Most people who attend parades in downtown Mobile appear perfectly content to sit on the curb between processions, eating corndogs or chicken-on-a-stick, or waiting entirely too long to use portable restrooms where sanitary conditions can rapidly deteriorate. But for those who are not so thrilled to do either, there is an alcove not far off the beaten path where patrons enjoy Mardi Gras in a much more civilized manner.
For the past 14 years, Peggy and Ike Jimenez have organized RV City, a roughly 10-acre patch of vacant property beneath an Interstate 10 off-ramp, where as many as 197 recreational vehicles are parked for the season. There, whether they arrived in bed-mounted campers, fifth-wheel tow-behinds, or full-sized motorhomes, revelers can pass the time with a temporary community of like-minded individuals and many of the comforts of home.
“When we first started out, a group of us wanted to go somewhere, so my husband went to (former Mayor Mike Dow’s) office, submitted a request, met with him and the request was granted,” Peggy Jimenez said. “The next year more people found out, so we took a fence down and added more area and every year after that it grew and grew until it grew to capacity and now we have a waiting list.”
The couple, who originally organized the campers voluntarily, but have since accepted an hourly, part-time wage from the city, begin the planning process on Ash Wednesday each year. In November, prospective campers are expected to pay a $400 rental fee to the city and typically about 20-30 people on the list do not, Peggy said. Those spots are then offered, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to others on the waiting list.
Smaller campers and people who indicate they want to camp together are grouped in the middle of the lot, while those with larger campers or no preference are reserved spaces around the perimeter. Peggy said officials from the fire department check the final layout and the only rule is no open fires.
Randy and Nancy Harber, Mardi Gras veterans who actually met when Nancy served as a designated driver for Randy one Joe Cain Day, are spending their first carnival season in their own RV under Interstate 10. After borrowing a travel trailer from his cousin in previous years, Randy bought and refurbished a 31-foot, 20-year-old Winnebago last April “specifically for Mardi Gras.”
The Harbers, who live in Pensacola but are originally from Mobile, are members of the Joe Cain organization. Randy will be riding on the right side of Float #7 this year. Until then, between parades, you can find them two rows deep into RV City, next to a camper decorated front-to-back in Harley Davidson insignia. If you’re lucky, perhaps they will offer some of the red beans and rice or shrimp creole they plan to cook in a cast iron pot.
“We love the atmosphere here,” Randy said. “It’s more family-oriented — it’s one of the few places a parent can give their kids a little freedom to run around. There’s alcohol of course, but the thing is, everyone is respectful of each other.”
Peggy Jimenez said while many of the campers are affiliated with a parading organization, it’s not a requirement of a reservation. She’s in the Order of Athena while her husband is a member of the Conde Cavaliers.
“You see that a lot of people have their organization’s flags up on their campers,” she said. “The Mobile Mystics, Neptune’s Daughters, the Polka Dots and many others are almost always represented, but there are a lot of spectators, too.”
A little further south of the Harbers, Leisa and Dewey Coburn of Satsuma were hoisting seasonal flags above their camper. The Coburns are experienced RVers who will be taking their 32-foot Pursuit on a trip to Alaska in May. It’s their sixth or seventh year in RV City, Leisa said, and even though they are no longer members of a parading organization, they intend to maintain the camping tradition they adopted when they were.
“It’s more fun if you have a place to hangout and cook and relax while you wait for night parades,” Leisa said. “When you consider the cost of a hotel and for the same price you can either spend two nights there or four weeks down here, it makes a lot of sense.”
The city doesn’t provide power, water or sewer to RV City and Leisa said even with the amenities in the RVs, most people accessorize their campsites with generators, grills, wood ovens or stoves, portable toilets and TVs and radios. Pets are allowed; the Coburns are accompanied by their two dachshunds.
Further down the way, David Andrews of Mobile was setting up his 33-foot Heartland Big Country. It’s his first year in RV City, but Andrews occasionally attends NASCAR races or college football games with his RV in tow.
“We may have about seven or eight people over at a time, mostly friends and family,” he said. “Along with everything else, it’s just nice to have a place to go after a long day to relax and not worry about being stuck in traffic.”
Despite the convenience and history of cooperation from the city, Peggy said she was told by the previous administration that next year would be RV City’s last in that location. Road construction scheduled around the entrance to the Wallace Tunnel will likely force the campers to relocate.
“We were told next year would be our last,” she said. “They are planning on taking out both the (east and westbound) off ramps. All of that should take two years and we haven’t met with the mayor’s office about relocating but hopefully we can reorganize and come back. We love it there.”