Monday, September 11, 2006

Camping.....MOI`??? = ARRRRRRGH!!!

this could be MY manifesto on the whole camping thing...

I am always stopped in my tracks to read the latest email from Jim Walker...a talented PDX musician who deserves your attention, as well as your support.
He (and usually his musical partner, the equally talented guitarist/vocalist Tim Ellis) manage to cut a musical swath through the morose conventions that sometimes contain and restrict the true art of musicmaking.

Check out some songs, view pix and lyrics, and become Jim and Tim’s bestest-ever
pals at:

Jim truly cracks me up with his views on his life and living in it...

The parallels and intersects are uncanny sometimes, but I think that this happens with all of our lives....we all just get to run down another street for a second, before crossing with others and intersecting.

This is his post from the 9/10/06 email from JVA Weekly. (Jeroan Van Aichen is his other nom de plume to the un-initiated of you...
Just do a Google search for that name, and it will lead you back to Jim)

Pretty circular, right???? ....and blissfully so.

BIG LOVING NOTE: This post has not been edited, due to the wonderful,salty nature of Jim's delivery, and out of big respect for the author and these stories.

In previous emails to his group(away from the blogsphere), the details of his love for his dad has more 'backstory' than any post here can bring to you.

Suffice it to say that I am moved (when Dad is involved) when I hear these stories, and it is largely through Jim's generous heart that he shares, and hopefully, we are the more enlightened for it.

If this morphs into a lame attempt at a 'parental advisory', then please make it so :)



“So what time do you want to leave tomorrow?” I asked my father.

This was a couple of weeks ago.
Kim and I had just spent a few days vacationing on the Oregon Coast. Most of
the time is was cloudy and drizzly, the beaches rugged and rain swept. The
nights were chilly.
It was fantastic. My kind of weather and landscape.

The back half of our trip was going to be spent driving down to Santa
Barbara, CA to see my sister, my brother-in-law, and my little nephew
Joaquin. Joaquin was turning two but I hadn’t been down to visit with the
dude. It was high time.
Then my father found out we were going.
He wanted to go too. But he wanted us to pick him up on the way down. And he
insisted on taking his car...and he wanted to drive.

Oh sweet Christ.
The very thought of it made me too weak to try and come up with the one
hundred reasons why it was a bad idea.
So I caved.

And there we were.
Kim and I standing with him in the hallway of his house in Northern
The question still hung in the air, thick as cigar smoke.
We braced ourselves, knowing we weren’t going to like the answer.

“Five AM.” He said.

Are you out of your f*cking mind or something, man? No, no, no. That’s way
too early, Dad.” I said.

“Sh*t, kid...gotta beat the traffic!” He hollered.

“For what reason?
Dad, look, I don’t mind getting up early and all but Jesus...can’t we
compromise a bit here? How about we leave at...eight?”

“Ah hell no, we’ll be sitting in traffic all day!!”

My sister told me awhile back about the last time my dad came down to visit
her. He got to their house at 1pm and she wasn’t going to be off work until
So he sat on the porch for four hours and waited for her.

“Dad, what’s so important about beating the traffic?
We get up early and race down there so we can sit in the hotel room and wait
for them to come home? Come on, be reasonable...”

But reason isn’t really dad’s strong suit. I was wasting my breath.

The next morning Kim and I were rudely awakened by a fist on the door.

“Alright you guys...time to get up...”

I cracked one lid.
Not a speck of light showed anywhere.

“It’s still night time!” I croaked into the blackness.

“Time to go...”
So we got up and we went. And it was horrible.

“Get something to eat before we go!” Dad said.

“That’s okay I’ll get something later - my stomach doesn’t know I’m up
yet...” I said.

My father drove for hours without stopping, focusing completely on the road,
and driving in silence.
His eyes were fixed on a distant place; a stopping point.
Somewhere with no traffic, someplace where he was finally THERE.

Somewhere near Stockton my cell phone rang. It was a text message from Kim
in the back seat:
I HAVE TO PEE, it said.
And it was like pulling teeth to get him to stop.

“Where? Where am I gonna stop, huh?”
We’d passed about a thousand signs for fast food places.

“Wendy’s? Taco Bell? McDonald’s? Anywhere...” I said.

He didn’t know you were allowed stop at those places to use the bathroom.
He’s stopped exclusively at designated ‘rest areas’ for the last 78 years.
For years he refused to fly on airplanes because he didn’t know they had
bathrooms on them, and he didn’t want to hold it from Sacramento to
I’m not making this up.
Thank God I was adopted. If that same blood was flowing through my veins I
would’ve thrown myself off a building by now.

It dawned on me as we were driving along the I-5 corridor there (and please
forgive my clumsy and tangential segue) that my father is one of the main
reasons I don’t camp.
I do not camp
You want to camp? Go.
Me? I don’t camp.
There’s nothing about it that’s even remotely interesting about it to me.
I’m not really crazy about this ‘outside’ as a concept either.
I can hardly wait till city’s are covered with those LOGAN’S RUN domes so we
never have to deal with ‘outside’ again...ever.

But this camping phobia is mostly due to having to camp with the old man
growing up.

What is this thing that so many men have about getting up at three o’clock
in the morning and getting in the car and going?
What is that please?
I know it’s definitely not a vacation. That I do know.

We’d go to Chilao Flats up Angeles Crest Highway when I was a kid.
You know what’s up there in Chilao Flats?
Scrub brush, Yucca plants, a few scrawny-ass coyotes, and some of the
gnarliest L.A. biker gangs you’d never want to run into in your life.

We had one of those pop-up tent trailer things.
We’d head up the mountain in the wee small hours of the morning so Dad could
‘get a spot’ and so we could have breakfast on one of those common grills
that campgrounds have.
We’d set up the trailer (an hour and a half Rubex Cube of cotter pins,
aluminum posts, and me sweating and buried under sun-heated canvas while my
father barked instructions at me), then Dad would scrape the remnants of
bird droppings, and two thousand other hamburgers off the rack there (come
to think of it this may be why I’m a vegetarian too) and then start cooking.
Breakfast took 35 hours to prepare for some reason, and when it was finally
plopped onto our paper plates it was hard to tell where the charcoal began
and the food ended. Just burned beyond recognition.

Camping days were hot and boring. Whatta supposed to do? You walk around in
dirt and look at a stream. Who cares?
When it got dark there was nothing to do but go to sleep. And it’s like 8:30
at night!! That’s when night STARTS, not ENDS!!
The nights were spent lying in my sleeping bag listening to the symphony of
chirping crickets, waiting for a rustle in the bushes outside.
Was that a bear? Coyote? Snake? A guy named Logjammer with a machete and
tattoos on his eyeballs? Who knew?
But this little squirt never slept a wink.

When I got a little older and was still getting dragged to these things I’d
go off by myself for nearly the whole weekend with my Radio Shack mono
cassette player, lying on a rock, smoking Marlboro Lights, listening to
PHYSICAL GRAFITTI till the batteries died.
The great outdoors.

When I was 20 or so, my friend Tony (A guy who has the enviable and
potentially injurious ability to talk anyone into anything) convinced me
that I really had never experienced camping the ‘right way’.
It took him a while to convince me to go, but he finally wore me out.
The next thing I know we were driving up Angeles Crest in my truck, again
toward Chilao Flats, armed with a couple of bedrolls, a 12-pack of Bud, some
Fruit Roll-Ups, and several packs of smokes.
We didn’t leave at four in the morning either, quite the opposite; we left
at 8pm.
So far I was liking this camping.

“Your ashtray is full” Tony said as I drove around one of the dark and
deadly curves of the Crest.
I heard him say it but it didn’t really register because it was a warm night
and the windows were rolled down. Plus we were listening to ARMED FORCES by
Elvis Costello and that’s a really good record.
I saw Tony reach for something. As he did I connected a series of dots in my
1. Tony had just said that the ashtrays were full.
2. Tony was reaching for something.
3. It was probably the ashtray.
4. I think his plan was to dump it out the window.
5. The windows were rolled down.
Suddenly everything went black and my eyes were burning, filling up with the
airborne contents of the ashtray, which were now swirling around the car
like blue tarps in a twister.
I was a blind man driving.
Oh and did I mention we were going about 45mph around a hair-pin curve?

“F*********CK-GARKKK!!!! I screamed but I was choked off by ash silt.

I hit the brakes as hard as I could and heard the screeching tires. I was
waiting for that imminent moment where I would hear, then feel the front end
of the truck hit the guardrail. Astonishing crash of scraping metal, then a
weightless free-fall in the dark for perhaps four or five seconds before the
truck connected with the rocky canyon floor. Just a moment of pain, then it
would be over. Free from this mortal coil.

But no, the truck stopped. About six feet from the guard rail. We were both
breathing hard. We collected ourselves and continued driving up the
We were going camping.

We got to the campground.
I killed the motor. We sat for a few moments.

“What do we do now?” I asked Tony.

“Crack a beer, sit back, relax, and just...listen to it...”

Oh no.
I’d come all the way up there to find out that what makes Tony happy is to
‘commune with nature’.
And I don’t do that.
If God wanted us to live outside he wouldn’t have created mortgages.

We sat there in the pitch, no light save for the glow of the cherry ends of
our cigarettes. We had a few beers.

“Welp...time to turn in.” Tony said.

We laid out our bedrolls in the back of the truck. Within moments Tony was
asleep. I laid there...
It was dark and the crickets screamed.

The bushes began to rattle and the more I tried to put it out of my mind,
the more I was convinced there was an inhuman forest man watching us. He was
wearing a pelt made out of the dried skin of wolves, rattlesnakes, rabbits,
and a few unlucky campers. His face would appear any moment over the rim of
the truck, dead eyes like a tarantula. He’d grab us (me first, better
eatin’), violate us, and tear us apart with the long razor nails he spent
his days sharpening on rocks. He’d...

“We gotta go.” I said shaking and waking Tony.


“We’re leaving...NOW!”

Tony barely had time to get in the car before I was gunning it back to town.

If you’ve stuck with me for the duration of this tale, I’m grateful and very
surprised, but I have one more small, more recent part of this to relate.

I’m very lucky because my wife feels the same way about the camping as I do.
Although she had lovely times growing up in Wisconsin camping in cabins on
lakes, she could pretty much take it or leave it now.
Thank the Lord.

Our friends, Don and Deb, love the outdoors. LOVE the outdoors. They build
canoes, camp out in the wilderness in a tent, they love it.
Ever since we met these two they’ve been trying to get us to go on a camping
trip with them.
We resisted it for a long time.
Then one night after about nine cocktails, they were talking about camping
and suddenly out of the blue - I could see it...
They spoke of a little cabin they knew of.
It had a fireplace. It had a bathroom.
Don and Deb would bring all kinds of food up, and they would cook gourmet
meals for us (they are amazing cooks), excellent wines would be imbibed,
guitars would be brought up, and we’d sit by the fire, strumming away,
buzzed and full of delicious food, basking in the warmth of our friends and
all the loveliness.

“I’ll do it!!” I said.

The upshot of all this was for the two months leading up to the trip. I
started having second thoughts.
I’m mean, yeah, those nights sound okay but what are you supposed to do in
the woods during the day?
There was talk of snow and us possibly having to snowshoe in to the place.
Snowshoe? That sounded horrible. And I hate snow. It’s cold.
I wondered how close that bathroom was to the main room. If this was a quiet
little cabin in the snow, chances are you could hear someone in that
bathroom...and what if enchiladas were served?

I began to have panic attacks thinking about the trip. Nothing could calm me
down. It began to ruin every day. It would be a beautiful day out and
suddenly I’d think, “Yeah, but in five hundred and twenty two hours I have
to go camping...oh God...”
And it would spoil everything.

Finally I had a nightmare one night. I can’t remember all the details but it
was something to do with the members of Led Zeppelin serving me enchiladas
out of a snowshoe.
John Bonham looked at me with tarantula eyes and said “More wine, Jimmy?” He
handed me an ashtray full.

I woke up and screamed, “CAMPING!!!!!”

The next day I called Don and cancelled. With some pride I have to say that
I’ve managed to not go camping for 20 years.

Kim and my idea of camping is no room service after 10pm.
That’s roughing it, my friend.



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