Travel shakes up habits and preconceptions. I have strong opinions, likes, and dislikes—a tendency likely to get more pronounced in geezerhood. That’s a scary thought. Fortunately, this trip may slow that progression in causing me to reconsider old opinions and take more care in my judgments.
There was a time when I would have been appalled to stay for several weeks at a campground in full view of an interstate highway. Who does that? Noisy, crowded, what’s the point? I like space and nature. But we stayed in such a campground, and it was (mostly) a pleasure and an education.
It is not easy to find a good campground in North Carolina’s upscale region. The Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill is full of universities, smart people, tech jobs, good restaurants, large subdivisions, and acres of shopping opportunities. Not much room for campgrounds. But we wanted to spend a few weeks there to visit our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and their neighborhood does not allow trailers in driveways.
We made reservations in a campground that appeared to be the best choice in the area. We knew it was near the interstate. In fact, it turned out to be within waving distance of the passing cars and trucks. When we arrived, we were told that we had been bumped from the quieter area that we had requested to a space near the highway, next to a rusty trailer that looked like it had not been moved or had the shades opened in a decade. When we drove back to the office to request another space, we were scolded for going over the 8 mph (strictly enforced!) speed limit. I looked at George. “Should we just leave?” I wanted to, but there were no ready alternatives.
After some discussion with the management, who turned out to be very nice, we ended up in a lovely space, under an acorn-bombing live oak tree. Closer to the traffic noise than we would have liked, but—and here’s my first assumption smashed—traffic noise is not so bad. I always assumed that people who live near interstates had no alternative and simply learn to put up with the noise. Maybe not. They may like it. Because, believe it or not, it can have a soothing quality, especially at night, a sort of traffic white noise lulling you to sleep. Add varying levels of train whistles and you have a symphony.
And–second assumption smashed—the people sitting in front of their trailers watching the interstate aren’t odd or starved for entertainment (well, they may be, but not necessarily). Interstate watching is like sitting on your front porch and watching the street activity—but on steroids.
It’s fascinating to see this East Coast road artery pulsing with varying degrees of activity throughout the day and night. It’s always moving except for a few periods of dead quiet in the early morning hours.
Then you will hear the sound of a truck approaching, swooshing by, fading into the distance, followed by dead quiet again. Traffic gradually picks up in the predawn and reaches full force when the sun comes up, ebbing and flowing throughout the day, with occasional breakdowns on the side of the road. It is almost musical in the tempos, tentative and quiet to swelling, pulsating energy.
All those lives passing by at 70 miles per hour—it’s fascinating and hypnotic. Who are they? Where are they going? What is their story? So many people, each with a unique pattern of connections and—what is for them—the all-consuming business of their own lives that we will never know. It’s mind boggling.
Some of those people stop off at the campground for a night or several. And we got to hear about their lives. A woman across from us sat out at her picnic table with her little white pup. She just sat, doing nothing. It turns out she had a gas leak in her new RV and was waiting for a repair person. She was 68 years old and by herself. Her husband had retired some years ago and then had taken on a second career. As he again neared retirement, they picked out their ideal RV for retirement travel. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died six months ago and she bought a puppy and the RV she and her husband had picked out. It was brand new and she was taking this trip, only 37 miles from her home, because it was her anniversary and she needed to get out of the house.
Another woman came out of her trailer specifically to see Zoe. She sells knitted hats at venues throughout the South. Last year, a wind shear blew her trailer off the road and “into a mountain” on her way to a show, banging her up, destroying her trailer, and letting her dogs loose on the highway. She was headed to the same show this year, but leaving her trailer at the campground, and just driving her truck, because she wasn’t quite ready to drive that stretch of road with a trailer again. She was delighted to have a spot in front of the campground’s little lake, so she could look out her window while she knitted her hats.
Nice women, both. They brought home how ridiculously fortunate we are to be able to do this trip while we are still healthy and kicking.
Other folks presented living theater. Our first weekend, we were surrounded by an uninhibited multi-RV group, chain smoking, chain drinking, chain eating, ignoring everyone else while they socialized in happy clumps near one RV or the other. On Sunday morning, they all started hitching up, and we were presented window-side with a view of an ample beluga-white plumber’s crack bent over the hitch for what seemed like ages while its owner let loose with a deep and resonant smoker’s cough. It was a charming breakfast accompaniment.
This RV park was like a stagecoach stop. For most, it was not a destination, just a temporary stop—unhitch, rest for a bit, hitch up again. People of every economic level and background were thrown together for a night or two, mingling or not, and then moving on.
I won’t be shopping for a house next to an interstate, but I’m glad we stayed there. It’s easy to surround ourselves with people like us and to seek out idyllic places. But it’s nice to break out of that mold and stay in places that are not so pretty with people who are not like us. I’m hoping to expand experiences as we age, not narrow them.