Pondering how we try and escape from our daily lives but only end up bringing the issues with us. Yes, that is me on the beach wishing some lady in a bikini would walk by.
I also apologize for my numerous errors in grammar that were in this post before I noticed and corrected them. I really have to stop trying to write while under the influence.
When people speak of camping generally images of the wilderness and being away from civilization come to mind. But I have to credit the amazing American inventiveness in taking the suburban experience and shaping it for camping. Joe Cool and the lovely Mrs. Cool picked Miss Wiggles and me up Thursday afternoon for the much awaited adult version of spring break that would take us away from the usual grind of daily life. Dragonwife and my son Darth Spoilboy had caught a plane earlier that day to visit some of her people still living in the greater Virginia, DC, and Maryland area leaving me free of spousal oversight for the weekend. So, while we all were missing Spoilboy, Wiggles and I boarded the Cool’s party express van and made our way down to the coast. The idea was to make it to the camp ground before night fall, get the tent up, then kick back with an extended taste testing of Buffett’s Landshark Lager as Miss Wiggles roasted some marshmallows . Being dedicated parrotheads, Joe Cool and I had recognized some weeks ago that we both had fallen off on our duty in supplying Jimmy with our share of money so he could continue to fly his planes, visit exotic tropical places, and avoid all concert locations easily accessible for us to get to without having to take several days off. Yeah, this has been sort of bugging us for the last several years. He came to Columbia a few years ago but the tickets sold out in fifteen minutes due to the small venue and the prices people wanted for second sales would have required another mortgage on the house, selling a major organ, or going into the high priced gigolo business that neither Joe Cool or I are ready to afflict on the fairer sex, yet. Other larger venues like Raleigh, Atlanta, or Orlando are just too damn far away with tickets still expensive as hell. It just isn’t possible to leave a Buffett concert feeling a really nice buzz or with any money, stagger back to the car, pass out, then wake up early the next morning and drive to work from those locations. Throw in a concert hook up with some beautiful lady parrothead and no matter how impressed the cop might be with your story he, or she, isn’t going to cut you any slack for doing one hundred miles an hour on the interstate. But never the less after making it to the camp ground then putting up the tent and getting the fire going Joe, Mrs. Cool, and I began testing his new offering to the unwashed masses. But as we sampled the fine easy going beer and Wiggle ignited a few marshmallows we began noticing those around us at other very nearby campsites.
Americans created the concept of the suburbs several decades ago to remove themselves from the crowded rat race confines of city living. While Mr. and Mrs. Middleclass wanted to leave the crime and pollution of the city behind them they decided to take the conveniences such as stores and all those nifty appliances that kept life civilized above the rural riff raff that still grew and hunted their own food to a certain extent and lived without automatic washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers. Heaven forbid Mrs. Middleclass would ever have to use a wash board, hang clothes out to dry, or wash loads of dishes after each meal. But even with the exodus out of the city it was soon apparent that what they wanted to leave behind had hidden in the various aspects of suburban life they created still leaving many with a desire to escape to a simpler time. Again civilize suburbanites have sought out to escape the clutter of modern life to the camp grounds but find themselves still creating microcosms of the very thing they left behind.
Most should have some knowledge of non-wilderness camping. Just imagine a rather large plot of land segmented off to lots with water and power outlets at each location. Now, understand I’m talking about camping, not some new suburb waiting for another set of McMansions to be built. But admittedly the only difference is the size of the lots and the location close to something like the beach or a lake. Subdivisions prefer locations like farm land or a nice piece of woodland area that use to have real forest animals living there.
The Cool’s party van pulled up to our civilized camp site late in the afternoon Thursday part of a new set of people yearning to get closer to nature without having to do without the coffeemaker or microwave. Our general area of the camp ground had been fairly cleared out leaving us for at that moment without any neighbors to the left or right of us. Across for us though was a tiny hard-shell camper that for years generally defied my understanding because of how small it was until I happen to see one at a gas station one time. The tiny campers of these types turned out to be nothing but a sleeper camper containing a queen size cushion. Any items of moderate size stored in the camper had to be removed and placed somewhere else before there could be enough room to sleeping for just two people. The one across from us sat alone looking for the most part abandoned except for a power cord running to the small AC unit sitting atop it. It didn’t take long to get the five-person tent we brought along up and a fire going with hot dogs roasting as the first of our neighbors showed up pulling a large pop-up camper. The driver of the van pulling the pop-up expertly maneuvered it to the perfect spot to take advantage of every square centimeter of space he had available. Compared to us who had to lift and turn the tent a few times to get it where we wanted it. Of course, the Cools and I had started taste testing that incredible Landshark lager with our funnier moments a few minutes before as we tried to make sense of the color coding on the supports for the tent which for some reason wouldn’t allow a green pole to fit in a red hole.
Once the pop-up camper was in position we were honestly awed by the ballet the mother and five children performed as they off loaded themselves, and the stuff inside the van, and on top quickly and quietly. The driver of the van, obliviously the dad, went and retrieved some sort of corded control pad from the side of the camper and we then watched as the camper leveled itself, raised the center portion, then deployed not two lateral segments but three. My grandparents in their older but not sedentary days had owned a pop-up camper. Theirs was a bear to level on any ground that sloped one way or the other and the center portion had to be hand cranked up and down. The lateral segments, which held the cushions for sleeping, were pulled out and secured with pins. Long story short their pop-up was nothing but a tent on wheels. The one next to us unfolded and expanded to the point I half expected it to sprout legs, arms, a head, then walk down toward the beach like some Transformer. Once the pop-up next to us reached its final shape though the mom and five kids began setting up various folding tables, pulled out a portable grill and small microwave, and from our vantage point looking into their camper we could see the mom beginning to cook from the kitchen inside. A cold chill ran down my spine as I noticed the oldest daughter working from a Martha Stewart cook book as she cut and prepared various ingredients bringing them to her mother inside. You will have to excuse me for my reaction but I have developed some sort of belief that Martha may be the Antichrist and I have no argument with the mom and dad wanting their family to have a good meal but I found the elaborate nature of their cooking a little extreme given the location they were in. Plus, they popped the circuit breaker for their campsite twice trying to use the microwave which sent the mom into a hissy fit.
Next to appear in our area was one of those huge recreational vehicles that could double for a dry land version of Noah’s ark. The driver, like the guy with the pop-up, deftly backed it into his slot with an ease that hid the fact of how hard it actually is taking into account other campers, trees, and the electrical and water hooks ups on the camp site that always are positioned in the most awkward places. These modern campers turned out to be a retired couple and instead of having an ark full of animals limited themselves to a small dog whose parentage had to be a very American melting pot of different breeds. Joe Cool and I helped them move the camp site picnic table closer to the main door of their camper as the awning silently moved into position as Retired Dude hooked up the water and power. For our troubles he brought us inside his camper to offer us a reward of freshly made margaritas even then swirling inside a decorative and more than likely expensive pitcher with parrots flying around the outside. The matching crystal glasses were very much like a set that Dragonwife owned at one time the difference being that Dragonwife’s had long since been broken and thrown away. A small tour of his large camper Retired Dude gave had both Joe and I frankly amazed. In the back was a queen sized bed with at huge LCD screen mounted on the wall. It had a full but small bathroom that reminded both Joe and I that any late night urges to go would require us to walk the distance to the public restrooms. And with me taking care of Wiggles I could expect at least two trips that night. Midway through the camper was an easy chair with its own smaller television a couch and love seat that we were told could all be folded out to supply ample sleeping space for a large family. The kitchen had I believe a full sized stove and refrigerator along with a decent sized table for serving. The paneling, appliances, and the entertainment systems in Retired Dude’s moveable abode was in many ways nicer than my house. My thoughts on such a huge camper ranged from me asking them if my group could sleep over to the strange fact that growing up I had lived in smaller trailers right after my mom and dad divorced and before I moved in with my grandparents. Retired Dude’s wife rejoined us and whispered something to him bringing an end to the tour. Several minutes later though we saw Retired Dude on top of his camper trying to positioning the satellite dish to the certain location in the sky looking for the world like the unlucky soul who years ago had to play with the old rabbit ears antenna on the television set trying to get better reception as other instructed him or her to move in various awkward and uncomfortable positions. At one point his wife, yelling from an open window in the rear of the camper, said that he wouldn’t come down until she could see her show on the Game Show Channel. Joe Cool, Mrs. Cool, and I for a whole host of reasons saluted him as he worked to bring the glories of satellite television to the great outdoors.
Timed passed and early evening brought the owners of the very small hard shell camper across from us back to their camp site. Still visible across the back window of their small car as it drove up was the words “Just Married” in white. Literally jumping out from the car was a young couple who rushed to the small door on their camper and crawled inside but not before exchanging tonsils and feeling each other up oblivious to all around them. After they entered the small camper it bounced around in a jerking fashion but soon that was replaced with a soft steady rhythm. For reasons less of decorum than sheer envy it was then that I took Wiggles for a little walk toward the playground. Along the way we were met by a skateboard gang taking advantage of a couple of hills, campers rushing to the public showers trying not to drop the shampoo or their underwear, people carrying trash to the dumpsters, watched others just trying to store all they brought for the night and still have room to sleep, and listened to the odd collection of humanity as it went about its other usual business. My family had done this type of camping for years when I was much younger and we were guilty then and now of bringing stuff like an electric griddle and a hair dryer but it seemed that a quantum leap had been made since then in how people seem to be bringing everything from home. I described this type of camping once to an old Alabama country boy who was one of my best friends while in the army, Brian Speakman (for once I will use a real name). He laughed it off saying that in no way was camping. Of course Brian and his dad did the real wilderness camping taking everything like food, water, and going as far from civilization as they could for days on end. Even though I enjoyed our recent camping trip I have to agree with my long lost friend. Most everyone that weekend seemed so caught up in keeping the trappings of normal life that nature, and the reason I thought people ventured out away and camped, was lost in the hustle of cooking and making sure the satellite dish was locked on to the right position. It wasn’t until late in the night after people were asleep that as I lay in my sleeping bag I could feel the soft sea breeze blow through the tent and hear the surf off in the distance. Only to be replaced soon after with the soft squeak of the newlyweds across from us start to bounce their little camper again. I think I’ll have to stay with motels rooms from now on. If I have to deal with humanity on such close quarters at least I shouldn’t have to walk two hundred yards to a bathroom.