The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) September 17, 1998
Can’t See the Forest For the RVs
Imagine living in a world where you know everything the neighbors are up to. ‘Round ‘bout suppertime, you can hear the kids whine about how long it’s taking the burgers to brown and the macaroni to cheese up. You see Dad trying to teach his lab to fetch sticks, but it isn’t going well and both Dad and the dog are getting pissed. You know Uncle Boob is going through the Coors cache like a bear goes through a plastic garbage can and you know Aunt Ditz has to wet down her hair before she goes anywhere or else it looks like a gerbil with a cheap perm.
You know who has to go to the bathroom when, who’s afraid of the dark, who can’t fit into his favorite shorts anymore, and who leaves a trail of Doritos and Mountain Dew stickum wherever they go. You know the sliding door on the family mini-van squeals like a slaughterhouse whenever it’s opened, and you know at least three of the family towels are covered with bleach stains. When Uncle Boob gets grumpy because the gals keep whipping the men folk at Pictionary, you hear it, and when Aunt Ditz hand-washes her good brassiere and drapes it over the hibachi to dry, you see it.
Tell me, what would you call a world like that?
I call it “camping,” and I have just recently returned from a weekend of it.
* * *
The last time I went camping was 25 years ago and I swore then I’d never do it again. I love the outdoors as much as the next guy. It’s just that I love toilets even more than the next guy. Know what I mean?
But my youngster had taken to calling the lone cottonwood tree in our backyard a “forest,” so I figured it was my dadly duty to give it another try. Camping belongs on the same list with Christmas, dining at Chuck E Cheese, and voting for school bond proposals. The “crap we do for kids” list.
Purists might argue that what we did wasn’t really camping. No sleeping bags, none of that tent nonsense, no campfires, and no squatting behind a bush. We rented a cabin, complete with kitchenette, sagging bed, toilet and minuscule shower. And … uh … I took a teevee set.
Hey, I wanted to show my kid a forest. Not re-enact the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
We went to a place not exceedingly well-known, yet not exactly a secret, either. When I was my kid’s age, my family often went camping around McCall, but McCall is no longer a place for camping. With a casino or two, a convention center and an airport capable of landing a 747, McCall might be a fine alternative to a Vegas weekend, but it’s not a place for camping.
Our destination had everything you need for an authentic Idaho outdoor experience. A lake, lots of trees, more than enough hills, and one of those rustic lodges where you can buy whatever you forgot to bring with you at a mere four times the going price down here in the flatlands. And dumb us, we forgot to bring cottage cheese. But the rustic lodge had one left. Back behind the wolverine jerky. Further back, like behind that thar stuffed bobcat and a tub of pickled eggs. Yup, the brown ‘uns.
Sort of dusty it was, and the expiration date had worn off, but by golly, it still sort of looked like cottage cheese.
* * *
There was wildlife around, or so we were told. “Walt,” a rustic lodge employee told us. During the day, Walt cleaned the rustic rental cabins, and at night he tended rustic bar and ran the rustic karaoke machine.
That’s right. Karaoke. In the evenings, the rustic lodge did karaoke to entertain those mountain men who’d forgotten to bring Pictionary. Or a teevee set, hah!
Down in the valley, my wife would never, ever have the nerve to sing karaoke. But with Walt’s encouragement—as well as several of Walt’s rustic gin-and-tonics and 100 miles between us and everyone we’ll ever see again—she sang karaoke. She sang either “Unchained Melody” or “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” You’d have to ask her which.
Anyway, Walt told my daughter about the bald eagles she might see, and the moose she might see, and the bears she might see. She didn’t see any of them, of course. Wild critters are plenty smart enough not to go anywhere near anyplace where there’s enough people to open a Masonic Temple. True, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Western Idaho State Fair. Yet it was a lot more crowded than … oh, let’s say … my home. At home, I never have several people leaving flip-flops on the edge of my lawn while they wade through the sprinkler. I never have several kids chasing chipmunks across my property, or several dogs having a doggie barroom brawl outside my front door. And I never have several other families screaming their answers to Pictionary within 20 feet of where I’m trying to sleep.
But heck, Native Americans went camping all the time, and they took their whole town with them every time they did it. So it might have been worse. Besides, with all that laid-backness around, we had plenty of time to catch some nature shows on teevee. We saw an eagle, and a moose, and if we hadn’t gone to the rustic lodge for karaoke, I’ll bet we’d of seen a bear or two.
September 17, 1998