Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cabin Trip II

Light the lamp and fire mellow,
Cabin essence timely hello,
Welcomes the time for a change.

"Cabin Essence," Brian Wilson

This is a continuation of last week's story. Names are changed, apart from my own.


We arrived at the eponymous cabin of last week's post and all slept the short night away, and we woke the next day for breakfast. I got up early with my friend Joe to make the first meal of the trip. There were going to be 5 meals total this trip cooked in the cabin, and with ten campers, we put two people in charge of each meal. Joe and I had first breakfast, and we had arranged to make pancakes.

Now, here is how pancakes go in my house. You make them from scratch so they fluff up nice and big and taste all buttery and delicious. And thenthis is importantyou cut up fruit and put the fruit on the pancakes with honey and they are awesome. The end.

So Joe and I slave away over these pancakes, and it is hard because (1) we can't really use water to cook or clean, since water that goes down the drain will freeze in the pipes and explode them (2) we have pretty small pans and have to make them one at a time, so trying to make enough for 10 quickly enough to keep them from getting cold by the time they're done is tricky and (3) everyone else is watching The Hangover on the TV we shouldn't have brought, according to only me, and I am going up the wall because who goes out to a cabin by the lake to watch "The Hangover" on a television that you brought up from the city?

When it comes time to eat pancakes, everyone's natural reaction to the pancakes is "These are great. Can I get some syrup to go with them?" I have not brought syrup. Joe hasn't brought syrup. I decide to play this as a joke and get fake-angry about it: "There is no syrup. You will eat your pancakes with fruit and honey and you will like it." I naturally congratulated myself as an accomplished comedian and left it at that.

I found out after the trip was over that instead of thinking this was funny, most people's reaction was essentially, "Oh, James is thoroughly ticked off right now; I'm going to eat these pancakes and not bother him about the syrup thing." So, evidently, my latent hostility over the television thing came through. As well it should have.

I think my hostility was probably a combination of there being a television and the fact that we watched a series of movies I found unpleasant, starting with The Hangover and continuing with things like Mama Mia and, I want to say, the Sex and the City movie? I don't know. Very little of quality or substance, anyway, and we were all ten of us stuck in this single room where you couldn't get away from the sound of the TV anywhere unless you went outside, which was very cold due to being February in northern Michigan. So I was hostile.

It took me a while to get over this, settle down, and have a good weekend, but eventually I did. We ate good food, gossiped about our colleagues, went into town for a nice dinner and sightseeing, played games, listened to music and sang, and just generally had a good time. I even got a surprise birthday cake, because it was my birthday. (The birthday cake got flipped on the floor in some drunken revelry late at night that I was not privvy tobecause I choose not to be privvy to drunken revelrybut that was after I ate my piece, so I was okay with it. It was a nice thought.) It ended up being an unforgettably great trip, and I'm thoroughly glad I went on it. Some highlights:

  • Introducing folks to "Settlers of Catan," a really great board game that I love. 
  • Making a chessboard with paper and pencil to play chess on with Joe late one evening.
  • Having listened to hip-hop loudly for several hours on end, finally snapping and literally telling the kids to turn off the darn rap music, thus ensuring that I was mentally labeled "hip-hop-hater" in everyone's mind, thereby producing surprise when I played hip-hop on the ride home, and everyone was all "James is this your music?" and I was all "Yes! Hip-hop is fine in small doses when you're not all stuck together in a tiny cabin for days on end! But in that case, yes, hip-hop makes me angry," and Joe was all "I think hip-hop is supposed to make you angry" and it was cool for him to say that, because he's black. He's also really into hip-hop, so it was a completely valid artistic statement about hip-hop, as far as I'm concerned. (Hip-hop: in this case, you succeeded. I was angry. Nice work.)
  • There was this cool old analog radio with FM and AM dials and then some other wacky dial that let you pick up international stations. It was rad. 
  • Helping Don put a hole in the ice of Lake Michigan with a giant ice pick so we could have water for the toilet and cooking and not have to poop in the woods/starve. 
Yes, all told, the cabin trip was a great one.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Cabin Trip

You can say the sun is shining if you really want to
I can see the moon and it seems so clear
You can take the road that takes you to the stars now
I can take a road that'll see me through

I recently read this story recently at an open mic in Chicago. It is true, although the names have been changed, apart from my own. 


It was Presidents' Day weekend, so ten of us friends decided to go to our friend Don’s cabin up in the way far north parts of Michigan. It was going to be so sweet: just a weekend away from the stress of all the various elementary schools across Chicago we worked at, time to hang out, play games, shoot the breeze, and relax.

We all were supposed to gather at 6 pm to set out. Don and I both arrived at the parking lot at 6, as planned. We chatted for a bit, expecting folks within the next few minutes. Nope: it took us two more hours to all arrive. Once we’d finally gotten everyone in one place, decided who was going in which car, packed the gear (including, to my horror, a television—seriously, what kind of weekend getaway was this going to be? Were we all just going to spend our cabin trip huddled around the idiot box?) and got underway, it was well past 8 pm, with a 7-hour drive ahead of us. I volunteered to drive the first leg.

And right away, there was trouble. I was feeling kind of anxious, which is to say, I was driving, and we were out on the highway. I wanted this trip to go well, naturally, and we were already late and slightly grouchy—me over the TV, others over my complaints about the TV. So when a car pulled up behind me on the highway with no lights on, I wasn’t having it. No siree, I wanted to drive in peace and not have to worry about some fool behind me without the sense God gave a jar of mayonnaise. I changed lanes.

It seemed like it just wasn’t my night, though: apparently No Lights was headed somewhere similar, because he changed lanes not long after I did, and was soon right behind me again. I changed lanes again, and soon, No Lights was right behind. After several more lane changes, I finally made the connection and told my co-pilot, “Don, call Kristine and tell her to turn her doggone lights on, wouldya? I’ve been dodging her thinking she was some crazy person for the last ten miles.” Don called her, but before he could say anything, she was all “What the heck is with James’ driving tonight? Where is he going?”

We sorted it out: Kristine turned on her lights, and we all settled in for the rest of the ride.

Unfortunately, it seemed like we’d need to stop soon; my friend Julio announced, “I’m going to need to stop in about 30 minutes” from the rear of the car. Keeping this in mind, I got on the Skyway, fairly confident there would be a restaurant or gas station 30 minutes down the road.

Approximately 5 minutes into those 30 minutes, Julio said, “I need to revise my original estimate. As in, I need to go pee, like right now. Pull over, please, anywhere.”

Let’s back up slightly. Are you familiar with the Skyway, I-90 East to Indiana? It’s a limited access highway—very limited, as in, for quite long stretches, there are no exits at all, and no margins to pull you car off onto. In choosing to need to pee right then, Julio’s body had thoroughly betrayed him. And us.

After what seemed like quite a while for me and an eternity I’m sure for Julio, we finally came to a place to leave the highway. I exited, pulled over as soon as possible, and let Julio out to do his business.

The other thing about the Skyway, besides being very limited access, is that it goes pretty much straight through the heart of a burned-out industrial wasteland, Gary/Hammond, Indiana. We had exited into the middle of a weird industrial complex with lots of confusing turns; stoplights in odd places; deserted, sometimes abandoned factories; and not much in the way of signs or help of any kind. I spent about 20 minutes driving this way and that, looking for a way back to the highway. I think I drove the wrong way up a one-way at least once. Not that there was a living soul nearby to notice.

We finally got back to I-90 and continued the trip. And I swear, not ten minutes later, my friend Kathy spoke up. “Bad news, guys. I’m going to need a pit stop soon. I gotta pee.” It was an inauspicious start. I gave up the wheel soon after, sleeping most of the rest of the way.

When I woke around 4 in the morning, we were almost at the cabin. It had snowed a great deal on the way, and the unfamiliar terrain was even more ghostly white in the headlights of the car than usual for driving in a rural place, where your headlights are the sole illumination on the road. We pulled into a long driveway and parked and all rolled and tumbled out of our vehicles, tired and ready to sleep in a real bed.

Don had given us all the rundown long before we arrived: the cabin had plumbing, but you couldn’t really use it in winter because the pipes might freeze. If you wanted to use the toilet, you had to get water from Lake Michigan (which was right in front of the cabin) to pour down the bowl. Lake Michigan was frozen, so until Don took a heavy pick out and opened a hole the next day, we would have to use the woods as our toilet.

As we arrived that night, though, someone—I don’t know who—realized they really needed to go. The two stops earlier in the trip were not enough; there was no waiting till morning for water or a toilet. The woods were dark and far away; there was, evidently nothing for it: the time was now, and the place was here.

The next morning we all rose for breakfast and conversation. And as we left the cabin to walk around the lakefront and through the snow, we saw, right next to the door, a giant—seriously enormous—yellow pee stain on the snow. Not in the woods. Not a few yards away. Just, right there, by the door. And every time anyone wanted to leave or enter the cabin for any business at all, they saw it, and thought about who could have put it there. To my knowledge, no one has ever confessed to it.