Most people in campgrounds know the ropes. They talk quietly. They don’t party late at night. (And if they do, the party is shut down by the second night.) Their dogs and kids are usually well-behaved. People who don’t abide by the unspoken rules of campground etiquette stand out like a crow in a flock of doves.
Recently, Julia and I were camped at the end of the road at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island. It was one of those places on earth that are so perfect you can only stand in open-mouthed awe. Cliffs topped with a carpet of forest stretched in both directions and dropped into sweet, blue ocean. White gannets and bald eagles glided and soared. Bad attitude in such a place is an insult to the Creator.
I had just returned from a hike in which I‘d gone a long way down the wrong trail and never did find the right trail. I did, however, find:
On my way back, I could see that the campground had filled up and that a black truck was parked in front of my trailer.
Oh, well. A campground to oneself is a luxury.
The owners of the truck–a middle-aged couple–were lounging in chairs and passing a bag of chips back and forth.
“Where are you folks from?” I asked. It’s always good to make friendly noises at your campground neighbors.
They were from Connecticut.
They made equally friendly noises back–what a view, can’t be beat. Stuff like that.
The evening continued in the same vein.
“Oooooh, look at those gulls diving into the ocean,” said the woman. (Gannets, but whatev.)
“Oooooh. See how the sun lights up those rocks.”
“What are you girls making?”
We were each working on afghans.
“Ooooooh. Those are lovely. Do you know how to knit?”
“A gal from work tried to teach me to knit with those long needles. I never could get the hang of it. Then one day she came to work and said, ‘Nancy*, I know what will help you learn to knit. Let’s try the circular needles.’ So, she brought some in, and I picked it up right away. I think it was those long needles flapping around that I couldn’t get the hang of.”
She paused for breath.
“I’ll get my needles, and I’ll teach you how to knit tomorrow. I can sit beside you and you can follow me. You’ll pick it up right away. It’s so simple.”
So far so good. Night fell spectacularly.
By morning, however, cracks appeared in the rosy glasses. Before I could make the morning salutations and escape to the shower, the sniping had begun.
“The grill is too hot, Jim. I can see it. The bacon is going to burn.”
“My dad used this grill for years. You just have to get the hang of it. Look, turn this knob here, and if it’s at 12 o’clock it turns off.”
“I know your parents and grandparents used this grill, but I’m telling you it isn’t working.”
“Well, just adjust it here. You just have to be patient. It works great.”
“I can’t cook on this. I’m the one doing the cooking, and I’m telling you, it doesn’t work right. Can you get that through your fat head?”
“Well, Nancy, let’s use the skillet you brought. Now, where can we plug it in? Oh, yeah. We CAN’T plug it in because THERE’S NO ELECTRICITY.”
I am trapped in the trailer. I can’t go outside without stepping into the middle of their fight and causing them to plaster on cheery-good-morning-neighbor faces. I rattle some dishes to remind them that they’re not in the privacy of their own sorry home.
As soon as the coast is clear, Julia and I escape and hide out for the morning at a restaurant that is, improbably, down this remote road. We dissect minute comments they have made and weigh the odds as to when they’ll leave.
Finally, walking back, we see that they are in the final convulsive throes of packing up. They are backing their truck under the camper, which takes some level of cooperation, like paddling a canoe together. These two are stuck in the same canoe and paddling in opposite directions.
“Back. Back. THIS way. NO. Right. RIGHT!”
“Nancy. I’m doing the best I can. Sometimes it just takes longer.”
“Well if you’d follow my directions, you’d have it on by now.”
“Next time you can do it.”
And Jim threw out what even I recognized as his exasperated, default response:
“Nancy, what difference does it make?”
Yeah, Nancy. What difference? I think.
Needless to say, there were no knitting lessons that morning. Jim and Nancy took off from that beautiful place with clenched jaws in a plume of dust as Julia and I rejoiced.
They didn’t even say good-by.
Fortunately, this experience is rare in campgrounds. Of the hundreds I’ve visited, I can’t say I’ve encountered anything this unpleasant before. And I was surprised at how the bad attitude commandeered the campground and held us all hostage.
Your campground stories? Ever experience anything like this?
*NO attempt has been made to change names or protect the guilty.