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A-Camp has traditionally been the one place in the gathering where drinking is tolerated. Here it is mostly in the form of beer – in a keg if they can get one, or in aluminum cans when they can’t. Liquor bottles are always welcome, but relative rarities. Some years there is a food serving kitchen near this camp, other years not.
The first A-Camp originated at the 1985 Missouri annual. Tho it is widely believed that the “A” stands for “alcohol”, most A-Campers deny that this is the case. At that time it was known as a kitchen, and named by Kegger Dave’s wife, Charlene. She was asked what their kitchen name was and she told them it was just “a kitchen”. Bible Bob was the cook, and at that gathering they actually sent pots of food to the main circle. It wasn’t until 1989 Nevada annual that it actually became known as “a camp”, where they became established in the parking lot area. Thus the name “A-Camp” was born.
Inside the gathering, someone seeing you drinking out of a beer can might even go so far as to take it out of your hand and dump its contents on the ground in front of you. At American gatherings this prohibition is strict, and enforced spontaneously all gatherers around where any open consumption in a public place occurs. Drunken behavior usually ends up either in Shanti Sena calls, or gentle voiced people slowly trying to escort the offender out of the gathering. Some international gatherings are more permissive, and many American gatherers will not interfere with discreet consumption in a private camp.
The reasons for this intolerance can sometimes be observed in the behavior of the inhabitants of A-camp: rowdy talking and screaming, loud arguments filled with cussing and name calling that one can’t help but hear when passing by, and sometimes physical fighting. The camp is usually located on the road coming in so that it’s easy to go to the nearest town to buy more beer, and it is often the first sight seen by people making the final drive in. They sometimes stop these incoming cars and ask for money, and sometimes react threateningly if you turn them down.
The reasons for the tolerance of this place at the gathering are many, and any organized attempt by one group of gatherers to drive them out of the gathering runs into opposition from others who come to their defense. Some people say that they are some of the few gatherers willing to be out at the front gate for long time periods handling the parking. Some say they act like a filter; drunken local visitors stop at A-Camp instead of taking their carousing into the gathering. Others say that most of the A-Campers try to act responsibly and it is only a small minority that is causing the trouble. (There has been some lamenting in recent years over some of the elders in that community, such as Kegger Dave and Little Hawk, passing on and the new young people not getting any more guidance.) And others point to the ideal of the gathering being open to anyone who has or has ever had a belly button, and that everyone should be reacted to with love and a desire to aid the healing of any person in distress. And the A-Campers themselves like to point out how everyone else in the gathering has their pot, but they can’t get high in their own way.
So they remain as an ever controversial presence at the gathering. Many years there have been active attempts to have a continuously operating Welcome Home kitchen by Front Gate to counteract the negative impressions that A-Camp can give to first time visitors, but this has not happened continuously.
In recent years there has been concern about alcohol appearing in anarchist kid kitchens further inside the gathering.