01 August 2012

Thanksgiving, unplugged.

I've had occasion to discover that people who go camping on Thanksgiving aren't, by definition I suppose, really into the holiday. I fit in with that. I think it's a stupid holiday. Possibly the stupidest, but you can't disregard Easter. I'm really not into any holiday's traditional celebration. E.g., I enjoy, on Christmas, taking Amtrak to Boston to have dim sum in Chinatown. We've done so for the last ten years or so. Oh, except for that year when Asa insisted on a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. The next year we renewed our Thanksgiving dim sum tradition.

My non-festive feelings about the holiday once led me, my partner, and another couple to go camping in Big Sur for that year's Pilgrims vs. Indians game. I convinced the others that it beat cooking the big fat turkey and the big fat fixings, and then sitting around the living room feeling bigfat as we fought to stay awake, drooling.

We camped in a California state park called Bottcher's Gap, in the north of Big Sur. It's an isolated place—eight miles off PCH, no amenities, not even potable water. Because of the latter, the campground doesn't appear on state maps and the state can't charge a fee to stay there. But who cares about such frivolous amenities when you practically have a private space and the view looks out deep into the Ventana Wilderness.

There were never more than a handful of campers—and sometimes fewer—at Bottcher's Gap. No RVs or trailers could get there. There were three sites for car camping, and two or three more walk-in sites out of view. One really strange park ranger, surly and scary, lived up there. It was an odd setting for his obsession with obscure park rules. But meanwhile, plenty of space, air, silence, and unadulterated nature for everyone. Bottcher's Gap was one of the little gems that sparkle in the beach and desert sand and in the long grasses and redwood forests, all over California, for you to find along your travels and then cherish for the rest of your life.

Back to that Thanksgiving. The day before, we started picking up that the people camping around us were a little odd.

At one of the three car-camp sites, there were some men who looked like they'd come out of the dust bowl. Grapes of Wrath types. Their faces were creased from worry and sun, and their clothes were nondescript in the way that you'd never remember them if a police witness statement ever came up. (One had greenish-blue gray pants and a grayish blue-green shirt, Officer. ) These "campers" didn't do much—just sat around the campsite,  playing cards and smoking cigarettes. No tent, they seemed to survive out of a huge worn-out Lincoln sedan, packed with all sorts of things but not necessarily for camping. What were they doing there on Thanksgiving? What were they doing at all?

The second site was ours. Four women, in their 30s–40s, we looked like a sit-com version of ourselves camping. We'd driven down Pacific Coast Highway for less than an hour from where we lived—Monterey/Carmel. Our lives were beautiful, and we had all the best camping clothes and equipment. We were a catalog ad, all set to build controlled fires, cook planned meals, and sleep in roomy tents. Sing along! If you're happy and you know it . . . 

At the third campsite was this mysterious dude. He was camping alone. (I'm sorry but that's just weird.) His car looked to be a 1976-77 MGB soft-top. It was a mess. It had New York plates—the old black and yellow ones. Like the colors of crime scene tape.

Anyway, the dude. Notably skeevy, in attire completely ill-suited for camping. He ghosted around Bottcher's Gap all day in a kind of overall. (Someone slip this guy a Bean's catalog.)

In a hushed voice, I started working up a story for my friends that this guy could be the Zodiac Killer. That's what he seemed like. Serial killer "actions," Zodiac's strange M.O., psychopath with flair, now on haitus, camping all by himself at Thanksgiving. We were just a few hours from San Francisco.

We didn't really think the guy was really the Zodiac, really. It was just the circumstances and how he acted and dressed, while camping all by himself at Thanksgiving. Have I mentioned that he was camping all by himself at Thanksgiving? It was a weirdness beyond the Dust Bowl guys and the four lesbians all camping on Thanksgiving. Oh yeah.

When we turned in that night, we saw he was at it again: He stood among the trees, staring out at the wilderness. And this time, he had on night-vision goggles.


1 comment:

  1. Creepy people in the woods is one of the many reasons I don't go camping.