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For RVers, L.A. beach is a park place in the sun

Category: RV
Source: Los Angeles Times
Publish Date: Sunday, December 7, 2008
Summary: "You just say hi to one person, and next thing you know you're talking to the next person," said Doug Allen, who was smoking a cigarette outside his RV on a recent morning. "We'll all get together and barbecue, have a few beers, have a little party."

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By Kate Linthicum
December 7, 2008
Life for campers at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey comes with whiffs of the nearby sewage treatment plant and the regular roar of jets from Los Angeles International Airport a mile away.

But the recreational vehicle park's loyal patrons like the palm-tree-lined patch of asphalt, where they have ocean views and sand at their doorstep for less than $40 a night during winter.

And they say they love its quirky community of renters.

"You just say hi to one person, and next thing you know you're talking to the next person," said Doug Allen, who was smoking a cigarette outside his RV on a recent morning. "We'll all get together and barbecue, have a few beers, have a little party."

Dockweiler, which is run by Los Angeles County, is home away from home for Allen and a handful of others who regularly stay at the park on the days they work in Los Angeles.

Allen, 58, camps at Dockweiler three days a week to oversee his L.A.-based contracting company, which specializes in kitchens and bathrooms. The rest of the time, he lives in Lake Arrowhead with his wife.

He and the other regulars often act as hosts to the steady stream of short-term visitors who trickle through. Three weeks is the park's maximum length of stay.

With a beige leather couch and thick white carpet, Allen's motor home is bigger and nicer than many hotel rooms. One recent day, a large bottle of Jose Cuervo and two cans of chili beans sat on the kitchen counter.

The county opened the RV park in 1980. On a clear day, you can see from Malibu all the way to Santa Catalina Island, said manager Jose Mata.

During warmer months, the park's 118 campsites are usually occupied.

But last week it was about a quarter full, and a fog hung so thick that you could barely make out the nearby waves.

That didn't bother Jack Hanson, a first-time renter who was fiddling with a hose that stretched from his RV's sewage tank to a dump tank.

Hanson, 64, lives in Martinez, Calif., and was in Los Angeles with his daughter, a medical student who is applying for residencies at area hospitals. He hates the city.

"There are too many people, the air is nasty, life is paced way too fast," he said.

Hanson finds the park comforting.

"You can have peace and quiet or chitchat with folks," he said. "It's its own little culture."

The frequent boom of airplanes doesn't bother the retired engineer.

"We just blank it out," he said, adding that the sound "doesn't last very long."

At a nearby campsite, Susan Lee, a tourist from Tacoma, Wash., was talking with a new friend, Taz Campbell, a Toronto native who has been traveling in his camper for 15 years.

"So you're a full-timer, huh?" Lee asked him.

Campbell nodded.

He had stopped Lee to ask her what she thought of the park and for recommendations of nearby restaurants.

Lee, 60, and her husband had arrived for their fourth stay at the park the night before. Outside their motor home, the couple set up four folding chairs facing the ocean. They planned later in the day to decorate for Christmas with lights and a plastic tree. After that, they might have a martini or a glass of wine, Lee said.

It was the first week of the Lees' five-month trip around California. They travel with a big stack of used books, their golden retriever, Ollie, and a copy of the Trailer Life directory that lists RV campgrounds around the country.

After working for 38 years at Wells Fargo, Lee said she was savoring retirement on the road.

"You meet so many nice people, and you have something in common with them," she said.

Campbell agreed. A big promoter of the RV lifestyle, he said he is working on a screenplay called "Motor Homies."

Looking around and out at the ocean, he wondered why a person would need much more.

Linthicum is a Times staff writer.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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