A while ago, my Vespa bit the big one. I’d nursed it back to health many times, and dealt with its crazy habit of stalling out in 90 degree weather and not starting again until it had cooled down for four hours. For two years I took it to mechanic after mechanic who would test out things they thought were wrong with it. Mechanic after mechanic would give it a go, and then throw their arms up in frustration, unable to figure it out. Half the time, they couldn’t even replicate the problem. One day in 2009, the accelerator cable snapped at the corner of Kedzie and Ogden (not the best place to break down) and I left it sitting there, praying it would get stolen. It didn’t. I ended up getting 500 bucks for it from the last mechanic to give it a shot, and I’m sure he sold it to someone who rides it every Saturday for ten minutes and for whom it never breaks down.
See, I rode it everywhere. That blue thing you see strapped to the back of my scooter is a tent. I had taken it camping on a solo trip up the coast of Lake Michigan and for me, this vehicle represented freedom. I lived with my roommate in Chicago, and we got along great, but sometimes I just need to feel twigs crack under my bare feet, and go skinny-dipping in a huge body of water at midnight. So I strapped my tent and my sleeping bag to the rack and rode North. I sat in the sun reading Miles Davis’ autobiography, and enjoying every ‘fuck whitey’ contained therein. I cooked hot dogs, purchased at the Piggly Wiggly, on a fire I’d built myself. As I sat near the fire, a skunk decided to walk in the two foot space between me and the flames. I guess I was in his way to get home. I winced, expecting to be sprayed, but he just ambled by and into the brush near my tent, leaving me to finish my fire-gazing.
I’d hoped to fall asleep to the sound of crickets and tree frogs, but instead I sat staring at the roof of my tent, listening to the couple in the campsite next to me, their bodies slapping together for two hours straight, cries of “Ai, Papi!” ringing in the air. I was fascinated by the fact that they had no first or second gears. It was either nothing or slap-slap-slap at 210 beats per minute. Eventually they stopped, argued at the top of their lungs and the woman drove off in a car that pulled up around 2 am.
The next day I went for a hike, and found out that this particular spot was not only the spot for latin lovers in tents, but for other kinds as well. On my hike, I got hot and sweaty, and was really enjoying the hell out of being out here without any horns or sirens. Just nature. I must preface this by saying that I looked good. My flip flops matched my swimsuit, and I was in pretty good shape at the time. So I’m walking along and this tiny Mexican man passes me going the opposite direction. I’d just come from the beach, and was walking back along the path toward my campsite. I nodded a good morning, and he did the same. Only after he passed me, I heard him walk a few steps and then turn around to follow me. He caught up and kept pace with me. “It’s a lovely morning, no?” he asked.
Lovely? I guess. I was thinking it was kinda hot, but not wanting to be rude, I said, “Yeah. Pretty great.”
It was then that he put his arm around my waist.
“A-WHOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAH!!” I yelled, and jumped away. I’d just had a tiny man wrap his arm around me. This was a first.
“Oh. So sorry!” he blurted, and ran away toward the beach. His eyes were huge, and you could tell he was just as scared as I was. I had a good foot and a half on this guy, and easily 80 pounds. I could have pounded his face in if I wanted to. I’m not one for pounding faces though. I’m also not one for cuddling with men (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
I was floored. I couldn’t explain what had just happened to me. I was just out for a walk! Did I look that hot? Shit! Why didn’t strange women ever wrap an arm around me?
I walked on toward camp, and after a while came across a park bench and sat down for a second. It was only upon sitting down that I noticed what was laying in the grass next to the bench, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels and a pair of mens briefs. I’d literally tripped into the only safe haven for gay men in rural Illinois. Imagine being gay in a small town. If you need release, where are you gonna go? I guess now I knew. You went to the forest preserve by the beach.
At this point, I think you’re probably wondering where this story is going. Why the anecdote about the random cuddle-hike? Did it end with a change of heart? Did Sean decide to go find the owner of those briefs?
No. The point of the story is that all my friends thought I was nuts to go camping by myself. The comments I got about it ranged from “Why?” to “Won’t you be lonely/bored/scared?” The answer was, and is, of course not. I got to spend a weekend in silent contemplation and communing with nature. I got to build a fire. I got an earful from the campers next to me who were anything but shy about loving nature, and loving in nature. And I got one of the best stories ever. It’s a story that when I told my best friend about it, he almost stopped breathing, he was laughing so hard.
“Only you, Archer.” he said, between gasps, “Only you could go to a gay forest preserve and be so clueless. I bet you really hurt that tiny man’s feelings.” And then he collapsed on the floor laughing some more.
The point is, if you get out there in the world, you can’t help but have adventures. And more often than not, they make your life better, if only for the stories they provide, and the laughter. Always the laughter.
Sorry, tiny Mexican man. I just like the ladies. It’s not you, it’s me. Although, you might want to work on your approach. Just a thought.