Once upon a time, a father and son (who looked like brothers) cycle into a small town with a large name in the Florida Panhandle. Chattahoochee. Pleasing to say. Evocative. Playful.
Our heroes-in-their-own-minds head for a city-managed campground down by the river, next to all the vans. They turn off the main road, unwittingly saying farewell to civilization, the rule of law, and toilet paper, and descend into a pre-apolcalyptic setting Cormac McCarthy may well use in his next novel "The Road Kill".
Halfway down to the water, they take a spur road, following faded billboard signage, to a Bates Motel office last painted when Janet Leigh looked good without a bra, and find it locked up tight, or as tight as... never mind.
A shirtless male emerges from a nearby structure - picture an overgrown outhouse large enough to hold a single soiled mattress scattered with Kleenex - and tells them, between conversations with himself, that they have to go up to city hall to get a permit to camp. The youthful-looking father scorns this bureaucratic pettiness and informs his son that, by God, they'll pitch their tent down by the river, near the playground, maybe even on the bandstand, and worry about the paperwork later.
So that's what they do. They pitch their tent right on the covered bandstand, beneath towering pines, a mere frisbee throw from the playground to one side and the standard-size outhouses on the other. It really is beautiful. The father goes off to Hardee's to consume fat and write a blog, and the son paces around the tent in a manner suggestive of a compulsive motion-disorder, eating oatmeal, granola, bananas, protein bars, raisins, rice cakes, and canned anything-to-make-him-fart.
When the father gets back, the son, by way of casual observation, remarks that the park seems to be the local haven for drug transactions - cars pulling up beside each other, brief exchanges, and cars leaving. Only then does the father realize how isolated the park is. How, 500 feet below the car bridge, they are 500 years from civil society. The river that once looked so beautiful now looks like the perfect place to throw a body. Or two bodies, both young-looking and quite fit.
The father's night is ruined.
The following is an internal-dialogue excerpt from "It's All in Your Head - Anxiety Disorders and their Impact on Campsite Decision-Making", Volume 74.
[First person personal. Father perspective.]
6:03 pm - "I'm such an idiot. It's not too late to change campgrounds. The sun hasn't even set yet. Shut up. Don't be an idiot. Such a chicken shit. No way we're changing campgrounds."
8:12 pm - "Fuck. It's too late to change campgrounds. We're stuck. If we leave now they'll know we're pussies and jump us."
10:04 pm - "I'm staying in the tent. They don't know what's in the tent. They may not attack if they don't know what's in the tent. Even I have to piss in my water bottle, or not in my water bottle, I'm staying in the tent."
11:39 pm - "That car is definitely idling at us. It's leaving. Probably going to get more guns."
12:03 am - "We should have brought our 'VULNERABLE AND STUPID' banner and hung it over the tent. We're going to die, all because I was too lazy to change campgrounds. Don't any cops ever patrol this place? Shouldn't we get rousted? Why can't we get rousted? Jail would be safer."
1:43 am - "That sounded exactly like the motorhome from Breaking Bad."
2:36 am - "They're waiting til after 3. Middle of the night. Sitting ducks. Meth Team 3 to Squad Leader, commence operation."
3:34 am - "Cunning cocks. Waiting til I let down my guard. Not gonna happen. But what am I going to do? Polite them into submission? This sucks."
4:28 am - "6 o'clock is morning. Not allowed to murder in the morning. 'Nother hour and a half til not dead."
5:59 am "Can't believe Seb slept through the night. Hope he appreciates that I saved his life. Again. Of course he doesn't. Jerk."
6:01 am - "Don't feel very good. Tired. Going to sleep."
And they lived happy ever after.