Monday, May 26, 2008

How I Spent My Vacation

I found myself unexpectedly cut off from the Internet over the weekend, but now I'm back and I wanted to tell you about my family's little vacation. There is nothing in here about gay or transgender people or political things. Actually, there is likely nothing of interest to you in any of this, it's just my dull personal experiences. I would recommend not reading this one. No really, stop now. There are better ways to spend your time. Most of this was written during the trip, I'm just posting it Monday evening.

A truck had driven off I-70, way out in the middle of nowhere, and a lane was blocked with tow-trucks and police cars, so Friday's Memorial Day traffic went one to five miles per hour westward across Maryland toward the Appalachian Mountains. We were stuck in that for a couple of hours, and then just as soon as you passed the wreck you were doing eighty again. In the traffic jam you got where you felt like you knew the people around you, the black couple in the next car, the college girl singing along with her radio, the big redneck in the big pickup truck, impatient. Everybody wanted to be somewhere else but mainly people were cool. A wife talked on her cell phone, a kid had his feet up on the dashboard. It ended up taking us about five and a half hours to get to Deep Creek from Rockville, with a minor detour through Germantown for some family stuff.

We rented a house up here for the weekend. I've always seen this lake on the map, up in the mountains, you just know it's full of fat trout. I used to fly-fish, out in the West. When we got married twenty-one years ago, the bridal shower was all camping stuff. We used to go up into the Sierra Nevadas and camp and fish for those little golden trout and the occasional brown and rainbow. I even got a vice and bought a bunch of feathers and fur and thread and hooks and tied my own flies. There is something very satisfying about outsmarting a wise old trout with a fly you have made yourself, presenting the right pattern on the water without splash or drag, and nothing tastes better than a fish that you just caught yourself, cooked over a campfire with butter and garlic. When the kids were little we used to fish with them a lot, mostly catching bluegill and sunfish (I love catching sunfish on fly tackle, man I could do that all day), but it seems like that's one of those things that you stop doing after a while. It's hard to get everybody in the same place at the same time when they get bigger. When I went to find my fly-rod and flies for this trip I discovered that my old reel is completely trashed and useless. But we have a tackle-box full of lures, and a couple of Zebco poles we bought for the kids when they were little, they still work.

This rental house is big and pretty nice. There is one problem: the cable doesn't work. There is a big-screen TV in the living room and a television in just about every room in the whole place, but none of it works. And no Internet, there's wireless connectivity to the router but the cable isn't working so it doesn't go anywhere. Comcast said they can't send anybody out till Tuesday, after we've left. I've dealt with Comcast, I know how they are, they're the justification for corporate regulation.

People have different ways of traveling. I know people who plan their trips: museum nine to eleven o'clock, taxi (and they figure out what the fare will be ahead of time) to a particular restaurant for lunch at noon, walk in famous park two to four, see famous building four to six. That is not the way we travel. We get up and go down to eat where the people eat, then wander around. Up here in the Appalachians it's fun to go in the car, you see a side-street, you take it. The worst that can happen is you get lost. You get hungry, you watch for a place to eat, you take the luck of the draw. We stopped in a place that turned out to be a kind of biker bar with food, it seemed perfect but the kitchen wasn't open yet, so we went to another place where two ladies were talking about somebody who's about to get married. It was very interesting, how they talked and what they said. Did I mention that there are a whole lot of churches in this part of the country?

Possible trend here. We went into a souvenir shop and it had a big rack of toy guns. Half of them were pink. Later we saw a high-school aged girl wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a girl and a gigantic buck that she had shot, and it said, "Well as a matter of fact I do hunt like a girl." I don't know, girls and guns, is that the way we're headed?

There is a little store a couple miles from where we're staying, way out at a crossroads in the country. Up on the facing hill, probably a quarter-mile away, is a giant barn and farmhouse, and a family cemetery in the field, overlooking this beautiful valley. It really is magnificent. People in the store stand around yacking. We bought beer, wine, more wine, and more wine. And an onion and some steak sauce. I said "Do you notice a trend here?" The lady looked at it and said, "You going to mix all this together?" I said, "Yeah, we pour it all in the bathtub and hop in." She liked that. They put it all in a box and the other lady carried it out to the car for us. They wanted to know where we're from, one of them has a sister down near Rockville somewhere, sounds like it might be close to Mount Airy. Later in the day I went back for charcoal lighter and more wine. The lady looked at me like we were old friends. They didn't have the charcoal lighter fluid. We ended up starting the charcoal with Ronson lighter fluid, like for a lighter. It worked perfectly, in fact as I write this I feel like I'm going to explode, I had a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs. There are lots of leftovers, too.

PS the next day my wife and I were in the store, and there was a whole shelf of charcoal lighter fluid. My wife held it up for me to see, with a look on her face like, How in the world did you miss this? The girl behind the counter said that it had just come in that morning. Whew, it is always better when somebody you don't know provides the alibi.

It's a little disconcerting living with no TV, no Internet. We had expected both, one of our group is four years old and would have liked to watch a little television, you know. At one point he was walking around saying, "Let's watch Bugs Bunny, let's watch Bugs Bunny," over and over again. I had expected to write and monitor the blog, keep up with email, Google old friends who come to mind, the usual. There were times I missed the Internet intensely, on the other hand we did stay busy. I think I'm sunburned.

Water in the country. People in the DC area complain about the water. They buy water from the grocery store, at about a thousand times the cost of what comes out of the tap. You have to visit the country occasionally to see real bad water, brown water, stinky water. There have been times here when we have filled a glass and then just poured it down the drain. We melted ice cubes to make coffee, because the ice cube water gets filtered.

Waving. Funny thing out here, when you drive down the street people wave at you. I used to live in a small town where when you heard a horn honking you assumed it was a friend saying hi to you. It's not like that where we live now, now if they honk it's because the light has been green for three or four milliseconds, or because something you did made somebody think you were going to change lanes and put a dent in their SUV. Kids on ATVs, people passing the other way in cars, people in their yards when you drive by, stop talking and look at you and wave, out here in the country.

Stars. Man, you forget. When I was kid it looked like that.

Sunday we stood on the bank of the lake and dragged bass lures through the water. I don't know about you, but for me "catching fish" is a small part of fishing. A couple of boats came by. Conversation:

Me: Y'all catchin' any?
Guy on boat: Naw, you?
Me: Naw, we saw some bass swimming by but they weren't interested.
Guy: No, they're just not bitin' this afternoon.
Me: Well it beats working.
Guy: Ya got that right.

And then the boat went past us. So you see, fishing is about socializing as well as catching fish.

A girl and her mother went past, the two of them rowing a canoe together with double-ended paddles. They sounded like they were from the area, the girl was chanting, "Lift, rot, lift, rot, lift, rot ..."

We did see some nice big bass go by, several times. They appeared to be quite uninterested in being eaten. This lake has a lot of kinds of fish in it. Bass are fun to catch, because they're big and they are mean. I have had bass jump out of the water onto the shore to chase a lure they thought was getting away from them. You catch a bass by making it mad somehow, with a big lure that splashes or sparkles or wobbles through their territory in a threatening way. You catch a trout by seducing it, you have to offer it exactly what it wants and make sure there is nothing to scare it. You wait patiently and let the trout think about it until it has perfect confidence in that apparent item of delicious food. These are two different kinds of arts, bass-fishing and trout-fishing. There are lots of literary books and articles, poems and short stories about trout fishing, and there are lots of TV shows about bass fishing. I think that political scientists will discover that the differences between the Red and Blue states simply reflect the prevalent local species.

Some of my favorite times ever have been standing on a bridge or bank somewhere, looking into the water watching for fish. Sometimes you have to look a long time to see them. I think of it as a spiritual exercise, I guess. I started fishing because for my whole life I have had recurring dreams about fish. Every night I dream I am catching fish (but I never actually land them) or looking at fish, or looking for fish. I don't know where dreams come from, but whoever writes those stories seems to be telling me something. I take it to be a wisdom more intelligent than my own, so I started fishing. But catching the fish is not really that important, just being there, trying to attract invisible fish to your hook, knowing that there are living things under the water and occasionally feeling the tug of one, that's enough for me to enjoy the pastime.

At one point my wife snagged her lure in a tree, casting. It was funny, we started looking and it was like a Christmas tree, full of ornaments that people had left in the branches. Bobbers, sinkers, lures, hooks, streams of monofilament dangling down in a festive way. I've left a lot of lures in trees over the years. This particular tree was a bad one.

We didn't get any bites.

Hey, did you know there's a town in the mountains of Maryland called "Accident?" Is that a cool name for a town, or what?

Our "new" car, a Suzuki that was finally paid off a few months ago, has been rattling and needed to have its three timing chains replaced, at a cost close to a couple thousand dollars. We brought it into the shop on Tuesday, expecting to have it Wednesday evening, but with ordering parts and everything else it wasn't ready until Saturday, and we had to leave on Friday. So we drove the old car, a 1992 Mitsubishi with 120,000 miles on it. It uses a little oil and needs a waiver for emissions, but man that little car was great! Even loaded down, we went up into those mountains and back down at seventy and eighty miles an hour without a problem. Oh, it'll jolt a little into gear out of Park, I'm concerned about the transmission, and there is a rattle under the dashboard that could be something serious but maybe it isn't. And the glove compartment door falls off if you open it. I've always been an old-car guy, well remember I used to play music for a living, so I had an old-car budget. I used to drive old Ramblers, which you could buy back then for a couple hundred dollars or less. I remember one time a guy in a new Jaguar asked me to give him a push with my Rambler, you better believe I was smirking through that one. These new cars are all computers, a guy can't really go under the hood and fix things any more, and repairs are ridiculously expensive. So in a way it was heartwarming for me to see the old car pull through.

This wasn't an eventful trip, it was a getaway. We did a lot of sitting around and a lot of driving around. We watched these crazy guys in kayaks go over some waterfalls again and again. We hiked some trails and saw deer and groundhogs and chipmunks. No bears, everybody talks about the bears but we didn't see any sign of them. We chatted with people in the restaurants and stores. We drove down side roads and discovered beautiful scenery, indescribable timeless pastoral scenes where people with Pennsylvania-Dutch names have their barns and cattle and ponds and crops, indescribable wild rivers and mountainsides and forests of hemlock and white pine and hardwoods. It was Memorial Day weekend, and of course there were lots of people there, but that lake is so big, I figure it must have thousands of miles of shoreline because of the way it's shaped, with little fingers of water stretching into the landscape everywhere, and so no place was crowded. People revved their mega-horsepower motors on their boats and stirred up big wakes in the open water, but back along the woods it was quiet as could be.

The motorcycles were out, I'll tell you the highways were full of them. Of course this is Rolling Thunder weekend, and you could tell, we'd pass big groups of bikers, some with POW-MIA flags on the lead bike. I don't like loud noises but I love the sound of a whole bunch of Harleys riding past. I see The Post doesn't want to say how many rode to the Vietnam Memorial and the White House, but FoxNews says there were 350,000 of them. I think it is important and worthwhile, especially on this weekend, to call attention back to the thousands of American servicemen and women who have gone missing in war and who have given their lives for their country, and I think a few hundred thousand Harley Davidsons is just the way to do it.

Oh, and the troopers were out, too, especially on the way home today. Luckily there isn't much danger of our old car breaking the speed limit by much, but there were lots of people pulled over.

I feel a little funny blogging about something as uneventful as my family's trip to the lake. Now that the vacation weekend is over, things will get back to normal and we'll fight about the same old things some more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Well, we never have cable- except on vacation. So we didn't go away but we did see a pair of pileated woodpeckers who have taken up residence on our street. They are extremely fond of a dying tree on our neighbor's lawn and I imagine we will be seeing the woodpeckers a lot until the tree(marked for destruction) is removed. We also saw some tiny baby bunnies in Sligo Creek Park.

May 27, 2008 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a squirrel and a leaf with a heart-shaped hole.

May 27, 2008 1:04 PM  

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