Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tenting tonight

I don't ask for much.
At least, I don't think I do. After all, I don't need a lot of money, a giant yacht or a brand-new house with a pool out back. I don't care much about (no kidding) fancy clothes, tiny electronic gadgets or giant flat-screen TVs. I don't need a facelift, a tummy tuck or caps on my teeth, nor do I require pedicures, manicures or a hundred-dollar haircut. Heck, I don't even mind being the odd man out in what has been a one-car family ever since the untimely death of my trusty, rusty 1994 Isuzu Trooper.
But there is one thing I really need.
Or at least I think I do.
An instant tent.
And believe me, I deserve it.
My first experience with tenting was with a musty little canvas number that my dad apparently bought as army surplus from the American Civil War.  It was heavy, bulky, smelly, difficult to erect, and boasted a quirky little feature consistent with all canvas tents, that if you dared to touch the inside during a rain storm, it immediately began to drip-drip-drip from the point of contact. I dragged that recalcitrant sucker to backyard campouts, no-sleep sleepovers, fishing trips and scout camp, until a long, wet, windy experience with a two a.m. tornado convinced me that my warm, dry bedroom was a much better place to be when it was time to hit the hay.
I pretty much stayed safe and dry until I got married, and we thought camping would be a great way to travel on our limited budget. Thus began the era of the little blue tent which, as I recall, actually attracted heavy rainfall whenever it was set up. My recollection of those days is filled with memories of determined struggles to erect the thing by the light of a rapidly dimming flashlight in a steady rain, all the while responding--politely, of course-- to the advice, questions and assistance of the person holding said light.
She: Do you need another tent stake?
Me: Yes, why don’t you just drive it through my heart?
Once up, our old tent provided a convenient, free-flowing waterway for any nearby rainy runoff, while the air mattresses we hopefully blew up each night deflated almost instantly, offering us easy access to the flood plain that was the floor of our tent. After many, many midnight soakings, we bought a Volkswagen microbus that I roughly converted into a dry shelter with the help of some homemade curtains and a sheet of plywood that allowed room for a full-sized mattress on top and ample storage underneath. We took our beloved VW to some of the prettiest, most remarkable spots in the United States, while cooking on a little Coleman stove and swimming and hiking our days away.  Later on, a friend of mine began manufacturing lavish RVs using Mercedes Benz engines and chassis, and he occasionally let me borrow his trade-ins, which caused quite a stir among my camping buddies. Eventually, though, life got in the way of our travels, as little league and other local summertime pastimes kept us closer to home.  Vacations became more hurried as we desperately worked them around school and sports schedules.
It’s just been in the last few years that we’ve started dialing the urgency factor back a bit, taking the time to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
But there’s still that money thing to consider, and the microbus is long gone.
So we bought another tent.
I wasn’t sure I was ecstatic about the idea of wrestling with another hellborn nylon-and-aluminum contrivance again, but I gave it a shot, with a new dome-style tent that has proven to be pretty darned waterproof, plus a cushy, full-sized mattress that, believe it or not, actually holds air.
But here's the thing. As with its predecessors, the process of putting the thing up is an absolute Indian rain dance when it comes to creating cloudbursts. While fairly effective at repelling water in most--but not all--conditions, its unique dome-like shape requires a certain amount of memory, patience, gentle leverage and engineering savvy, attributes that absolutely escape me, especially when the weather is bad and nighttime fast approaching.
So I was pretty excited the first time I spied an ad for an instant tent.
Now, mind you, I've never seen one in action. But my ever-hopeful mind's eye figures that an instant tent is a small, pocket-sized package with a large red button on in. When the intrepid camper (that's me) reaches the campsite, it takes just a matter of seconds to pull the tiny tent-pack out, push the button and stand back as it gracefully unfolds and unfurls into a full-sized tent big enough for two, along with the various essential trip-traps we drag along with us every time we venture into the woods.
Sounds good, eh?
Miraculous even. And that's why I want one. Because when it comes to me and the great outdoors, I think I really do deserve a miracle.

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