November 10, 2004
Today has been an awful day. One of those days where every insecurity eats away at you, every annoyance moves front and center, and every frustration manifests itself tenfold. I tend to think of myself as a troubleshooter, but right now there's just trouble--no shooting to be had.
I've had enough of the bad times today, so instead I thought I'd tell you about a time when nothing seemed to be going right, yet ended up being one of those defining moments that you don't realize is happening until you look back on it yeas later and say, yes, right then was when everything began to fall into place:
It was a few years ago and Janice and I and our dog Lucy went on a massive, cross-country road trip. We went down from Chicago to Memphis, cut across Arkansas into Texas, drove clear across that state, and wound up in New Mexico. We camped most of the way there, finding state park campgrounds in our road atlas and often got lost en route.
Halfway across Arkansas, and late into the night after an especially grueling drive, we decided we needed to stop. We passed some motels, but decided to save some money by camping. The campground looked really close to the highway on the map and looked like it was next to a lake--maybe we could get some early morning swimming in before hitting the road again.
Our destination turned out to be miles down pitch-black roads on a new-moon night; the signs posted along the way weren't reflective, and so we probably traveled twice the distance after all the double- and triple-backing we had to do. When we finally came upon the campground, it was probably close to two in the morning. The ranger station was long closed and so we decided to find the campsites and just pay in the morning.
As we came around a particularly densely-wooded bend that lead to the campsites, we discovered that, while indeed the camping was lakeside, the lake was actually a reservoir for a huge power station a couple hundred yards across the water from us. The plant was covered with industrial floodlights that, due to the moonless night, lit up our campsite across the lake enough that we didn't need our flashlights to set up the tent. The plant also emitted a low-level buzz that was just loud enough to make it so once we were finally set up and in our sleeping bags, none of us could sleep--even the dog.
Finally, after a few hours of fitful, noisy, much-too-bright rest, we decided that we needed to leave. I'm not sure who first had the idea--for diplomacy's sake, I'm going to blame the dog, who's always had a bit of a "bad kid" streak in her--but it was decided that a horrible night's sleep and a headache from the industrial drone wasn't worth paying for and so (though we both feel like state parks are one of the great things in this country) we decided that we weren't going to pay for the campsite.
We began to roll up our sleeping bags and pack up the tent, when Janice turned to me and said, "I need to pee." I had to as well, and looking at Lucy we could see that she felt the same way, so the three of us scrambled into the forest to relieve ourselves. We were trying to be quiet, but the absurdity of the whole situation--the crazy drive, the horrible buzz, the floodlit campsite--came crashing down on us just as we were all standing there huddled around this one tree peeing. We started laughing. We laughed so hard that we began to worry about waking other campers, which only made us laugh harder still. We quickly tossed all our camping stuff into the car, and--lights off, so we wouldn't get caught driving past the ranger's station--got the hell out of there, chocking back laughter the whole way back down the winding roads that lead back to the highway. As we made our great escape, I said, the family that pees together, flees together, and we started laughing anew.
The reason for this lengthy story, Mr. Bush, is because that was the first time I called our funny little threesome--a city guy, a country girl, and a crazy dog--a "family," and now, years later, I think I'm starting to learn what that truly means.
Say hi to the family for me,