Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Not-So Camping Trip

The not-so camping trip

This is for Jenn, who's having trouble regaling her teacher with the story of The Pie Incident.  She is going to have to cross that bridge, I'm still too traumatized.

However, the Not-So Camping Trip is a fantastic journey into madness, equivocal to a trip to the Twilight Zone.  Only I don't think Rod Serling ever raised his voice—not the way mom did that night.  

I'm not sure where we were going, or why.  The where and the why remain, to this day, unimportant. Let's call the where New Jersey.  I recall a lot of poison ivy, so New Jersey is an educated guess.  It was late spring or early fall; it was warm enough to not freeze to death while we were sleeping, but cool enough that we didn't die in the car.  

Yes, in the car.  Why in the car?

Because my father likes to drive. And he likes to drive, and drive and drive until it is impossible for him to drive any more.  Sometimes he pulls off at a rest stop to sleep for a few hours.  Sometimes he just rolls the windows down (and freezes out his sleeping children in the process) and guzzles tiny cups of vending machine coffee.  This time, however, he stopped at the KOA.

The KOA is a chain of camp grounds in various states of repair and repute around the country.  Some are near national parks, and you can rent a cabin and go rafting at some, or pitch a tent in front of the last patron's burnt out fire at others.  

This camp… well, this camp was a little more redneck than that.  What made it especially redneck was that the camping stalls were about twenty to fifty feet wide, twenty feet deep, and many of them had trailers parked in them—trailers on cinderblocks. There wasn't much light in the campground, but your eyes adjust remarkably well when you've been sitting in the dark for about six hours.  

It was about four in the morning when dad steered the large blue van he stole off the A-Team into the stall.  Think aircraft carrier, then imagine directing one of these things down a gravel road, and right on top of the chalky carbon remains of the previous tenant's campfire.

Timidly, my twelve year old self asked if we were going to pitch the tent.  Now, this tent had been with us on half a million road trips.  It had been pitched exactly once.  So it wasn't a big surprise when he said it was way too late for that, to go back to sleep.  

It was that eerie blue twilight before dawn when I woke, mostly because the car was getting a little stuffy. My four younger siblings were strewn across the bench seat in the back, one of them with her feet propped up on the captain's chair beside me.  I reached behind my chair and pushed open a window and waited for the cooling to begin, but it didn't happen.  

I also couldn't get back to sleep, and you know what happens when you can't get back to sleep—the insurmountable urge to pee overtakes you.  I wondered if I could hold it until everyone woke up, and debating when that would be, but eventually the call of nature got the better of me.  Slowly, I pulled up on the knob for the door lock, unlatched the door, and climbed down from the van.

Getting out, I found my bearings, and made my way to the building that looked like it might be bathrooms and showers.  My mom's warnings about being kidnapped when you're alone played through my head, but I was more worried about alien abduction.  The security light over the cinderblock shithouse (which is the white trash version of a brick shithouse, you see) was glowing the brightest, bluest light. It was blinding and mesmerizing at the same time.  Surely the alien mother ship had landed.  Or I was still asleep.

After doing my business in a restroom so nasty, I was surprised it had toilet paper, I made my way back among the stalls of trailers, cars and tents, back to the A Team's secret headquarters, slid back into the chair, and watched it get lighter and lighter.  I saw a few people wandering toward the bathrooms with toothbrush and towel in hand, flipflops kicking rocks up behind them as they went.  I wondered if I'd be awake all day.  I certainly didn't feel tired.  Maybe I could hound and harass dad into taking us to Dunkin' Donuts.  Maybe we could…

"Shut up."

I held my breath.  Had I been busted for going out of the car without a grownup? I stared at the back of mom's head, wondering if she was going to bawl me out.

She didn't even twitch or move.  "I told you guys to shut the hell up!"

My brother rubbed his eyes and yawned in the seat behind me, his legs twisted up under our sisters.

"Shut the fuck up!" This time she yelled so loud, you could actually hear the strain and tear in her vocal cords. "Shut up right now! I'm not telling you again! Shut up!"

Dad woke up and looked at me, like I'd done something.  "No one's talking," I informed my mother, shrugging at my dad helplessly.

"I'm not telling you again! Shut the fuck up, I'm trying to sleep!"

I got a little indignant.  "Mom! No one's doing anything!"

My youngest sister instantly started crying, and the middle sister got grouchy (atypical, I assure you).

Mom opened her mouth to yell at us one more time. Dad grabbed both of her shoulders and shook her awake.  He was grinning.  "You're yelling at them for sleeping."

I chuckled a little too, which is something you don't do with my mom.  "We even DO anything this time!"

Her eyes narrowed, anger overtaking embarrassment.  "Well, if I didn't have to yell at you so much, I wouldn't be yelling in my sleep."

Dad looked back at everyone.  "Go back to sleep.  It's only six-thirty.  We'll get going at eight, and I'll get you some Dunkin' Donuts."

Oh sweety, sweet sweetness! I do believe in aliens, I DO believe in aliens…

"They shouldn't get shit," my mother mumbled, already half asleep.

"I wanna blueberry doughnut," my brother chimed in, excited.  Getting yelled at was totally worth it, if doughnuts were the end result.

My second youngest sister woke at the mention of food, and all hope of getting back to sleep was over. We twittered and chirped, and I asked for cinnamon coffee, and got totally psyched for some Boston cream… within five minutes, we were fighting over how to split up a dozen doughnuts among five kids, and I was arguing that I got three because I'm the oldest.

By the time we got to Dunkin' Donuts, however, mom's head was crushed up against the doorjamb, and the painful, nasal snores she ground out drowned even the fight over the last bit of the Coke bottle we found under the seat.  

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