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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Saturday Night and I've Got 14 People Stuffed Into a Pinto Hatchback!

(c) 2012 by Tom King (excerpted from "Swimming Lessons" by Tom King)

The last couple of years I worked at camp, my beautiful wife, Sheila and I worked there together. I had moved up to Waterfront Director and we were ensconced one summer in one of the cabins attached to the camp store, one of the few air-conditioned places in the whole camp. I had wisely brought along my king sized waterbed and as a result, we had a nice cool place to take a nap on a hot Sabbath afternoon after church let out – it’s a Seventh day Adventist Camp, so Saturdays were treated as a day of rest. We took turns taking the campers on a long hike in the blistering Texas heat so the rest of us could get a nap. It was a wonderful way to recoup from the week’s strenuous activity before a new batch of campers arrived on Sunday.

Swimming on Sabbath was verboten, although you could wade in water up to your kneecaps according to an official camp director ruling, so long as no evidence could be produced that when you fell on your face and were forced to swim for your life, that you did so deliberately or exhibited any evidence of having enjoyed doing so) Adventists were a bit more strict about Sabbath observance in those days and a lot of really fun stuff was not permissible. Sabbaths were, therefore a hot and miserable time for everyone except for maybe the camp director who used to crash in his air-conditioned cabin for a 3-4 hour nap after Sabbath lunch.

After the staff had got all the campers and their unfortunate counselors pushed off down the trail on the obligatory Sabbath afternoon safari round the lake and nature scavenger hunt, my wife and I took our two little boys and repaired to the cool refuge of the cabin where we enjoyed about 10 minutes of solitude. Then came the inevitable knock at the door. Answering it, I would find one of the waterfront staff (a bold and self-interested lot) looking all bedraggled and pitiful standing on the front step. They always looked so pathetic. You could see them move their faces to one side to catch a waft of air-conditioning through the open door.

My wife, being a career mom and a notorious soft touch always invited the poor thing(s) in and told whomever it was to stretch out on the foot of the bed. Soon there was another knock and another and my Sweet Baboo would begin stacking them like cord wood crosswise on the waterbed from foot to head until we were at last forced to crawl out over the headboard and abandon our bed altogether, surrendering to the lemming-like hoard of ski instructors, canoe instructors, kitchen staff and the odd nature instructor (these guys were usually relegated to the floor as they were tended to be a rather shy breed and therefore the last to show up and claim a spot). Forced out of our own bed, we would pile the babies in our Pinto Hatchback and go for a drive for a couple of hours with the air-conditioner turned up high. By the time we returned, there would be 10-20 people piled all over the cabin, snoring contentedly.
Not Rene, but you get the idea....

Rene', our hunky canoeing instructor, would be lying at attention, back flat on the bare concrete floor and wearing only a tank top and his famous Speedo swimsuit, like some world class yoga guru lying on a bed of nails. Rene' and that Speedo were rather a legend at camp for a lot of reasons, though not for the same reasons that earned me an uncouth nickname several years earlier.  I used to catch the female staffers hanging their heads over the end of the waterbed and watching Rene's abs flex as he breathed heavily in his sleep. I’m sure it was his abs they were watching. These were good Christian girls we’re talking about.

One Saturday evening after campfire, the gang showed up at our place looking for something to do and badly in need of leadership. We counted vehicles and people and decided (using a twisted decision-making process I call ‘Lone Star logic’) that since there wasn't enough transportation to go around, we'd all share a ride to the K&N Root Beer place in Athens. I'm not sure to this day how we did it, but I packed ten lifeguard types, my wife and two sons into that Pinto and managed to close the hatch. I got in bringing the grand total to 14 souls on board and drove us to the K&N. We were so low to the ground that if I'd hit a paper cup, we'd have needed the Jaws of Life to get us out of the thing.
Imagine 14 people stuffed in this car...

When we arrived at the K&N, this perky carhop named Yolanda or something approached me. She'd seen me get out of my car and I think there was a rule against this practice due to some post football game hijinks by the locals or something.  By her determined stride, I guessed that she planned to make me stay in the car, but by the time she arrived, I'd opened the hatch and a flood of kids started piling out. She stood there with her mouth open as everyone came crawling out like from one of those Ringling Brothers clown cars. Even after she recovered her composure, it completely threw off her one car / one order system. Totally knocked off kilter, she wound up wandering around the group like a cocktail waitress trying to sort out our orders. Just collecting the money was a nightmare for the poor thing. Some of the guys paid their tab with pennies harvested from the sand around the camp store. The waitress seemed particularly flustered by Rene's order. He'd thrown on a tank top and some very short, tight jean cutoffs over his Speedo for the trip into town. I'm not sure that any of us got what we ordered, but we were all too thirsty to care.

This is what the K&N in Athens looked like.

I left her a nice tip to compensate for her profound befuddlement, packed my group back in the car and drove off. As I looked back, I noticed money-changing hands among the root beer stand's staff. I think there were bets about whether we could get everyone back in the car. I hope Yolanda won some serious money on us.

On the way back, the several collective gallons of root beer inside all of us began to be severely agitated by the flattened suspension system on the Pinto. If someone had hit us in the back end, it wouldn't have been the gas tank that blew up first. To compound the problem, we’d all had Vege-links for supper an hour or so earlier. If you don’t know what Vege-links are, you’ve missed a treat and I’d better explain.

Vege-links are vegetarian hot dogs. You make them by cooking down and processing soy beans into a concentrated bean paste, and stuffing it into a hot dog casing. It’s actually better than it sounds. For supper that night, everybody had eaten two or three at least with a nice coating of vegetarian chili also made of textured vegetable protein made from – you guessed it – beans. The vegetarian chili dog is, therefore, the most volatile form of protein ever to be consumed by humans as food.  For side dishes there was potato salad and (you had to have seen it coming) - baked beans!

My wife and the kids were okay up in the front seat with me and the guy who had his head shoved over the console between the seats, but the guys in the back had it pretty tough. As the carbonated water, Vege-links and chili began to swell within 10 stomachs, everyone soon discovered that they were packed in so tightly that they couldn’t all breath at the same time – at least not without really unfortunate results. In desperation, I took command and we quickly worked out a system of staggered breathing by teams that kept them from damaging ribs or triggering unfortunate explosive events by inadvertently all breathing at once. We alternated boys and girls and did fairly well till about halfway home when Frank the ski instructor, misbreathed and triggered an emergency evacuation of the car.

The doctor's did say Frank probably suffered no serious injury from his unfortunate experience. He was on the bottom of the stack at the time and when he mistimed his breathing, it triggered a pressure wave through the massed bodies. They said, however, that by rolling down the windows as quickly as we did, we were able to get sufficient oxygen to him and the other 9 trapped with him in the back in time to prevent permanent brain damage (at least no "new" permanent brain damage anyway). The EMT’s agreed that blowing the hatch and rolling everyone out onto the shoulder of the road probably saved lives.

After the incident, the camp director issued a directive prohibiting more than 4 vegetarians per car for any camp outing on hot dog night, burrito night and for 24 hours after the annual vege-chili cook-off. He probably saved some lives there too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is such a great story! I was a camper many years at LSC and the little sister of the legendary lifeguard, Rene'. I had always hoped to work there, but by the time I was old enough the camp had been moved to NVR. I spent 8 summers working on the waterfront of 3 different youth camps and they are still some of my most terrific memories. Thanks for sharing your story.