When I was 22, I hitchhiked from Athens, Ohio, to Yellowstone National Park (and back) with a friend I worked with at the Ohio University golf course. It seemed like a good idea at the time. This weekend, I’m attending a music fest about three hours from home that requires sleeping in a tent because all the nearby hotels were booked up. Of course, I drove here in my own truck. I’m about as likely to hitchhike these days as I am to miss a meal — which is to say, it’s not going to happen. After 30 years, my desire for adventure has diminished while my prostate has grown in almost a directly proportional ratio. When I was younger, I used to be able to sleep on the ground cuddled in the arms of Mother Earth; now she pummels me with her rock-hard biceps. The irony of growing older while simultaneously turning into the world’s biggest baby is not lost on me. What happened to that young guy who once headed West with little more than a backpack and desire to see what’s around the next bend? Among other things, I’d say he found a clue with his now aching joints.
In the preceding paragraph, did I write “sleeping in a tent?” — because technically there’s no real sleeping going on. I’m “camping” in a tent. The difference between “sleeping” and “camping” is, while my body does resides inside a tent during the hours at night typically set aside for slumber, there is no actual “sleeping” going on. Okay, here’s where I slip into my cranky-old-guy whine. Last night, after I had nearly learned to ignore the skull-rattling bellows of the freight trains blasting their air horns at the imaginary pedestrians who wander the tracks in the wee hours of the night, I was roused from my near slumber by two coeds who decided to try to put up a tent within a foot and a half of my tent’s back screen. You know I’m not making it up when I say they had at least 50 yards to put down their tent between my tent and the next closest tent.
So here, I guess, is perhaps the most profound difference between the 22-year-old me and the 52-year-old me. The younger me would have viewed two young women setting up a tent 18 inches away from my tent as a sign that there really is a God; middle-aged guy wonders why God needs to add so much Clorox to my karma in the middle of the night. Because it was dark and they were missing about half of their tent poles, it took them an extraordinary amount of time to put up their tent. Their conversation to work out the logistics of tent construction took almost as much volume as the nearby train horns. They were only able to complete the project when one of the two young ladies hit upon the brilliant idea of attaching the poles to their tent with duct tape. When I got up this morning, their tent looked like a Charlie Brown cartoon. But, it was still standing so power to them, I guess. I was careful not to breathe too vigorously as I passed by because I did not want to contribute to their tents inevitable downfall.
Camping out to go watch some live rock and roll, what could be a better way to say goodbye to summer? The old dude within me wants to say, “almost anything else,” but after I’ve had a little breakfast, there’s still enough of the young guy in me to be happy to be here. Coffee cures the morning irritability, and I’ve found a street vendor who is literally tossing pancakes at his customers. The street is littered with his patrons’ near misses. There’s a sewer grate in front of his outdoor griddle and embarrassed customers who drop their pancakes are kicking them to the curb to hide their lack of hand-to-eye coordination. Not only is this pancake breakfast “all you can eat,” it’s also “all you can drop”, as well.
There are two stages set up in downtown Troy, Ohio, where I am, and I’m happy to report no one is twerking. In case you’ve missed out on the whole Miley Cyrus conversation of the past couple of weeks, “twerking” is a dance move that’s something of a hybrid of hip-hop and epilepsy. Recently the stalwart editors of the Oxford Dictionary decided to give the word “twerking” induction into the official lexicon of the English language. I’m not sure what the 22-year-old me would have thought about adding twerking to the dictionary, but 52-year-old me can’t be bothered. I am off now to find a band who can rock, and rock never gets old. As a closing thought, I remember going to loud concerts in my youth because “hey, man, we like it loud.” Now my generation still like it loud, but it’s just because it helps save our hearing-aid batteries.
I’m kidding about that, but you know, not really.