Thursday, May 14, 2015

I'm The People of Walmart

See, there are the ‘normal’ people who visit upstanding establishments like Harris Teeter and Publix and Target. They live in houses with manicured lawns and pay HOA dues. They walk their dogs twice a day like clockwork. They do play groups and attend storytime at the library. They bathe each day and use a dishwasher and have indoor plumbing and... hot water. They arrive at work at 9am and leave at 5:30PM. They have a gym membership. They are remodelling their kitchen that’s a bit dated. They’re fencing their backyard so it can be more private. Because nobody actually wants to SEE other people living.

And then there is this whole group of people that visit Walmart who wear weird things in public like pajama pants or lingerie, or are too fat for those shorts or tights, who have weird hair, who wear what appears to be a Halloween costume in May, who have children who go with them to Walmart at midnight when they should really be in bed because that’s what RESPONSIBLE parents do, who buy their wedding bands on Rollback for ten bucks. They ride carts around the store for fun. There’s an entire facebook and website dedicated to these people of Walmart and their strange ways. We sneak pictures of them to share and point our fingers and laugh at those silly people. They frustrate us though. Why do they have to stand out like that and make us uncomfortable? What on EARTH is going through their head? It’s like they don’t realize we live in a civilized society.

You know what I realized today?

I AM one of these People of Walmart.

And it’s not because this is often my ‘yard’:
My view, literally, from my window as I write.

It’s because in the past few months of travelling and living full time in my RV on the road, I feel very much like a social deviant. I feel and see the literal and metaphorical fingers being pointed at me as I go about what has become ‘normal’ for me. We get stared at a LOT driving our RV around, and people are unbelievably impatient around RVs on the road. They just move a feeeew seconds too slow.  So they LAY on their horn as if they can't believe we choose to move like the lumbering 30 foot monstrosity that we are. WHY are we even on the road?!? And more staring... when I get in and out of it, when my kids get out to play nearby. People behave as if they’ve never seen one before. As if I’m misusing it. RVs belong in RV parks… everyone knows THAT. So I get stared at. Especially if we drive it in a place you don’t typically see RVs. Today it was the airport. A lot of time it’s downtown somewhere. The bank. The print shop. The art store. The post office. The library. The book store. The restaurant.

And we are never welcome. People see an RV parked in their lot and FREAK THE HECK OUT. Never mind that it’s the middle of the business day and we actually have STUFF to take care of. Never mind that we’ve only been parked for fifteen minutes. An hour? Forget about it. You WILL see the cops, who, by the way, always have to apologize for bothering us… “It’s just that when we get a call we are obligated to check it out, but no, you’re not actually doing anything wrong…”

I’m not entirely sure what it is people imagine we’re going to do, but it must be something just awful. Maybe they think we’re about to build a camp fire in the parking lot, set up our awning, and have a barbecue. Perhaps, if we like it, we might even decide to take up permanent residence. Come to think of it, we ARE shopping for a new lot to give our kids a more stable parking lot environment...

And please oh PLEASE do not actually SLEEP in your RV in the parking lot, in the rest area, in the open air lot that you PAY to park in, by the public park. Only heathens do that. Only homeless people. Only those strange, gypsy swindlers who will take over your precious piece of asphalt and use it for their own sinister devices. And yes, sadly, even the Temple (which is gated at night so you can’t possible park overnight anyway), would prefer you to park in the street, because each patron is only allowed one spot, thankyouverymuch. (Okay, so the temple president apologized to me for the lot security chasing me down INTO the temple to tell me that, but I’m just tryin’ to make a point about our culture, yo.)

So isn’t it funny or ironic or fitting or whatever you want to call it that the ONE place across America I can count on my RV being accepted is in a Walmart parking lot? The place the civilized people make fun of and complain about and trash for letting in all the riff raff?

Our privileged First World Minds have been conditioned. Led to believe that the people who choose to live outside of commonly accepted social practices are of a baser sort. And by getting this, I’m finally starting to grasp this idea of privilege. It’s the privilege enjoyed by the majority. The race majority. The people who live in homes majority. The middle class majority. The educated majority. The religious majority. The problem seems to be that the majority just doesn’t realize that they are the majority and how their actions as the majority translate to the minority, infecting the way they behave in instinctual and often unpreconceived and unrecognized ways. The people who can’t believe I would have the nerve to park my RV in their lot are simply conditioned to believe that people who live in RVs are more likely to be up to no good, freeloaders, drifters, what have you. It’s probably a perfectly legitimate concern. But it’s wrong. And it’s wrong to pass that kind of blanket judgment. And it’s not that you have a vendetta against people in RVs. You’re just trying to protect yourself. It’s not that the woman who passes to the other side of the street when approaching two black men hates black people. It’s that she’s made an assessment about the most likely scenario based on how she has been educated.

I’m not black. I'm not wearing a burka. I'm not holding hands with my lesbian girlfriend in church. I will never know exactly what it's like to be any of those things. But I'm getting a pretty good glimpse. I am in a very small minority. Every day I spend time I don’t even realize trying to fit my RV life into a society that lives so differently. How I drive, how I think, where I park… If I step out of my RV in someone’s eyeshot, they’re looking at me. I’m subject to the scoffs and hushed conversations of people who can’t understand why I would choose to live like this, why I'm not where the rest of my kind are--at Walmart. They just don’t know me of course. So are they allowed to be concerned about my presence in their lot? Sure. The root of the problem lies in failing to acknowledge how society caters to their more accepted lifestyle. They are privileged because they are the MAJORITY. They have a duty to recognize this. To remember this. And when people finally do, THAT is when perceptions and knee-jerk reactions will change.

I’m one of the people of Walmart. And that's okay with me. Is it okay with you?