It used to be the railroad tracks that separated the haves from the have-nots in a town. Nowadays, with the steady decline of trains, it's not so simple.
In a nation increasingly made up of the very rich and the also-rans, the contemporary landscape is more likely to be speckled with gated communities at one end and trailer parks at the other, with nary a railroad track in sight. That's especially true here in Payson, where affordable housing is nearly non-existent in any form other than trailers.
And now that last bastion of affordable lodging -- the parking lots of Wal-Mart stores throughout our fair land -- is being threatened. The mega-chain, as most of you know, has traditionally welcomed weary travelers to pull up their recreational vehicles and spend the night in its vast parking lots.
But some Valley cities have decided they no longer want their pristine Wal-Mart parking lots littered with the nation's riff-raff. In fact, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa and Scottsdale have all passed ordinances banning overnight parking in retail lots.
According to an article in the Jan. 7 edition of The Arizona Republic, Wal-Mart's general policy is to welcome overnight RV parking, "but store managers are instructed to follow local laws."
Apparently the objections in these communities are centered around two issues:
- RVs -- which are basically motorized trailers -- are trashy and unsightly.
- While most people who spend the night in Wal-Mart parking lots are friendly and law-abiding, you just never know when some transient-type will take advantage of the chain's hospitality.
I'm not sure I follow this logic, but it seems those who fear such transients believe they would simply pass on through town if Wal-Mart didn't allow them to bed down. To my way of thinking, it's better to have a transient sleeping peacefully at the local Supercenter than casing our town's neighborhoods because there's no room at the inn.
And what, heaven forbid, if one of them decides to sneak into a gated community? Just think of the cooties.
Anyway, considering the fact that some Valley communities have banned RVs from Wal-Mart parking lots, I thought I better see how secure the practice is right here in Payson. Local Supercenter Manager Quinn Cremer was happy to oblige:
"Wal-Mart has a 24-hour (time limit) in the parking lot, which is reasonable," he said. "I generally am pretty flexible, and if (travelers) contact me I'll allow them to stay a little bit longer. I'm not a stickler."
Cremer said that the communities that have passed ordinances banning the practice are generally those that experience significant quantities of "Snowbirds," and that Payson does not get the large influx of winter visitors that they do in the Valley.
"As far as Payson, we're pretty friendly to our campers and ATVers, and all that type of stuff," he said. "That's what our town is built on.
"Even though some locals are bitter about the (Flatlanders) coming up here and making a mess, it really does help our economy out tremendously."
Cremer also says he hasn't gotten any heat from the town so far, but he says that's in part because he runs a fairly tight parking lot, so to speak.
"The east side of our parking lot is where we can accommodate them," he said, "--away from our basic parking. On the weekends you'll see an influx of folks, but it really hasn't been a problem."
In fact, Cremer says it's not fair to assume that every RV in his parking lot is camped for the night.
"You have to be careful because you'll see a lot of them out there on a Thursday or Friday evening, but they're not there to stay," he said. "They need a central location where they can stop and get their other vehicle to do all the city stuff and then the next morning they're not there. Most of them are there for two to four hours and then they're on their way."
Payson Town Manager Fred Carpenter says the town has no objection to overnight stays in our Supercenter parking lot.
"We've heard no complaints," he said. "I don't think it's hurting anybody, and part of the reason is that Wal-Mart is located in an area that's totally commercial. We don't plan on doing anything."
It's good to know that the practice of camping at the Supercenter is secure in Payson -- at least for the time being. I just have one suggestion.
Maybe Cremer could run some railroad tracks across his parking lot demarcating the east side area where overnighters are supposed to park. That way we can get back to the simple practice of keeping those kinds of folks on their own side of the tracks.
It would seem a much more economical solution than putting walls and gates around the wealthy communities.