My longtime and talented friend Pete Shaw is an incredible writer. I was so lucky when I owned my own newspaper up here in our mountains. One of the reasons that made me feel forever grateful is that Pete Shaw, who at the time was principal at Charles Hoffman Elementary School, wrote a column each week for my newspaper. It was a magical time and I remain eternally grateful to him for enriching my life as well as the hundreds of people who loved, and looked forward to, those columns. Thank goodness I have access to some of them…..they’re very special! This one was printed one year after I started publishing my newspaper……it was printed in 1986, I print this one each year during the summer because it speaks, in so many ways, of how vacations that can go from fun to somewhat disasterous so easily and quickly!
I bought a tent trailer this summer. These new fangled devices are advertised as a miracle of technology. They fold down almost to suitcase size and are spring-loaded to suddenly expand into a room at the Ritz. Whatever happened to truth in advertising laws?)
Anyway, we set out with high hopes for our week at the beach on Friday morning. The trailer was packed, the car was serviced, my wife, son and his two friends, safely buckled into the seats. As we swung around the corner we waved good-bye to friends and neighbors.
Three minutes later, just past Chateau Pines Restaurant (now Calvary Chapel Running Springs), I realized we had a problem: our trailer was attempting to pass our vehicle. It was frantically swerving from side to side. “What’s that? I hear something strange,” my wife remarked. This reaction was comparable to standing on the deck of the Titanic and quietly exclaiming, “What’s that odd scraping sound, dear?
My first reaction was to hit the brakes. The result was that the trailer slid under the rear of the Toyota and imbedded itself solidly in place. We came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the highway on the end of a rather dangerous curve.
My first initial reaction was to simply walk into the forest to avoid the ensuring embarrassment and humiliation. However, that would be a particularly spineless act with my wife, child and his friends sitting in frozen posture in the car in the middle of the highway.
As I emerged from my vehicle, cars swerved madly to avoid us, their drivers and passengers yelling and gesturing as they passed. I was a man in real conflict. On one hand I hoped no one would recognize me and I pulled my baseball cap down to my ears and adjusted my dark glasses in an attempt to become unrecognizable. On the other hand, I needed help.
Luckily Dave Featherstone and Jeff Hubbard stopped to assist me in my dark hour of need.
Dave explained that I had not successfully put the hit fully over the ball and locked it into place. That certainly seemed simple enough. How could I have failed in such a simple task!?
I climbed back into the car and tried to reassure the passengers that all was well, safe and secure. This attempt to exude confidence came from a man who had recently claimed to fix a blow dryer only to plug it in and have it pop and throw a flame that ignited the chest of his T-shirt. Needless to say, my credibility was still at a rather low point.
A glance in the rear view mirror showed three pale young faces sitting quite erect, wide-eyed and white-knuckled. For the next four hours our conversation consisted of five words: “What was that noise?” and the reply, “Relax!”
We finally arrived at El Capitan State Beach Campground. Families were returning from a day at the beach as we pulled in. In order to fit into Space No. 17 it required that I back up the trailer and thread it into the eye of a needle of a small parking area. It was going to be simple because the salesman had told me it was as easy as pushing a baby carriage.
I shifted into reverse and started backing up. the trailer began to lurch back and forth, left and right. My attempts to correct and over-correct resulted in invasions into other campsites.Campers scrambled to save aluminum chairs, Hibachies and ice chests as the “Madman in the Toyota” attempted to gain control.
Again, I searched for a forest to disappear into but there was only low brush underneath in the area. All other occupants of the vehicle had slid below the window levels of the car.
The disastrous beginning of our trip was somewhat ameliorated by the discovery that we had picked a glorious campsite. Beautiful fragrant blooming bushes, surrounded us and a perfect site for the boy’s tent was discovered in the underbrush. Odd that the other campers had not realized how ideal a spot they had overlooked. Camping Rule #1: Always be suspicious of a choice campsite that is rejected by others in a full campground.
By the next morning. lines of Poison oak rash began to spread down my arm and between my fingers. The blossoming bushes opened in the morning sun and thousands of bees descended upon them in a gluttonous frenzy of pollen gathering and they became very irritated with ignorant humans who had the audacity to invade their nectar paradise.
Throughout the night we were convinced that we would be pulverized by the Amtrak trains that we were sure were thundering through the rear of our trailer.
Sleeping became a nightmare. At some point in the wee small hours of the morning, I fired up the Coleman lantern. I looked about for something to read and could only find one of those Gothic romance novels I so unmercifully kidded my wife about. “How can yo spend hours of your time reading that stuff? What a waste!” You know, the ones that have the bursting bodices and Charles Atlas chests on the cover that binds 700 pages of ridiculous fantasies.
Three hours later, I was hooked! Would Galina Boriskinskey, that half-Russian gypsy, lure Mr. Hope-Brown, the vicar’s young assistant, into her web of seduction: Only a few more pages would tell.
The Coleman lantern sputtered, flickered and died. In my obsessed state I groveled for a flashlight. thank goodness I had brought new Duracell batteries; surely that would last at least another 100 more pages. At 5:03 a.m. the batteries died. Mr. Hope-Brown had fallen and the sun started up.
Six more days, 20 more Duracell’s later, we prepared to leave. We had hobbled around on sunburned feet, collected enough oil and black tar to save our driveway, used showers and bathrooms that I was convinced were breeding grounds for every bacteria that carried every dreaded communicable disease known to mankind, had been thoroughly thrashed by a 12-year-old in our Hearts tournament and almost perished in an attempt to close up our trailer.
Our fellow campers cheered as we left and drove out. My sunburned head glowed, a few pieces of canvas fluttered from the sides of the foolproof fold up, another poison oak blister popped but we were headed home. We collapsed into our beds four hours later and fell into a deep slumber, uninterrupted by the Super Chief.
The next morning I walked down the driveway to pick up my paper. My neighbor pulled out and rolled down her window: “How was your vacation?” “Just great,” I replied.
After she drove off, I looked skyward and asked for forgiveness. Dagwood Bumstead had fibbed again!