As usual, this is a belated post, thanks to preparations for the next travel blog in “Dweebcentric: A Sociological Perspective of Sociology Conferences.” Stay tuned…
Johneroo is my favorite part of the summer. The camping trip is usually the symbolic kick-off to the summer season, coinciding with The Russell’s birthday. The much-needed weekend in isolation where we gather with friends to abandon reason and indulge a certain immunity, particularly those concerning safety and diets. This year, with the simultaneous matrimonial season tying up schedules for much of the early summer, Johneroo was rescheduled, but no less anticipated.
The tradition that began only four years ago as a camping trip, party of 6, blossomed this year into a rather intimidating estimate of 30 or so people this year, and I was relieved that none of my friends accepted the invitations, though others’ did, with the lineup also expected to contain two kids and three dogs. Luckily, we maxed out at 28 adults and 1 dog, if my hazy counts are anything close to accurate.
That a gigantic tree branch nearly dive bombed my new car (narrowly missing by inches!) might be taken as a clear Omen in the hour before hitting the road, it was as usual, another great Johneroo. Headed back to Ohiopyle this year, Ansu and I rode up on Friday, slagging through the typical week-ending rush hour traffic on one interstate exchange after another. We made it both after the rain and the sun went down, which would have put a kink in attempting to set up a tent which I had only done once before and watched 12 year olds demonstrate on You Tube that afternoon, but some helping hands got the tent up faster than I could hammer stakes into the ground and bullshit. It was muddy as hell and would be all weekend, and there was rumor that the persistent rainfall in Ohiopyle for the last few days created a desirable furor on the water slides. And, shady camp counselor Stu, a semi-2nd timer at Johneroo, even reported injuries that struck up small talk among those who came out last year and either witness or partook in the rash decision to dive in head-high waters and bomb because we saw it done (though not in the same conditions) on You Tube. With permanent damage from last year, I was expressly forbidden from coming home injured this year… well, visibly so. Stag weekends like this still demand some rashness, but the kind you keep tight-lipped about when the trip ends. I’ve never been able to keep tight-lipped.
We were the last to arrive for the weekend camping trip when McD’s friend who expected to drive up early on Saturday was saddled by a flat tire somewhere back in DC. The first night is always the best. Everyone is at their highest energy levels, even if making the drive out to the campgrounds after work. Fatigue levels rise along with stink as we not only sacrifice showers and flushing mechanisms for a few days, but also drink too much and sleep to little. This is what camping is. Or at least, this is what camping at Ohiopyle is all about, judging by the neighboring campsites, which were surprisingly busier than I remembered last year to be, full of big trucks, sports league branded hats, beer up the ying yang, and… cornhole?!
When AC and I settled in and took seats around the fire on Friday night, we were invited to partake in the novelties, starting with pudding (cake batter?) shots, free-flowing kegs, and Traci and Marty’s own Bacon Vodka, borne out of bacon soaking in vodka for three weeks. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard after watching AC try this, and the swig tasted neither like bacon or vodka, really, but more like liquor soaked meat fat. “It tastes like 3-week old bacon,” Ansu described, and it hung heavy in your mouth like a liquor with a high cholesterol content would. Traci and Marty really got creative this year, and Bacon Vodka even came with a hand-designed label, probably accurately designating it: The Official Drink of Johneroo. The Other AC had also packed Whiskey Marshmallows, which unfortunately, weren’t used in the Smores.
Introductions to newcomers made in the dark seemed futile. I used my suave introduction to a few of the Cleve, with the exception of Teets, who didn’t seem to like being questioned for carrying empties in his pockets during the Other AC and the Gang’s recent excursion to Germany — Teet’s being conservation-minded. For the camping trip, he brought his own mug and it was the only form of sustenance I’d seen him consume the whole time. TJ was one of the newcomers from the DC branch of Johneroo attendees, and was probably the only one I’d ever seen who brought real pajamas. Cat pajamas in fact. I’ve never seen adult-sized flannel cat pajamas before. And to wear them in the summer… god bless her tolerance! As we started turning in on Friday night, it dawned on me that the Mennonites probably abstain from any real camping. At night and in the morning, everything is set against a chorus of zippers. On tents. Jackets. Backpacks. Damn near everything.
Goodnight, John Boy…
Saturday began with the ritual of crackling bacon, and kudos to Traci and Marty for successfully creating sausage wrapped bacon, a novelty since, although bacon-wrapped sausage has been done before, it had yet to be attempted the other way, and that mind-boggling effect only added to the flavor. As it would be for the trip, there was an abundance of food, and as people started getting up and lining up again around the fire ring, the grills were being fired up with various spreads and campers desperate to unload their mounds of eggs and meats and coffee. I sat next to Traci who made the observation of my second toe being unusually large, which then made me feel self-conscious. “It’s a lovely second toe!” she said, hoping to cheer me up, but it sounded like forced sincerity. “Oh sure, next you’ll tell me your best friend is a second toe!” Johnny Hooka’s pup Lobo (the Hound from Hell… though everyone missed the Lost Boys reference!!) pissed squarely on the zipper that opened my tent, and we resigned to become enemies and the dog and I would not speak for the rest of the trip.
The early risers started congregating, anxious to get back to the water slides after breakfast, though the group that braved them last year was split on making second attempts. I didn’t want to walk in the house again this year limping, and aligned with Steph, the One With the Most Visible Injuries, from the great water slide runs of Johneroo 2008. But when we got out there, just over the hump to look down, I saw kids a little further down sitting in the route where we once crashed through, waves above our head, struggling to breath and even more, to hold on to something that would stop this crazy ride. I almost changed my mind and would have taken the run were it not for having caught a glimpse of the smallest of a group of kids bounce along the rocky bottom. I might not hurt my knees this year, but the water slides would no less serve as a pain in the ass. Literally. Ansu, the One Who Repeatedly Attempted the Water Slides last year didn’t hesitate and tested the waters… several times, regretting only at night the pains that became more evident. He had a hard time making a clean run all the way down, though, having to constantly push himself forward into the current when the rocks slowed him down and the water wasn’t high enough or brisk enough to carry him on. Finally jutting out over that formidable waterfall this time and landing on that shallow bottom would have certainly caused a great deal more permanent pain this time around. The rest of stuck to wading in the icy waters of Lake Minnetonka the Ohiopyle park, though I gave up trying to go any further than my knees when I couldn’t feel my limbs anymore. Our comrade Christine at least gets credit for going that far, doing the Dead Man’s float in the coldest water a humid summer day should ever know. The rest of us remained along the shore line with wading dogs and, with indifference (eventually), watching various kids attempt high jumps off of rocks towards a narrow target below that if missed by only inches, would probably mean paralysis. That statistic didn’t seem to bother any of the jumpers, even despite some pleas on our group’s behalf.
When the group began to drift about listlessly and it was clear that we’d had enough of the brisk waters and wimpy waterslides this year (water slide runs at Johneroo 2008 haven’t lost their title for most daring feats because of this), we drove into town to scout lunch and wound up at a small sandwich shop that couldn’t keep up with the flow of customers and served a hell of a lot more fries than any reasonable person could expect to consume. Christine, indecisive and hungry, ordered two lunches which meant twice as many fries and then everyone nearly went into a food coma trying to consume something not made with even an ounce of bacon or bacon substitutes. On our way back to the car, where AC and I would rendezvous with McD’s troop, McD noticed a little something odd about AC… “Have I got a story for you!” I called up ahead to AC, hoping to avoid too much attention to what Steph first recognized: the poor guy’s price for the water slides was one pair of swim trunks, as they’d split clear up the back. We subtly re-routed back to AC’s car so he could quickly throw on a change of clothes because when you use your car as your sleeping quarters for the camping trip, you don’t have to go far to find your supplies. The only problem was we’d lost track of the gang heading back down the street and after several walks around the block in search of McD’s troop, we rested outside of the General Store where a lady who worked there asked us if we heard a baby screaming. I’m unclear as to the distinction between a screaming baby and a crying baby, but it seemed to her there was one. That was our sign to just head back to camp, though we weren’t the first ones there. John’s sect of water slide attendees regrouped before us and now sat around the fire ring immersed in the Euchre tradition. It was hot as hell and when AC reserved to his car for a much-needed nap, I went back to my tent to do the same, trying not to focus on the heat in the meantime, and the possibility of sweating the life out of myself. We seemed to slip back into camp unnoticed because when I got up again and rejoined the group, people asked if we had just gotten back.
Julie’s contribution to Johneroo 2009 was a mechanism her friend built and she gave to her boyfriend: the Royal Order of the Cornhole. Or, in grade school gym class terms… bean bag toss. It became the beloved activity of the afternoon, though once the Other AC and Kara took on being a team, they were undefeated and only left the field when they got bored of whipping asses, knowing that they’d face far more worthy challengers when they finally went pro. The Other AC is quite the natural ability, at least when motivated by competitiveness. Though, AC and Nedrich made fair opponents, given their natural desire not to lose. Best line of the Cornhole Games was Jess, who said to her boy, Chris when he commented on her tossing technique… “My shoulder hurts a little … [pause] … from carrying you this whole game!” It’s always the quiet ones
… that come up with the best one-liners!
Given my natural desire to never take anything seriously, I preferred instead to join the sideline interest in Christine’s souvenir: a professional grade sling shot (and it was even embossed as such into the device) that she purchased in town that afternoon. And Christine is a natural with expertly plinking pebbles at arranged beer cans. The trickiness is that the device is like a gun, it pulls up even if you’re aim is right in the path. And there was yet another diversion: TJ’s contribution to Johneroo being the Shock Game where two to four people put their fingers on a small pad and attempt to be the first to press a button before the music stops, lest they received a little jolt. “You paid to get shocked? I’ll rub my feet on the carpet and shock you for money if it was that important to you.” Nick was like a kid with it, resolving to get one for himself, while AC couldn’t seem to understand the reason for his delayed reaction.
AC always says that Johneroo is a good experiment in socialism – that when the resources are abundant, people are generous. Though he uses Woodstock ’96 and ’99 as examples of how this works. When the Woodstock reunions became more commercialized and the price of admissions and concessions went up, along with restrictions about bringing in outside food and drinks, people stopped being civilized, or at least as civilized as they were in ’96. And we all know how it ended in ’99… fires. And not the revolutionary kind. You could certainly see the theory at work at Johneroo, where there’s not just abundant resources, but there’s an overstock! And because it’s camping, few people want to go through the trouble of hauling it back. Therefore… overstock + nuisances = love.
Dinner time means, of course, more bacon-infused specialties. With the first-night introductions being skipped this year because of the sheer volume of people that showed up, some of whom their connection to The Russell and The Other AC was a little fuzzy, I missed out on the epic amusement of Night Before Johneroo as told by Mrs. C (The Other AC), because somehow there must have been hilarity that ensued in the making of giant livestock logs. There were several of these, the combination of meat for some so overwhelming, the contents were bundled under the heading of Bacon Explosion Surprise. But the first one was bacon woven around lamb, veal and bison. And the Indians wept… Most of the dinner making was enveloped in various explosions – the meat wads falling in the fire and veggies falling off the grill. And the weird turkey burgers I attempted to make that simply melted. Full from the pickings, some of us congregated again around Cornhole and I teamed up with McD in a game against Nedrich and AC, though my skills lacked terribly as I constantly lost footing in the mud while McD reminded me that she didn’t like to lose and I was glad we hardly ever teamed up for anything more than the occasional round of beer pong. I prefer to be the comedian rather than the athlete. After that, the troops were gathered to go watch the sunset, which sounded a little corny, but a relief to get away from the campsight, if only for a few minutes. We marched down the drive path like parade and the neighboring campers who also came with Cornhole (another Midwestern staple?) remarked that of course, we were the one with the big party nearby. We invited them to join us if they felt like it, and we continued on our way out ot the field. Our campsight butted the Ohiopyle Paintball Field. Camp Counselor Stu drove the P Daddy van around camp to, I suppose, advertise for it, and he was parked in the grass talking to some lady as we walked by. We lounged up on the rocks to take in the view, just near the huge field with the single white canopy set up in the middle as though there had once been some kind of event there and someone forgot to take down and pack up that one thing, the only evidence of anyone being there. Although some campers were playing a game of football and I wished I brought the one now sitting in AC’s car and rounded up a few players. It was too late now.
Mark’s sister (sorry, I’ve forgotten her name by now) was demonstrating various yoga moves to Teets who was surprisingly adept for a first-timer when it came to most things, with the exception of once falling on his ass because the grass was too slippery. When the girl asked Greer why some things worked so well for Teets and not for her, Greer explained that she had a low center of gravity while Teet’s center of gravity was “up somewhere in his shoulders.” The hippie sect of the Johneroo newcomers, though who knew Nick and Beth, brought a giant, colorful parachute with handles along each piece and there were enough of us to encircle it and hold on to them. People were getting nostalgic about grade school recess wherein the parachute on one or two occasions made its appearance, though it was strange where all these spare parachutes came from and how readily available they were for the public school system. I remembered something about bouncing a gigantic ball in them as the group lifted and pulled down the parachute, and I figured, we could do the same with one of us if any were daring to try. Beth, being so petite, could have probably had at least a good shot in the air once or twice, though I don’t know how comfortable it would have been. Instead, we all synchronized pulling the chute up, then down, then up again when Beth said ok, “Me and Janene go first!” What do we do?! Run! she yellowed out and I followed her lead, but didn’t know where to run, and I narrowly made it out of the other end before the chute was pulled down again. The next time, when the gang formed bubble by all lifting up and then running underneath and trapping the chute around them, I stayed on the outside. Nick immediately announced my absence. This game didn’t seem all that fun, I was still hoping to lift people in the air at some point. Even pulling the shut up, with all of us doing that at the same time, we could have surely lifted someone off the ground. And I still think it would have to be Beth. Make note for next time.
There was eventually a giant Frisbee brought out and Jane, whom it belonged too, described it as “the greatest gift she ever got for someone else.” It was almost like a nerf toy, soft and stuffed, covered in a blue and red spandex, and wrapped around a giant ring that you could put your head through. At one point some other campers joined our Reindeer games, then Stu. The sun started setting. Then it set. Then I followed McD and Nedrich back to camp. TJ had donned her cat pajamas again and I took a seat near the fire, already tired. Johnny Hooka and the Hound from Hell and that group at Johneroo 2009 at some point gathered under one of the canopies back at the camp with their gang, sharing swigs of the foul tasting Absinthe, which masked the Strawberry Brownie flavor of the Hooka. It seemed weird to do this entirely leisurely, I had only see it as an incidental to meals and such. Like “a cigarette after a fine meal,” as one of those kids once said in Stand By Me. I tried it, my first ever, and Johnny kept saying it’s no problem, just don’t inhale, which made me apprehensive, in case I accidentally did. I’d suck in the smoke, then was encouraged to try it a little longer, a bigger swath of smoke, since there was plenty for everyone and the Hookah would rage as long as everybody wanted some. Or until Camp Counselor Stu knocked things over telling his tales of drug smuggling while in Amsterdam during the late 70s when he was in the Navy. I couldn’t taste Strawberries or Brownies over the Absinthe.
There was another splintering of the group: this time to gather tribes to make runs to better facilities, since the portable bathrooms around camp had become quite rancid. Boss Hog from the camp with the Libyan Van replica had earlier that evening had already dropped a foul load just before I could cut in line and hold my breath. Great Scott!!
McD by this point had stopped surprising people with the camera upon exit. There was rumored fireworks ignited during this second run to more acceptable potties, which explained the lengthy absence. As the weary campers sat around the fire, half asleep, I stood nearby the cool table with Christine who discussed the side-effects of professional day work (Office Butt), the nuisance of saving your friends from bears, and even composed the Johneroo theme song, which started out with rhymes of Stu, Johneroo, and camp full of poo. I forget the rest, though the evidence may still exist in her phone, as she was of course, short of a pen to write down the spontaneous ode. The gang around the fired started to appear strangely mesmerized by the fire that seemed to be sneaking out of bounds, though partly this had to do with pyromaniac experimentation and the burning of the glo stick, which basically makes a plastic green mess, though who knows the invisible damage done to those that inhaled the fumes.
Saturday night sleep was interrupted by drunken revelers of Johneroo who would perform for our side of Ohiopyle (they were that loud) their own odes… to bacon! And rather creatively so, as it meant rewriting lyrics to popular songs that Johnny provided the riffs to on his guitar, as well as the group’s inspiration in the form of a possibly undercooked and possibly singed meat explosion of some sort.
We woke up to rain early on Sunday morning, though AC reported rain even before the sun came up, as he had been wandering afoot at that time, only to be stopped by the troopers who had been looking for a shoeless man in a white mesh shirt who’s unwillingness to abandon the fashions of the Regan Era had obviously led to a life of crime, as it was reported that he had been trying to get into people’s cars around the camp. Thankfully, AC had proof he was not the person they were looking for as he was wearing shoes. The rest of us were completely oblivious to all of this, and almost the light rain that soaked Dorothy and Mark’s tent on Sunday morning, and I prayed it wouldn’t happen to my tent as well, remembering Phil’s warning that nothing had been sealed since it’s purchase. This would never happen in McD’s tent!! Gah!! The worst part of all this was that now the ground was even muddier and just that more dangerous. It made the cars dirtier, especially AC’s who bought his slick sporty baby only a few months ago and now it needed the immediate help of gracious day laborers who could clean it. In retaliation however, this meant that his seat wouldn’t catch, having pulled it back to sleep in the car. And I’d have to periodically wedge my bed mat behind him to at least attempt permanent spinal injuries from sitting tightly upright during the three hour drive back. With a stop in Accident, Pennsylvania of course, finally witnessing the truck stop McD and AC had talked up.