Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Miss" Colombia

Now that I am retired I am not beholden to any set schedule. I can come and go whenever I like so I usually avoid travelling on major holiday weekends. Unfortunately most of my friends do not enjoy the same freedom. In order to accommodate my camping buddy’s inflexible work schedule I found myself on the road this past Memorial weekend. It was our first camping trip of the season and we had chosen to return to a gay camping resort we had enjoyed last year.

The highlight of the weekend was to be the Miss Colombia pageant. If you’re not familiar with pageants at a gay venue some explanation is in order. Anything with the word “miss” in the title means it will be a drag queen event. The Miss Colombia pageant is a competition between Latino (Latina?) female impersonators loosely based on the Miss America competition. It is also the busiest weekend of the year at the host campground.

Camp Oneida in northeast Pennsylvania was the first gay campground in the mid Atlantic. It was founded by a retired high school science teacher 30 years ago, the same year that I cofounded the Philadelphia Gay Outdoor Club. In its early years the camp was smaller and very primitive – no pool, no flush toilets, and only two outdoor showers which seldom had hot water. But it did have an amphitheater, actually a hill with a makeshift stage at the bottom, and it did have a resident drag queen, Ernestine, who lip synched badly to a song called “Roll me over in the clover”. She ended every show storming off the stage vowing never to return as the campers threw fruit at her.

Ernestine and Old John, the spiritual guru and former owner, are long gone. The new owners have greatly expanded the camp, added amenities like a heated in-ground pool, café, and most importantly, an entertainment complex with a stage, professional sound system and lighting. The quality of the drag queens has improved greatly also.

I made the reservations months ago. I had my list of preferred sites in hand when I called. Sites that we had camped on before or that I had deemed acceptable when I surveyed the entire camp. One by one the woman at the office rejected my requests. She told me that on such a busy weekend she could not put only two campers on such large sites. She suggested that we camp down by the lower pond, an area not normally used as a site but pressed into service for this one special weekend. She thought that maybe two tents could be squeezed in if they were not very large tents.

My tent is huge. It is big enough for two queen air mattresses and I can stand up full height in the center of it. My camping buddy has a more modest tent but we still need room for the screened pavilion, and space to set up an outdoor kitchen. I would bring even more but I have reached the maximum capacity of my pickup truck.

I called several times over the past few months trying to convince them to move us to a larger site. They wouldn’t budge. Finally, late last week, they said we could move to another site if we were willing to share with three other people. They agreed to let me decide once I arrived and had a chance to look over our lower pond location as well as the new option.

Thank heavens they never moved us from the pond. Look at the difference between our site (right) and the field where most of the campers were set up (above). (My camping buddy did not want to be in the picture but you can still see part of his thumb; he had it over the lens.)

I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Oneida on a Memorial weekend again. It was just too crowded. There were several power blackouts, the water pressure fell so low that one of the two bathhouses had to be closed resulting in long lines to take a shower under a trickle of cold water, and it was loud. Apparently gay Latinos love to play salsa very loud all day and all night. Since the pond was somewhat removed from the fray, the music was slightly subdued but the bullfrogs made up for any lull in the din. Thank you, camping buddy, for the ear plugs.

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