Recently I did the downright idiotic. To prove that my vim and vigor needle wasn’t on empty, I took a tent camping trip with my wife and 8-year-old daughter to Myrtle Beach State Park, in the state of South Carolina (America’s arsenal of cheap fireworks). The true idiocy can be found in the fact that Myrtle Beach offers the best assortment of lodging options on the east coast and there I was on a 12’ x 12’ plot of ground constantly defending my honor against a retinue of exotic insects seeking to violate parts of my body best left undescribed.
Thanks to my wife, who is a veteran tent camper, I looked halfway competent setting up camp. The finished product wasn’t so much classic rustic as it was classic New York City tenement. A makeshift clothesline, groceries stacked high, toys strewn about. In fact this was pretty much the look of the entire campground, which made me feel only slightly better.
Veteran campers view campgrounds as nature’s cathedral, a place where senses are invigorated, and minds refreshed. Somehow the actions of my fellow campers kept sidetracking my search for this nirvana. If you’re searching for the true meaning of “cultural diversity” then let me introduce you to some of my camping neighbors.
Lonesome Joe is a scruffy late twenties man whose large campsite contained the following: a miniscule one-person tent, and a radio. Joe was constantly shirtless, and always on his cell phone, which lead me to believe that the only shirt he owned had been kidnapped and he was in deep negotiations with the perpetrators trying to get it back. A theory that took on even more credence when the next morning he hurriedly broke camp (i.e.; turned his radio off and stuffed his tent into a backpack) and asked me for directions to a destination in Myrtle Beach he was unfamiliar with. When I last saw him, he was walking shirtless towards the west, with the look of a man who would soon be naked no more.
Meet the Sizemores. Two branches of the same family that obviously enjoyed one another’s company very much, as evidenced by the fact that eight Sizemores were able to fit into just two matching tents that would have made Lonesome Joe’s abode seem gigantic. God bless the Sizemores. They are a family who certainly haven’t been cheated by life, especially those parts that fall under the heading of “All you can Eat Buffet.” Watching them maneuver into their tents each night was a sheer engineering masterpiece, their rhythmically choreographed gyrations re-writing one law of physics after another. I stood in awe at this spectacle, fighting the urge to give what surely would have been the first ever-standing ovation in a campground to a family for simply entering a tent.
Campgrounds are one of life’s delightful oddities. Nothing however left me more speechless than a neighbor who set up camp one afternoon. At first glance her campsite looked normal. It was when I gazed upward that I abruptly stopped and stared in pure bewilderment. Nailed to a tree was a framed photograph of Jacques Cousteau, internationally known oceanographer, ardent environmentalist and, evidently, little known patron saint of South Carolina State Park campgrounds. I kept an eye out trying to catch site of any formal ceremony for spiritual enlightenment my neighbor performed under Captain Jacques image. If there had been one for deliverance (from my camping trip) I would have gladly joined her.
My ambition that day was to head to a local flea market in search of a photograph of Exxon Valdez skipper Joseph Hazelwood, who I would then substitute for Monsieur Cousteau. Relaxing in the early stillness of the following morning I would wait for my neighbor to arise to her new patron saint.
While I’m not sure my vim and vigor needle moved much at all during my adventure, my fascination with people grew exponentially. I took a camping trip expecting to rediscover nature when in fact I discovered something much more interesting, human nature. And in the grand scheme of life, that’s a discovery that keeps on giving. Just spend a few days in a campground and see for yourself.