We half imagined ourselves as latter day vagabonds wondering the backroads and byways like the characters in an earnest 60’s folk song. We were waking up to morning light wondering where we had laid our heads and equally clueless about where we would rest them that coming nightfall. At least that was the image we cherished. A cooler assessment might have reminded us that we had credit cards at the ready, beneath us an overpowering road master and behind us, unmistakably, was thirty two feet of gleaming modern home away from home. Still we all choose our own illusions and vagabond was ours.
Rolling south through towering pine forests we were out to see the Florida they don’t show in the brochures. We wanted remote, un-tamed, remarkable maybe even a little dark and unmapped. Well, being Florida, this was never going to happen… until that night.
We maybe took one too many unmarked roads to the point that the GPS seemed disconnected from the hovering satellites. Evening was fast approaching and the last campground was fifty miles in our rearview mirror. Furrows may have crossed our brows but we thought, hey, we’re vagabonds, right? Luckily Barbara loves paper in all its manifestations; newspapers, brochures, piggly-wiggly circulars, printmaker’s sheets, exotic joss paper and, yes, maps. Her spiral bound Rand McNally was retrieved and studied. Her finger eventually stopped on a tiny, obscure campground fifteen miles ahead in the national forest. Yeah, we thought, we are footloose vagabonds.
With some effort we found the entrance hidden off a side road just as dusk approached. The first thing we noticed was how few other intrepid travelers had discovered this spot, nearly deserted really. The second was that the “ranger station” was a dank and funky RV that had maybe been rescued from the recyclers grasp. Definitely not government issue. As is common in some places we assumed our ranger would eventually show up and set things straight. We selected a spot nestled deep in a grove of live oaks whose boughs were laid low with mops of Spanish Moss reaching near to the ground. It was at this moment that we realized the campground offered no electric hookup. We shrugged and immediately reminded ourselves of our vagabond skills and set out to find our supply of candles.
This was when a golf cart rolled up to our site. You could describe the buggy as customized since it had lights wired high and low so as to more resemble a jungle search and destroy scout vehicle. It looked like some gear was mounted where others would keep their beers or golf tees. Slowly the pilot of this rig dismounted and lurched toward us. His straggly hair and gap-toothed mouth was less unsettling than his abrupt and halting speech. We learned quickly that his mom, the “ranger”, was not available tonight, that the fee was seven dollars cash and no fires were allowed. I was tempted to ask if mom was off visiting a sick aunt or was she maybe in the hoosegow serving time for alligator wrestling without a license. All the while the ranger-in-waiting stared at us from under his dusty bucket hat while his eyes slid from Barbara to the trailer then back to her. Hmm we thought collectively.
Within the hour darkness descended. Not your ordinary suburban darkness or even the farm kind of darkness. This was inky impenetrable blackness of a special kind. Dinner was prepped under soft candlelight and the table was set to resemble the kind of upscale French restaurant vagabonds are inclined to stumble into. Romance was in the air. It was then that out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights flickering as they passed behind the dangling moss out on the access road. “Hey Barbara” I spoke casually, “isn’t that the guy? Hey Barbara, why is he going so slowly? Hey why is he stopped just over there? Hey, he turned the lights off. What’s that? Is that the glow of a cigarette? Is he… is he… watching us? He must be right?” These last few utterances were in progressively softer tones to the point where we needed to lean together to whisper. “I think we should blow out the candles now”
Twenty tense minutes later the motor on the golf cart – which now in my mind resembled the apocalyptic machines of Mad Max – roared to life, the lights switched on bright and the Gollum-like creature motored into the blackness.
It was at this point that I began to rethink my favorite lyrics: “I’ve got no lock on the door, that’s no way to be”