Forty million Americans will drive 50 miles or more on Memorial Day weekend. Or 50 people will drive 40 million miles. No, it’s the first one, and 17 million of those drivers will be going up to the cabin.
And then they’ll turn right around because it took so long to get there that they have to get back. Kidding: You’d have at least an hour. Quick! Do some cabin stuff:
1. Take the powerboat to the lake, where someone’s waiting with a rod with a fish already at the end of the line; pull it up, throw it back, motor back to the dock.
2. Dip the kids in the weedy part of the water so they overcome their instinctual revulsion of walking on a nest of drugged snakes.
3. Make brats with the flamethrower, unless you put them atop the engine block to cook on the way.
Now, back in the car so you can beat the 3 a.m. traffic into the Cities.
OK, it’s not like that, but those of us without cabins have to tell ourselves that Cabin People’s weekends are more trouble than they’re worth. Surely it’s like an extra house, where most of your time is spent doing repairs.
“Boy, I’m really looking forward to taking a break from fixing the bathroom toilet so I can fix an entirely different bathroom toilet. Man, I can almost taste that well water now. It’s like licking rocks.”
Obviously, I speak from that familiar position we call “opinionated ignorance.” My sum total of cabin weekends is based on one experience:
We stopped at the store “in town” for white bread and milk and eggs, because apparently you eat nothing but French toast at the cabin. You have supper at the little bar, where they have a fish fry. The tables wobble. There’s a Grain Belt waterfall sign on the wall. There’s a pinball machine in the back from 1966 that’s been out of order since Skylab fell.
Everyone knows you’re from the Cities. You know they’re thinking, “Sure, Mr. Smarty Pants, you might be aware who can set up a trust that defers taxable income into the next generation, but can you skin a deer with the hard edge of an old National Geographic? ’Cause sometimes that’s all you’ve got.”
The cabin’s furnishings resembled a basement circa 1978. The TV could pull in one channel, and that was apparently a live feed from an Antarctic blizzard. No internet, of course, so you had to read. The shelves had a wide selection, ranging from early James Michener to later James Michener.
There were games, of course. Life, Sorry, Monopoly, Really Sorry, Yahtzee, How Many Times Do I Have to Say I’m Sorry, Clue, You Know I’m Not Really Sorry, Chutes and Ladders and a Ouija board for summoning Satan. Also checkers.
We built a fire on the shore and looked up at the stars, picking out the constellations. There’s Orion’s Belt. There’s Orion’s Spats. The Big Dipper, aka God’s Tablespoon. The waves sloshed on the shore. The sparks snapped in the air. We would have made s’mores, but we were dieting so we made s’lesses.
We imagined crazed serial killer maniacs queuing in the woods for first crack, perhaps taking a number and standing in line. And all I had for self-defense was an old National Geographic.
It’s different now, I understand. Cabins are lavish and well-appointed, with maintenance crews. Then: “The screen door squeaks; I should oil it.” Now: “Jeeves, I played middle C on the white piano in the great room, and it sounded, I don’t know, sour. Have the man come around and tune it, would you?”
If I had a cabin, I wouldn’t oil the screen door. I’d hear it squeal and slam after the kids ran out to the dock and think that’s what summer sounds like. The mildew of the cabin: That’s what it smells like. The scratchy towels and hard water: That’s what it feels like.
Up at the cabin, away from it all, severed from the mad cares of the world. No Wi-Fi. It’s liberating. By which I mean I have to use data, so I’ll check Facebook only once an hour.
Sometimes you just need to go primitive.