Saturday, June 17, 2006

Experience Changes Writer's Perceptions Regarding Naturists

No clothes required at car show
Nudists gather at Turtle Lake annual event

Erin Schultz – The Hub

June 14, 2006

Nudity is pretty fair game at car shows in Michigan, this time of year.

I think back a decade or so ago to one in St. Ignace, when my high school boyfriend and I walked for miles, soaking up the sights of beautifully restored old Model Ts, Camaros, Mustangs and GTOs, dumping water and oil on the roads to help perpetrate the constant squealing of tires and encouraging the ladies in the cruising convertibles to show some skin, which they were always more than happy to do.

But that juvenile, "Girls Gone Wild" sort of atmosphere is a completely different world from the one I experienced at this year's annual car show at Turtle Lake, Michigan's largest nudist resort. There was no cruising, no engines roaring, no squealing tires. Just 50 cars parked on a grass field, oldies playing in the background and people sitting on lawn chairs, some fully nude, others partially covered and a few fully clothed. This wasn't the flashy exhibitionism of car-shows-gone-by, and at this place, no one needed any encouragement to let it all hang out.

No one, except maybe me.

First Impressions

"Clothing optional" is the rule at Turtle Lake, so I opted for clothing. Most others did not. When my car-aficionado friend and I pulled in at around 11 a.m. on that chilly morning, several people were already nude. That's how it is when you enter the pearly gates of a naturist community.

"Check your problems and your cell phones at the door," said Ron Cotton, Jonesville resident and owner of a souped-up 1970 Chevy Nova. "This is heaven. We don't judge each other. We're one big happy family."

Like several other participants, Cotton's been coming to the car show for years and feels perfectly comfortable. As my friend and I walked around, taking inventory of some gorgeous cars -- like a '70s Lincoln Mark IV, a rare 1930s Hudson, a recent BMW, a 1975 Corvette Stingray and a stunning restoration of a 1926 Model T -- people started coming out of the woodwork, unabashedly naked as the day they were born, walking towards us and the display of cars. It was a little unnerving. For a while, all I could hear in my head was Chet talking to Wyatt in "Weird Science": "For C-----'s sake, would you cover yourself?" And I had this powerful, morbid urge to "glance down," even if it was the last thing I'd ever want to do out in the real world. I fought it off successfully, for the most part. But it's a strange phenomenon that never goes away, even for the most adamant nudists.

Bare it all?

"Being a nudist is somewhere between voyeurism, exhibitionism, and just pure enjoyment," said Dennis Wray, car show participant. "It has nothing to do with feeling free."

Wray drove up to Turtle Lake from Akron, Ohio, to showcase his fully-restored 1947 Crosley, a rare but very cute line of early fuel-efficient vehicles, similar to the Volkswagen Bug. I met Wray while waiting for the lunch I'd ordered from a little restaurant in the resort's clubhouse. Ironically, he commented on my shirt. I was wearing a trendy little red baby-doll T-shirt I'd purchased a few years ago.

"Festival of Roses?" he asked. "Where's that?"

"Ventura, California," I answered.

I was amused by this bit. I thought - "Wow. A nudist commenting on my shirt. My clothing is a conversation piece -- an icebreaker between two strangers. Yet another reason why we like to cover ourselves. Oh, the hypocrisy."

Wray was fully clothed at the time too, but he reassured me, good-naturedly, that soon I'd get to experience "the full monty."

The full tour

During a tour of the whole facility with general manager Mark Hammond, I saw a game of volleyball, a woman cutting weeds in her yard, swimming in the indoor pool facility, people hanging out on a porch and golfcart racing - all done in the nude. Returning to the car show, I saw Dennis Wray and his wife had stripped down. I was still fully clothed feeling mighty uncomfortable on Planet Turtle Lake.

"It's not for everybody," said Hammond. "But we never do anything we have to apologize for. It's a relaxed way of life."

Hammond's been at Turtle Lake since 1988 and recently became a part-owner. He's a firm believer in the nudist way of life. His kids grew up at Turtle Lake. The surrounding farmers and exurbanites love the resort.

"The lake association wants us to keep it nudist," he said. "We bring in huge revenue to the county, and nudists don't have problems with the law."

It's true -- naked people have nothing to hide and make good neighbors. Some people at Turtle Lake live there year-round. Others stay seasonally, some are weekend campers, and some come just for the day. Hammond does an extensive criminal and financial background check on anyone who wants to buy property on the resort. He said he's had to throw out a few men with the wrong intentions.

"Some guys want to look at every woman sexually," he said. "That's not what we're about here. It's about the aesthetic of being nude -- the freedom of it."

The naked truth

Everyone was naked by the time I got back to the car show, and I wasn't freaked out anymore. But I wasn't ready to fully participate. Maybe if the day had stayed warm, if the show had gone on for another couple hours, if I'd consumed another six-pack of Budweiser (the official beer of nude classic car shows), I would've become a bonafide nudist, frolicking in the sunshine and kicking some nude butt on the volleyball court, not worrying about a thing. But it didn't happen that way and it was back to the real world of tight-lipped human social interaction.

Turtle Lake changed my whole perception of that world
. At the Sunoco station a few miles down the road, on that warm spring day, I couldn't believe so many people felt the need to wear so many clothes.

"I don't like to wear clothes anyway," said Linda Smith, Jonesville resident and owner of two classic Corvettes. "So it's no big deal. It's de-dress and de-stress."



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