Thursday, December 5, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 3: Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV headquarters, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

I'm too new to comprehend all of the moving parts of Escapees RV Club (and its ancillary connections), so what I share below is merely a reflection of my first impressions and limited personal experiences thus far. 

What is the Escapees RV Club? 

The mission of the Escapees RV Club is to support an RV lifestyle "with everything you need to make it easier, more affordable, safer, and .... fun!"

Services that flow from the mission include:
  • "Largest private mail forwarding service in the country"
  • Job exchange
  • Discounts at selected campgrounds or services (think similarly to AAA or AARP)
  • Education, e.g. RV Boot Camps, webinars, and an "online RV university."
  • Multi-day "convergences" at campgrounds around the country, which include both educational workshops and social events
  • Special-interest groups within the larger club membership
  • Member-driven online forums 
  • Webinars

If I'm not an RVer, why am I a member of Escapees RV Club?

Although I'm not the traditional RVer, I am still a member of the tribe:
  1. I have a rig in which I sleep on a part-time basis - my car. My carV, so to speak. In fact, my car is always set up for sleeping and camping.
  2. I am nomadic. We nomads are diverse in how frequently and how far we migrate. Some of us move every few days, some every few weeks, some every few months. Some of us stick to a certain geographical region, some of us crawl all over the continent. Some of us boondock and some of us move from one full hook-up situation to the next. Some of us do both. On a migration continuum that runs from moving every couple of days to moving every year, I fall at the far right end of the spectrum.
  3. Like a full-time RVer, I practice minimalism in the quantity of stuff I own because of limited space and frequent moves, using only my car to carry all of my possessions from one temporary abode to the next.
I share some of the special administrative concerns that RV-based nomads do, such as permanent mailing addresses, mail forwarding services, portable health care, tax homes, voting, etc.

Mail goes on, even during a festival. Columbia, Missouri. September 2007.

Rainbow Campground in Livingston, Texas

The campground property is immense. There are three large gathering places on the grounds:
  • CARE Center, which has a dining room and a vast living room, with the latter including a number of cozy couches, large upholstered chairs, a library, a TV viewing area, a "church" area, and an arts-and-crafts section.  
  • Activity Building with adjacent swimming pool. The activity building has one large room and a stage, restrooms, and several small rooms for small-group activities.
  • Club House, which includes a kitchen, a game room, and a library. 

Every day offered me opportunities to socialize with fellow campground visitors by way of regular social hours, exercise "classes," card games, etc. Said socializing also happens organically by just walking around the campgrounds. I'd say that rig-peeking is a universal form of recreation for campers. At least that's been my experience in any campgrounds I've visited.

I took a pleasant walk up and down the campground lanes, which included a couple of wooded areas near a ravine.

Another thing I liked about the campground (in addition to its affordability), was that at no time did I feel "less than" for being a car camper amongst a flock of RVs. In fact, I felt completely at home and welcomed by everyone.  Of course, I also feel no reason to be bashful about my lil' rig, so if there had been any icky vibe in that regard, I would have put that squarely on the other person's shoulders and not let it sit on mine.

Teeny RV at Good Golly Miss Molly's, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Escapees Care Center

The C.A.R.E. Center is a separate legal entity from the Escapees RV Club, but its physical property abuts the Escapees Rainbow Park campground. If you didn't know any differently, you'd assume the CARE Center was part of the Escapees RV campground.

C.A.R.E. is an acronym for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.

It is flipping cool.  So many reasons:
  1. It's a place for full-timers to live  - in their own rigs - after they must get off the road either permanently or temporarily. ... And they get to stay among their own tribe - fellow full-timers! 
  2. The CARE Center is not an isolated community where the only residents are assisted-living residents and their sometimes visitors - heck, no, CARE Center residents enjoy a daily influx of active full-timers coming and going in the dining room, volunteering at the CARE Center, and participating in activities that are at or near the CARE Center. 
  3. The monthly fee is affordable for many, many folks, and it not only offers the site space, but three meals a day, plus regular housekeeping-type assistance in their rigs.  
  4. Transportation to medical appointments + local recreational field trips.

One of my new friends, "Gina," is a CARE Center resident. A solo full-timer for decades, Gina's most recent rig is a Lazy Daze. Before she became a resident, she thoughtfully donated money at times and also volunteered at the CARE Center when she stayed at the campground.

Volunteering at the CARE Center is a win-win for everyone. Volunteers drive, clean off dining room tables, do some light bookkeeping, and I don't know what else. In exchange, the CARE Center residents, of course, reap the injection of new conversations from folks still on the road, and the volunteers get free rent AND meals at the CARE Center dining room.

One evening, Gina and I, and another new friend, "Mandy," (an active solo full-timer who also owns a Lazy Daze, and who was my next door neighbor at the campground) went on a group outing to town. A husband-and-wife duo of volunteers did the driving of the two vans; there were perhaps 15 of us who went. The couple had been staying (and volunteering) at the Livingston grounds for a month; they would leave Monday for another Escapees RV site in Alabama.

In addition to interactions with active full-timers, CARE Center residents also chat with townies and weekenders who come for the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts on Saturday mornings (for only 5 bucks) or the Big Breakfasts on Friday mornings, which include eggs and two meats and other stuff (for only 6 bucks).

I was mighty impressed with the CARE Center operations.



At some point, Escapees RV Club recognized that the membership skewed hard toward the silverhairs. This makes sense, of course, because you've got to have some bucks to be able to buy most RVs, plus the financial security to travel in them. And folks who've passed through various life milestones - advanced in their careers, paid off their college debts, raised the kids, set aside long-term savings, have more disposable income to play with - they're generally going to be older.

But Escapees RV Club wisely looked to its future by creating space for what they call Xscapers - a cohort they define as "working-age RVers."

This is a clever, clever definition because it skirts what might be an off-putting arbitrary age envelope, allowing generous overlap between Middle Youngs with children in the nest, Old Youngs, and Young Olds whose kids might be out of the nest, but the parents are still very much working.

Xscapers also plant the words "active" and "adventure" in its message, which perk the ears of the younger demographics.


Yeah, almost exclusively white. This lack of diversity needs just as much attention as the age homogeneity did before Escapees launched Xscapers.

I wonder if Escapees RV Club has ever reached out to clubs for strategic partnerships such as NAARVA  (National African American RVers Association).

As a nation, we've got to be energetic in our efforts to send inclusive messages to all Americans.

An organization's marketing materials - such as photos that include groups or individuals having fun - should reflect heterogeneity (actual or aspirational) in its membership.

And how about an organization avoid naming locations with such monikers as "plantation," as Escapees RV Club does for its Alabama campground? Isn't it time we put to rest kill the idea of plantations as a romantic representation of a bygone era of Southern charm and hospitality, and instead, consider how some current and prospective members see plantations as what they were: open-air prisons for enslaved women, men, and children?

Volunteer ethic

There is an ethos of volunteerism at the campground (and CARE Center) that surprised and pleased me.

Yes, there's a quid pro quo for folks who sign up for specific volunteer duties and tenures of same - in the form of free or discounted campground fees - but overall, there's a community vibe in the expectation that we all clean up after ourselves and help keep things nice for our neighbors and those who arrive after we leave, rather than a resort model, where there is an expectation of "somebody" who is going to take care of us and our environs.

I am tickled to be a member of the Escapees RV Club. 

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