just don’t cause a ruckus.” I solemnly gave my word that there would be no ruckus-causing antics on our part. We pulled in before dark and shared the lot with a few truckers and one other camper. There was a fair amount of traffic noise, but by 10 PM it was like someone threw a switch, and all was silent. Apparently in Merrillville the sidewalks roll up for the night right about that time.
Having a safe inexpensive place to spend the night is a privilege. I didn’t see evidence of homelessness in the Merrillville Walmart but at other stores we noticed lots of vehicles sharing the lot with us that were obviously lived in. At a Walmart in Virginia I walked by a Dodge Caravan that held three kids. The back hatch was up and the kids were playing on a pile of clothing and belongings. At one very rural Walmart out west an older camper was parked off to the side. It was very obviously a permanent set up for the occupant. She let her dogs out in the morning and then strolled to the Walmart doors with her towel and soap. She returned to her camper and re-emerged wearing her Walmart vest, ready for work. Generally most homeless people try to blend in as best they can in the parking lots, making sure they have no lights, no movement to call attention to themselves and risk eviction, and leave before first light. By contrast, people in RVs rumble in with their shiny rigs that broadcast a lifestyle of choice. They open their slides, crank up the music and fire up their grills, confident in their right to have a free place to flop for the night. It’s a privilege that’s taken for granted and easy to abuse.
At Merrillville, the welcome mat is still out for now, at least for those of us who have the means to stay and to shop. After a ruckus-free overnight, Ben paid a visit to the store to buy a few items and small parts for a project he was working on. The dogs visited the store’s patch of grass, and we were on our way. Thanks, Amy for your store’s hospitality.