Went to a summer festival this weekend with my friend G. There were were, among the strolling, carefree crowd, lugging these big saddlebags of gear.
G. and I are very different people. She’s a short, beautiful, church-going, civic-minded, family-oriented workaholic professional. I’m a tall, plain*, skeptical, Outlaw layabout who gave up family as a bad job 20-some years ago. She’s a staunch Republican conservative who worries about deteriorating morality and sports a “Hillary for Jail” bumper sticker on her vehicle. I’m an anarchist libertine** who’s v*ting for Sweet Meteor O’ Death.
But we are alike in that both of us, everywhere we go, haul these hefty bags of gear. In a pinch, if we needed to, between the two of us we could
feed the multitudes keep ourselves fed and watered for a day, perform minor first aid, cut off a seatbelt, find magnetic north, call for help with a spare device, see in the dark, and have a good chance of preventing a bad situation from turning worse. Thanks to my new compact binoculars, I could even spot a rose-breasted grosbeak if some grosbeak-related emergency arose.
Sometimes I resent the weight, both physical and metaphorical, of this burden of preparedness. My current solution for bearing the physical weight, the best I’ve found, is a Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack. Once it’s strapped on, I can ignore the weight and walk perfectly happily with it for miles. But hoisting it from the floor and lifting it around my neck, dragging it in and out of places where I run short errands, gets old, as does always having to sit as carefully as George Clooney’s faux-Roman sword-bearer in Hail, Caesar. Periodically I’ve tried hunter’s or fishermen’s vests, with all those pockets. But no go. Certain things steadfastly refuse to fit in said pockets.
Very occasionally, I’ll leave the gear bag behind, say while on a near-neighborhood dog walk. Momentarily, it’s liberating. Then I’ll think, “Now, what if …?”
G. doesn’t carry quite as much gear on her as I do, but she doesn’t carry it as comfortably, either. Both of us feel an obligation to carry gear, an obligation to ourselves, but also to our neighbors.
We also carry lots of car gear. In her case, it’s easier. Her family has vehicles and carriers fit for the job. Me, the back of Old Blue is so full of spare winter clothes, tire inflator/sealers (2 of them), quarts of motor oil, emergency food, tow cables, and a two-ton scissor jack that I can’t carry anything home from the grocery store or a garage sale without crowding the dog in the backseat. There’s emergency dog gear in the backseat, already, of course.
Other people don’t seem to think or work like this. Well, you probably do, but you’re like G and me. You’re different.
I sometimes wonder what the normal people are thinking, but of course when they’re strolling around sans protections, they’re not thinking. Not about the things G. and you and I think about.
Which doesn’t strike me as a bad thing, actually. Yes, it could turn very, very inconvenient for them and their loved ones in some highly unlikely event. It could turn deadly. But unless and until said event strikes, who’s happier? Who’s better off?
And even in one of those terrible moments, who’s to say that many of those condition white folks wouldn’t rise to the occasion? Stopping to help somebody else even when they’re injured themselves. Sharing their half a granola bar with a stranger. Helping lost children find their parents. Volunteering to help emergency workers communicate with each other or the community. You don’t have to carry a muleload of gear on your shoulder to do that.
We do like to say that the gear-on-the-shoulder people would be better equipped to render such assistance (not to mention take care of themselves and their own), and that’s true. But it doesn’t mean that in reality we would render better assistance. We might be too badly injured ourselves. We might not know how to use some of the stuff we’ve been hauling or it could be broken, leaking, or out-of-date because we neglected to update it every six months or more often as needed (G. swears she once found a perfectly mummified tangerine in her gearbag). We might be too leery of letting others know what we’re carrying. (I’d happily render immediate aid, but given my limited quantities of food and water, I’d hightail it out of any populated area before that became a serious question.)
Living outside a small town, I also have less fear and perhaps less need for gear than others might in other places. For instance, if there was a natural disaster, it’s not likely that looters would attack the local grocery store. Much, much more likely that the family who owns the store would be on the street distributing their inventory to all and sundry.***
G. and I are both also aware, though it’s rarely addressed, that our neighbors here are seldom as “condition white” as those festival goers. She related a story to me this weekend. She set her bag down next to her on a church pew recently. Its solid clunk reminded her that her carry gun was within.
She told me, (obliquely referring to the current ongoing discussion of religion and pacifism), “Our church definitely isn’t pacifistic. We have a large, muscular guy who guards the door, and although I don’t know, I presume he’s armed. After I set my bag down that day, I looked across the aisle and said to myself, ‘Mike there’s an ex-cop. He’s surely armed. And Joe over there, I know he carries.’ I got to wondering why I needed to. With all these other armed people around me, would I be useful? Maybe in an emergency, I should just hand my gun to somebody who’s probably a better shot that I am.”
But of course, neither of us is going to change our ways.
Anyhow, the festival was good. Lots of strolling doggies. Great entertainment. The scent of flowers and homemade foods everywhere. Booths offering handcrafted items. I came away with a jar of locally made apricot-vanilla jam and locally made artisanal drinking vinegar (yes, drinking vinegar; in this case strawberry-balsamic-peppercorn).
It was a different world. While eating meat-filled puff pastries (mine crab with dill sauce … mmmmm), we listened to a pair of mellow guys playing equally mellow music — funk, pop, and blues — on an electric guitar and a set of drums made from five-gallon buckets. Rarely have buckets sounded so good. Nearly everybody in the audience went up and put money in their big tip jar. Not dollars and quarters, either. But fives, tens, and twenties. They were that good. There was nothing to identify them. I think they called themselves Chillonius Funk, but when I looked that up online, the few things I found were unrelated to them.
An old crazy lady pranced up in the midst of their set and began bopping around, knocking her cane in mismatched rhythm against the supports of the performance tent and waving her scrap of cardboard that said, “Homeless — anything helps” (though she didn’t appear to be soliciting money, just having a good time). To top it all off, she was wearing absolutely skin-tight jeans. I don’t know how she got herself into them. But there she was, this crazy crone, boppin’ and jivin’ and shakin’ booty.
I leaned over to G. and said, “You have my medical power of attorney, right? If I ever get like that, put me down.”
“You don’t think she’s entertaining?” G. laughed.
“Oh highly. I just don’t ever want to be the entertainment.
Nope, home is definitely not like this.
* But striking. Back in the day when beautiful was all that counted, my friends always tried to convince me I was striking.
** I’m probably as moralistic as G. is, personally. I just don’t believe everybody else should have to be. Neither does G., really. After all, she puts up with me.
***Until FEMA or the National Guard came in; at which point, they’d commandeer everything and only hand it out in ways designed to create fear and animosity.