The Road Taken: The Reluctant Camper

One Friday night, G and I were heading to Greenlake for a quick bite, when the phone rang. It was Spock, wanting to see if we had plans.

Now, Spock never had much to say, but when he did, it usually had to do with getting high, or satisfying the munchies, which is what he needed to do now. He was always stoned on something–marijuana, hashish, quaaludes, cocaine, you name it–as if he was trying to give Cheech and Chong a run for their money. And the more stoned he was, the hungrier it made him.

A majestic view of Mt. Rainer from Paradise. (

So, Spock and Joanie met us at the Kidd Valley for burgers and onion rings. It was Spock’s favorite place, mostly because of the variety of milkshakes available, and that night he ordered three.

We watched in awe as he gulped down rootbeer, peanut butter, and pineapple shakes, in that order. And this was after he’d eaten his burger and rings. As he finished the last of his pineapple shake, G looked at his watch, and then turned to me and reminded me that we needed to get going in order to finish getting ready for our camping trip the next day. Which was all Joanie needed to hear.

“Camping? Ooh, count us in!”

To me, the idea of Joanie and Spock tagging along actually sounded plausible. After living nearly a year in Seattle, Washington–aka the Emerald City, the Northwest, the Evergreen State and the Pacific Rim–I loved my new home.  It was so different from the concrete jungle of New York. In Seattle, it was, here-comes-nature-right-in-your-face, 24/7. I’d never seen so much green. Evergreen. Purple mountain majesties green. I figured whoever composed “America the Beautiful,” must have written it while visiting the Northwest.

I’d grown quite accustomed to the Seattle way of life, and enjoyed the cool summers and incessantly cloudy days.  I was intrigued by the locals, who could be seen on any given day wearing down vests, parkas, flannel shirts, Birkenstocks and hiking shoes, as if any minute, they were going to hit the trails. But there was one thing I could not get used to:

That the number one pastime seemed to be camping.

It was an obsession, much like eating salmon and wearing sunglasses on days when there was no hint of sunshine.  Everyone went camping, using any excuse to venture out and commune with nature.  Me? I didn’t see the point, since all you really had to do to commune, was step outside your home, and nature would greet you at the door.

Plus, Latinos, as a rule, do not go camping. At least not back then.  In fact, the concept was so alien to my family that, growing up, we’d spend many a vacation in the sleaziest, cheapest motels rather than consider camping. When I was 11, my family took a trip to the Poconos, and I swear, the motel we stayed at was the spitting image of the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I know this because my brother refused to take a shower there unless I stood guard by the bathroom door. Yet, given the choice of camping or the Bates Motel, we still would have chosen the motel.

Now, there are two kinds of camping.  Camping for the adventurous, which generally involves hiking at least 10 miles off trail, carrying a backpack, with tent and sleeping bag, weighing 40 pounds minimum, and camping out in the middle of nowhere.  As for the bathroom, well, there is none. You’re on your own. Then there’s camping for folks like me. This involves driving up to the camp spot, and setting up your tent. Bingo. There’s a bathroom nearby, complete with toilets and running water, just like you have in civilized society.

So, there you have it. I was a reluctant camper. It was not in my blood. G had to needle and cajole quite a bit before I acquiesced, which I did, provided we didn’t go camping the way he wanted. Nobody was going to make me hike with 40 pounds on my back, just for a chance to be confronted by some wild animals looking for an easy meal ticket. So, G did his best to accommodate me, which meant a shopping spree at REI, the store for all your outdoor needs. I bought supplies as if I was furnishing a home, determined to replicate indoor living in the great outdoors. And if Joanie and Spock came along, so be it. I kind of liked the idea of taking their RV–of which I still had a vested interest–and finally having the chance to spend a night in it.

“Of course, you guys should come!” I offered up in my most enthusiastic voice.

At first, G was puzzled by my over zealousness.  He’d assumed I wouldn’t go for this, knowing how I like things to be planned out in advance with no curve balls tossed in. But, since he was always game for spending time with Joanie and Spock, who was sure to bring with him some pot, he happily agreed.

And so, it was a fete accompli. We were all going camping.

The next morning, the curve ball G knew I didn’t like, landed at our doorstep. For there was Joanie, all alone, with no Spock in sight.

“Ugh!” she moaned. “Poor Spock is sick to his stomach, so he’s not coming. He probably shouldn’t have had that last milkshake is my guess.” Really? It was the last milkshake and not the first two or all the drugs he did before dinner?

I looked out in the driveway. “Where’s the RV?”

“Oh, Geez, didn’t I tell you? Battery died yesterday. Spock’s going to try to get a new one later, if he’s up to it.”

I tried to grasp what she was saying. No Spock? No RV? And she was still coming, anyway? Didn’t she know that three’s a crowd? I glanced at G, but I already knew. Awkward as it felt, there was no way out of this without sounding rude. Nothing left to do but pack up the Datsun.  G got behind the steering wheel, and, just as I was opening the front passenger door, Joanie hollered,

“I call the front!” Making a frowning face, she added, “Can’t sit in the back. It makes me nauseous.”

Darting past me, she slipped into the seat next to G. As I opened the back door, I remembered why I didn’t like curve balls.

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