You know when your son says “This is where I’m gonna shoot my first horror film” that this is a campground you have to stay in.
Even though you know you are not going to get much sleep.
Let me back up.
I will never, (religious gestures) ever drive across southern Kansas again.
We left Gordie’s house optimistic, our faith in all things human restored by the love of a good friend.
Then we got to Kansas.
The sum of all that is wrong in the world can be described in one word: “Stockyards.”
These are the feedlots where bovines bound for burgerdom spend their last days. This is where the poor beasts are stored, shoulder to rump, brisket to shank. Their poop piles up under their hooves creating an odor no human has evolved to appreciate.
Every time we’d see the telltale fences we’d slam the vents shut. But often it was too late. Once we were safely past, we’d roll down the windows and breathe again.
I started watching the roadside grasses to detect wind direction to better monitor the offal fumes.
At truck stops we saw cattle trucks lined up. When we passed them on the freeway we peered through the slits to see if the truck was empty or loaded. We passed Motel Sixes with trucks parked nearby. We kept driving. And driving. And driving.
Finally, approaching the Colorado border near sunset, I was starting to get seriously drowsy.
It’s like that saying about fishing or skiing . . . a bad day skiing is better than a good day at the office; I know that a bad campground is better than a cheap motel. So I was watching for the brown signs that mark public campgrounds, my favorite kind. No painted white rocks, no butterfly wallpaper in the bathrooms, few RVs.
Chance watched the radar and warned we were about to be hit by a serious thunderstorm. I saw the looming purple cloud near the setting sun. Maybe a cheap hotel might be okay for just one night . . . I was getting delirious.
Then I saw the sign.
“Beymer Campground” and an arrow.
Chance googled it. A waterpark resort, four miles from the main road.
I wheeled around, pulling a U-ee (how IS that spelled?) right on the freeway.
I watched the odometer but we drove right past the entrance.
If there had been a sign, it had been knocked down.
But my GPS did not fail me. I spotted the break in the sagebrush marking a sandy road on the reverse and turned in. The place had one functioning streetlight, beneath which was parked a large, aging RV. No one seemed home. It was definitely dusk, our last chance for tonight. But I wanted to check out the bathrooms, since the place seemed entirely deserted.
As I pulled up to the only building on the horizon, Chance looked over at a playground. A swingset and a merry-go-round, the kind we boomers had as kids but that have since been outlawed as ‘too dangerous.’ That is when he delivered his horror film line.
On cue, the merry-go-round started turning in the breezeless evening air.
The creepiness made me giddy with delight.
But I am a practical woman. I had to check out the bathrooms.
A cinderblock-type building, yellow paint peeling, hid quality, if extremely dusty, bathroom fixtures. Water pressure was good. I turned on a shower and the water was warm.
“Let’s take the site back there,” I said. I couldn’t believe I’d found a campground with covered picnic tables. And this particular site had room under what I viewed as a rainshelter, to place our spacious tent.
Soon I was making spaghetti on the campstove and sipping warm beer from our cooler. Bliss.
The storm kept threatening but the rain never arrived.
But about 10 p.m. a mufflerless car pulled into a site nearby. A man shouted hurt at a woman, I assume, because I heard only the man. I heard the whine of a child. A door slammed. An engine roared, and we were alone again.
Still the storm stayed away.
At about 1 a.m. the tornado I was dreaming about started bending the tent poles so that I became Dorothy. I tried to click my heels but it doesn’t work with well-worn Keen water sandals.
The tent was slapping like a machine gun in the wind.
Chance and I wadded the tent into a ball and shoved it into the car.
He climbed into the passenger seat and I spread-eagled over the gear in the back. We slept until the silence awakened me, about 3 am.
I was so tired I simply stepped outside the car, lay my sleeping bag in the sand and slept until the mid-morning sun overheated me.
As we left, I was shocked to see how lucky we had been. The place had really once been a waterpark. Really. A deep canyon with bridges and waterslides to emptiness would have been very easy to drive into in the night. The drought had shut this place down. Beymer had once been a place.
Chance was mad because the warm water I had promised for his morning shower had only been as much as the pipes in the walls, heated by the sun.
“You gotta remember this place,” I said.
“I’m not actually into horror flicks,” he said.