Our 1994 Buick LeSabre
I thought I was going to spend a nice quiet night in Wekiwa Springs State Park just outside Orlando, Florida—WRONG!
We decided to escape the long Michigan winter and spend several days along the Atlantic coastline in Florida snorkeling, hiking and camping. The only stipulation was that we needed to spend a lot of time near a beach so my daughter and her friend could tan.
The girls flew down and I drove. The night before picking them up at the Orlando airport I had a reservation at Wekiwa State Park. I knew I was going to arrive late, so my wife called the park and secured me a confirmation number for my site and a combination to the park gate.
I pulled in after dark, quietly found my site, then walked a few laps around the campground. It was lightly raining so I decided to forgo the tent and just sleep in the back seat of my Buick. After driving hard all day it didn’t take long to start cutting Z’s. My sleep was rudely interrupted with a bright light in my face.
"Did you pay for this site?," the flashlight voice demanded.
I sat up pawing for my glasses and searching for my confirmation number. I was explaining my situation but the flashlight kept interrupting me— "You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"I don’t have a sticker because I arrived late. I have a confirmation number showing I paid for the site and a gate combination."
"You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"So let me see if I understand you. Even if I find my confirmation number you’re still not going to be happy."
"No, You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"Well, there was no one at the gate to issue me a sticker. If I give you my confirmation number can’t you issue me a sticker?"
"I’m the camp host. I can’t give you a sticker."
"So how do we solve this huge dilemma so I can get back to sleep?"
"I don’t know but you gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
So then I lost it. Barney Fife of the ranger world had finally pushed my Irish over the edge.
"Look Barney, just go get a real ranger and have him bring me a refund or a sticker. I’m going back to bed."
"Well, you don’t have to get all grumpy about it!"
I thought he would think about it and realize there was no reason to rouse the ranger out of bed to look at an obviously legitimate campsite confirmation number. It wasn’t until two flashlights showed up that I realized where Jeff Foxworthy gets all his great material. These two would have made him proud. "Where’s Your Sign?"
The second flashlight was much bigger. I am assuming he was the ranger although he never officially identified himself. He was still in his night clothes unless Florida rangers have redesigned their uniforms to conform with Casual Friday.
"Do you have a site confirmation sir?"
I handed him my paperwork.
"Can I see some ID?"
I handed him my drivers license.
I mistakenly thought this was going to be the end of the camping crisis now that all my credentials were in order. He looked over all my paperwork, then slowly handed it back to me and said, "You can’t sleep in your car sir."
"Why is that?"
"Park rules sir. They should have told you that when you paid for your site."
"There are people in the next site sleeping in that van."
"You can sleep in a van sir. You can’t sleep in a Buick."
The van was not a camping van, it was a passenger van with windows all around and seats. This was vehicular prejudice. I needed a lawyer. I was a Yankee in the deep south being hassled by Boss Hog and Barney Fife. I wonder if General Motors know this is happening. It might be the reason Oldsmobile failed. I bet Florida singled Oldsmobile out first.
"Okay, I just want to get some sleep. I’ll sleep out here on the ground."
"You have to sleep in a tent sir."
The Irish was beginning to creep into my attitude again. Cowboys slept on the ground. Davey Crockett didn’t carry a tent. Lewis and Clark didn’t have a Coleman pop-up. I have hiked from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide sleeping on the ground without a tent many nights. I thought I was "CAMPING."
When did Florida redefine camping. I knew they redefined voting, and now they have moved on to destroy another of our inalienable rights—CAMPING!
"Okay, I have a tent. I will put up my tent. Is there anything else I need to do to make you two go away? Have you noticed—I don’t have a sticker on the front of my car!
It made me think of how a black man must have felt before the dawn of civil rights. You know youhave done everything right, followed all the rules and regulations, made calls to assure the authorities youwere going to arrive late and secured all the information you would need to comply with the campingregulations. Yet here was the law West of the Wekiwa standing outside of my Buick. Common sensewas playing no part in this conversation. It was a fixed chess game. They could change the rules as fastas I could question them.
I thought back to 1968. After high school I camped all across America for several months. My dad and I had turned a 1964 suburban into a camper. Kids today would have a hard time doing that. In Florida they wouldn’t be able to camp in a Suburban. They would have to get a passenger van or a tent.
Don’t let this story keep you from camping at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Florida. It is a beautiful place. I was up and hiking before the sun came up. Even though the park is surrounded by development it is a wildlife haven and a wonderful place to explore and enjoy—just leave your Buick at home.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird