We Interrupt This Expansion…

We interrupt this expansion with a report from our Bear on the ground, BBB!

Thanks, narrator!

Many of you are enjoying the expansion, and think it is the greatest thing ever to hit WoW.

You may be right.

Unfortunately, I have to hereby announce that starting immediately, I am no longer playing WoW.

Why?

It’s simple.

I just realised, completely by accident (ie I found my Schlock t-shirt), that I somehow lost my link to the webcomic Schlock Mercenary by Howard Taylor in my favorites folder.

I lost that link… about two years ago.

I have TWO YEARS of Schlock Mercenary I missed.

Two. Years.

You know, there are few things in this life as precious as that moment when you find something that truly brings you joy in your heart… and there are years worth of back issues to enjoy.

[sniffle]

I’m so happy!

Excuse me, gotta go read.

I might get back to the game this weekend. Don’t count on it.

Rule 1, baby. Pillage, THEN burn.

Beat the Inscription blues!

Why, yes, I DO happen to have a lot of new alts, thank you!

Yes, they are just the cutest batch of bunnies you ever did see. Death bunnies. Hmm, should I make that a new gui… naaah.

And they grow up so fast!

It seems like just last week I started them all, and look, one of them’s already past level 25! They’re ALL almost to 25!

Oooh, it’s a good thing I’ve got that max level Inscriptionist with every Glyph recipe trained, so I can make all those Glyphs for them. At 25 they’ll want a Prime, a Major and a Minor… for EACH spec! And when dual-specs only cost 10g, that there be a lot of Glyphs down the road, ayep, ahuh, I reckon.

I’ll just pop on over to the Inscriptionist…. or Scrivener… or Scriber… or scribbler… or dude that makes Glyphs, or whatever the ridiculous pedantic people insist they be called when we all know what we mean, and just scribble me down a list of mats!

Oh, and my wife has needs too… alt Glyph needs, that is. I’d better get a list from her before I get started!

Okay, mats, mats… wow, that’s a buttload of inks of all level ranges. Damn good thing I have acres and acres of Ink of the Sea to trade to Jessica Sellers, right? I’ll just pass along these Inks of the Sea that I made with extremely valuable high-level herbs from Northrend, and she’ll pass over all those low level Inks that I need for 80 levels worth of varying milled herb stuff.

“Hi Jessica! how’s it going? Pretty quiet now that Dalaran is in isolation, I’ll bet!”

“Hey, I’ve got some Glyphs I need to make, so how’s about you shoot me over about thirty Moonglow Ink, fifteen Lion’s Ink… better make that eighteen, nine Jadefire, three Ink of the Sky, and toss in some Ethereal Ink while you’re at it, maybe twelve or fifteen.”

“What… what the heck do you MEAN my Ink of the Sea ain’t worth taking? Blackfallow Ink? BLACKFALLOW?!?!”

“But Blackfallow ain’t in the damn GAME yet! There ain’t no recipes to learn how to make it!”

“Oh… that’s why you want it. It’s rarity is what makes it so valuable. Gotcha.”

“So… how the hell am I supposed to get all these Inks for the Glyphs? The Glyphs you learn leveling are good for characters of all levels, but I who the heck is level 80 and rolling in ALL the low level Inks? That’s a whole heck of a lot of Ink just on the off chance you need one of those Glyphs, darnit!”

“What do you mean, farm it? Holy crap, do you have any idea how many kinds of herbs there ARE out there? How the hell am I supposed to know which herbs get milled into what kind of Pigment when I only need Moonglow or Etherial? Or what kind of Pigments turn into what kinds of Inks for that matter?”

“Oh, Wowpedia has a great page showing all the herbs, derived pigments and inks?”

“Oh.”

“Okay, that’s fine, but what if I don’t want to spend all freaking day flipping back and forth between my guild bank… um, I mean my personal bank where my herbs are, and Wowpedia, checking and cross-referencing?”

“Oh, there’s a simple addon called Millhelp that shows me what an herb turns into when you Mill it when you mouse over it?”

“Oh…”

“Well, fine! Be that way!”

Mutter, grumble… How the heck’s a guy supposed to get a good case of the cranky on if you’re gonna go and get rid of the confusion, huh? Answer me that!

Now to just go blast through a few carefully targeted low level zones to score some prime herb, and I’ll be rolling some new Glyphs in record time!

It isn’t all sweetness and light

I wanted to expand a little bit on the points Johnnie made in his editorial on the MMO Melting Pot today.

I really hope you’ll read the editorial through that link before continuing on with the post. Johnnie was very eloquent in making his points. I think it’s well worth your time.

I won’t reproduce the entire editorial here, but I think this quote is very representational of his overall point;

…everyone agreed: [the sundering] was going to be awesome. Personally, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. The most tumultuous and (literally and figuratively) world-changing event in Warcraft’s history: I couldn’t wait to experience it.

Unfortunately, I can’t. It’s already happened, and I missed it.

Johnnie puts to words exactly how I’ve been feeling in the pit of my stomach as I experience the new quests on my level 20 human Hunter, and take my mains over hill and expore distant dale to see with eyes wide open firsthand how the world has become transformed.

I love what I’m doing in the game. I enjoy the surprising twists and genuine humor that coexists seamlessly with the poignant sense of change and loss amongst people and places long familiar to me.

What I don’t particularly love is the transition from the old world to the new. 

Rather than being part of the story, I go to sleep on a Monday, and on a Tuesday I find out I pulled a Rip Van Winkle act, and years have passed me by. How… jarring the transformation was, it leaves me feeling emotionally detached from any sense of immediacy. 

With the movies, the pulse-pounding energy of the prelude, I expected more of a sense of urgency towards the aftermath of Deathwing’s release.

Before I even go on, I’d better make sure I mention that I love the game as it is. I’ve got no complaints here about playing the game. The quest style and flow feels much improved. The content is great. The phasing, the humor and interaction with NPCs, it’s all good. I love where we are now. I really feel I can’t stress that enough in this post, because I know from past experience that many folks will read into any hint of displeasure I may express as being a massive whine fest “oh my god QQ just quit the game if you hate it wah”.

It’s not like that. I damn well love everything I’ve seen and done. I even appreciate how selected areas and quests were left mostly unchanged, just streamlined a bit, leaving the sense of the comfortably familiar waiting just around the next corner, as if to say, “You’ve been exploring the strange and unusual, and may feel nervous… come inside, my friend. Welcome home.”

But how the transition merged the passing of time with missing the Sundering event hurts, damnit.

The event we’ve been expecting to change Azeroth was presented in most media as being Deathwing’s breaking free from his elemental realm into ours. Right?

I was expecting that we would not be part of the actual event as the world was transformed, but instead log into the immediate aftermath.

That’s sort of what happened.

What’s messing things up for me is that not only was the Cataclysm event handled off screen, but they also took the opportunity to advance the entire history of the world of Azeroth many years past where we logged out BEFORE breaking it.

We logged back in not just to the immediacy that is Deathwing’s explosive entrance to the world, but also to a world that experienced years of political and expansionistic change while we were, well, asleep.

In my ideal game experience, I would have loved to be some small part of the event itself. To be able to say afterwards that I was there to witness the sundering of the Barrens, for example. Or that I was part of the bucket brigade that tried to douse the flames left behind from Deathwings’ assault on Stormwind.

But I knew that was unrealistic. I knew I was going to log in and it would all be over. The NPCs would experience the cool and scary events, and us bit players would walk in from off stage and react to it with expressions of dismay, amazement and sorrow. 

What I didn’t expect was that the world had also grown several years older while I was, apparently, mining for Saronite.

Perhaps our new characters are supposed to be coming in fresh, and our older, more experienced characters are ALL assumed to have been off in Northrend the entire time without ever having returned to visit during the war, single-mindedly championing the struggle against Arthas in far off distant lands.

Now, I know *I* returned quite frequently to visit, but maybe Blizzard is just deciding for me that I didn’t. It helps them plot the story better that way. 🙂

Now that Arthas is destroyed and the great war is over, here we are, weary soldiers returing to our homes in Azeroth to find that life moved on without us, new fortresses have been built, encroachments on territory have been made, tensions between factions are running high, war between Horde and Alliance is growing ever more likely, Varian Wrynn has turned into such a massive egomaniac that the prick erected a mighty statue in tribute to himself in front of the steps to Stormwind Castle, and, well, we’re finding out what it’s like to have done two tours overseas while life goes on without us.

Right? That’s a pretty powerful, realistic thing to have written into the flow of the game.

But while we were coming home victorious from the wars, someone else came along and bombed the shit our of our country. We didn’t get the chance to get reunited with our friends and loved ones, to be introduced to all the changes and see how things have grown before it all got blown apart.

That’s one heck of a lot of change to absorb all at once.

The single most jarring note for me wasn’t all the structural changes, either. It was feeling exactly how many years had passed me by.

When I first entered Redridge Mountains, there where Guard Parker used to stand, alone next to a big rock, there was now a massive tower called Three Corners.

At the top of the tower Guard Parker still stands, but now he’s been promoted to Watch Captain Parker.

At the base of the tower, you meet his wife Darcy, and they’re adorable little girl, Libby.

Wow! Why, Darcy, when I last saw you, you were working in the Inn at Redridge, and you were sweet on Parker… I brought thim the lunch you made!

And here you are now, not only married but with a little girl, as well! Congratulations!

Boy, she looks like she’s nearly eight years old!

It’s amazing how the time flies by, isn’t it? I wish your family all the best…

I only wish I could have had a chance to see any of it happen during the last five years I was playing the game.

Oooh look, shiny!

You have fun?

I had fun.

Today, what should we talk about?

I’ll tell you what.

Withers.

You go, read this righteously awesome post by Manalicious, and enjoy.

It’s not just how great the post is in terms of guidance, but honestly… how excited and exuberant Vidyala’s tone is.

That’s how to be an inspiration, right there.

Me?

Oh, I’d write something about my adventures as a Troll Druid, or as one of a hundred thousand excited Human Hunters, but honestly… my mind is too wrapped up in the doings of Baron Trendel to be able to spare the brain cells.

I hope that all of you had a wonderful time, and Blizzard has my deepest thanks and appreciation for a successful roll out of the huge change. Once I got in, I played. Period. No issues.

No issues aside from, sigh, people bitching about portals being gone.

Really, go read Manalicious and delight in the fun.

Can We Recreate the Magic?

This post is just a little bit of musing about then and now.

Tuesday will see the dawn of a new era in WoW.

Or will it?

The Cataclysm will come to the world of Azeroth, surprising our characters, but not us.

That’s not what I’ve been thinking of.

Maybe it’s Tesh’s fault, but I do spend quite some time trying to analyze the intentions of the Blizzard developers NOT from anything they say, but rather from what they actually DO.

You’re not what you say you are, no matter how loudly you proclaim it. You are what you do.

Tomorrow, for the first time since the release of the Burning Crusade expansion, the portal hubs will go dark.

For the very first time since the end of the Vanilla WoW era, there will not be a single place you can set your Hearth that gives you ready access to… anywhere you want to go.

There is much in the patch and the expansion that will move the game forward.

Is the removal of the portal hubs a move forward… or a move back?

In my opinion, trying to get into the heads of the developers to figure out how they hope this will work out, it’s an interesting move.

People bitch about ‘slippery slopes’ a lot, but one thing is usually true; once you’ve removed an action that used to cause long periods of  grinding, grunt work or downtime, if you put it back in, people resent it. 

One of the things that was true in Vanilla WoW was that moving from place to place took a lot of time. Time waiting for boats, time waiting for zeppelins, time on flights across the continents, time running across deadly zones to get flight points hoping you wouldn’t get eaten, but having to do it because there WERE no boat or zeppelin routes that would give you a convenient short cut around them.

‘Fed Ex’ style quests took no skill at playing your character to complete… but they compensated for that by taking up a lot of time in transit.

There was good cause for rejoicing when Burning Crusade brought us Shattrath; a city with Innkeepers to set your Hearth, and filled with magical portals that could transport you in the blink of an eye to any of the major cities on another world.

Suddenly, just by finding a friendly Mage or Warlock of the right level to help you get there, maybe a 10 gold tip, your character could easily pop in and out wherever they might need to go.

The consequence of this convenience was that one of the most powerful benefits of being a Mage or Warlock, or having one for a friend, was marginalized.

Even the Shaman’s ability to reduce the cooldown of the Hearth was slightly reduced in equivalent power.

The LFD tool brought even more convenience to the party, didn’t it? Instant ports, and all that sort of thing.

No question that having portal hubs saves a lot of time… time that once was spent traveling from place to place could now be spent getting it stuck into the fight faster.

The developers chose to include those portal hub cities. First with one in the heart of Outlands… then again in the heart of Northrend.

The developers have chosen to remove all of those portal hubs.

What can we glean from this decision?

I think, despite some of the conspiracy theories I’ve seen in Trade chat the last few weeks, that this is not an attempt to make us waste more time so the content lasts longer before we get bored.

I’ve seen some comments that it is being done, in part, to cut down the ‘Laglaran’ effect of having 80% of a server’s population in the same zone or city. That sounds like a very plausible reason.

I know that it’s been said by developers that a key point is to force players to be out and about running around the world, so it seems populated and full of life.

Well, if I wanted to be a picturesque local to add color for the enjoyment of the new tourists, I’d prefer to be issued a grass-roofed hut, banana leaves and a spear to shake. And a table to sell my hand crafted goods at ridiculous prices. And a bottle of rum. And some bacon.

I’m not here for the tourists. Screw the tourists! I’m here for my own paid playtime. This particular argument you make for why I should now have to spend tons of my own personal time traveling around not having fun when I used to be able to ‘blip’ effortlessly about is not compelling. Stop making it.

It costs a set amount of money to play per month. Time = money. Your change is costing me playtime I used to spend having fun, and that means you’re costing me money.

Or, as Henry Rollins once put it, you’re killing me… you’re stealing my life. Just a teeny, tiny bit at a time.

So, no, that rationale doesn’t quite float my boat, honey.

But there is another good reason they could be trying it. I say trying, because they can always change their mind back later. It’s not like they’re bulldozing, and can’t afford the zoning permits to rebuild.

By reverting us once again to the days of Vanilla WoW… we are returning to a time when having a Mage, a Warlock, or a friend who is a Mage or a Warlock was a damn good thing.

The abilities those classes learn, and  especially those Portal spells the Mages work so hard to acquire over the levels, suddenly go from being  handy once in a while to being freaking awesome.

Which is how they were before the Burning Crusade.

We’ll still have LFD. We’ll still have the new, vastly improved summoning stones as well. Well, maybe. We will even have new perks from Guild Leveling letting us summon guildies directly to the raid (unless they changed that when I wsn’t looking). And of course, the boats and zeppelins.

We’re not turning back the clock all the way back to Vanilla.

But we won’t have Dalaran or Shattrath to set our hearth to be able to pop wherever we want.

I find thinking of it as a planned change to bring Mages and Warlocks more love for their class skills far more satisfying than thinking of it as a way for Blizzard to feel that they’re running a populated world.

Unless we ever see player or guild housing, set up in seperate communities where we have a reason for hanging out there, housing that other people can peer into to see us hanging out but they can’t enter because they don’t have the friend or guild key… any attempt to make us populate world areas is purely superficial.

Oh, and Blizzard… I know you don’t read my blog, it’s cool, I’m an idiot. But seriously, from me to you. I love you, and what you do is awesome, but could you please consider player or guild housing? Think about it. If you seriously set aside areas where a guild could buy, say, a small townhouse with outdoor area in a city park, and only guild members were allowed in the area… but people could walk by and see what was going on in the outside area of the ‘lawn’?

You would likely have a real, living breathing community on your hands in that neighborhood. Instead of doing laps while chatting, people would lounge on an easy chair in the sun catching a few rays, or stand around the BBQ drinking beer while they chatted.

Oh yes we would.

Back to the point, in my opinion changes attempted to bring a classes’ unique abilities back into prominance is a good thing. Unless the class ability was poorly thought out in the first place or no longer fits the intent, and needs a revamp.

It will be interesting to see how people adjust to the changes. Will there be tons of QQ? Will people be so thrilled by all the rest of the changes they don’t even notice?

Will the number of Mages and Warlocks rolled suddenly increase?

I can’t wait to find out.

Old Butt Music Update!

One of the things I mention every now and then is music.

Music is a huge part of my life, just like everyone else. I hate to break it to ya, the power music has doesn’t change just because you get old.

I’m always interested in talking about music. My music, your music, whatcha like to listen to when you raid, when you PvP, when you chill and farm ore or herbs for 3 hours, when you drive in to work, when you’re mowing the lawn, when you’re running at the gym.

One thing, however, is an incontrovertible fact.

I am an old, old, old man.

Not as old as the Mannyac, I may have teethed on a raptor horn, but he was one of the ones that hunted ’em into extinction.

But what does my age mean for you?

This means, and damn I enjoy this, I am now old enough that anything I like listening to automatically becomes uncool.

God, I love that. It’s like a super power.

And now, if you are cool and you like the latest pop hits, I’m about to ruin your day.

Below is the track list for my latest driving CD. I enjoy listening to these songs while driving at high speeds around the turtles that block my forward progress on the interstate.

If you like any of these songs, and I do mean any of these songs…. you are not cool. You must drop them from your playlist before your friends mock you for listening to music the OLD FOLKS like.

I am hereby officially ruining these songs for the cool crowd. Oooh, it gives me shivers.

Just like when all the cool kids found out their parents were on Myspace, so they had to switch to Facebook, now you’re gonna have to switch to something else.

I am tainting these songs. Pray I don’t taint your music any further. 

Alex Parks – Mad World
The Veronicas – Untouched
t. A. T. u. – All the things she said
The Pussycat Dolls – When I Grow Up
Ke$ha – Take It Off
Shakira – She Wolf
Lady GaGa – Bad Romance
Linkin Park – New Divide
Skillet – Hero
Britney Spears – Circus
P!nk – U + Ur Hand

On the plus side, my super power to destroy the coolness of music only works on pop crap and the latest hits. Anything that is vintage and of enduring quality, such as Pink Floyd or Silly Wizard, remains unmarred by my enjoyment. You may continue to enjoy them freely.

Oh, and for those at all interested;

I like a wide variety of music, different things for different purposes. But two things remain the same.

When I go out to listen to live music, I want to listen to Irish Music. I think if I ever do a “Hang out with the Bear” thing ever again, it’s gonna be at the Half Time Rec Center in Saint Paul while the Tim Malloys play.

When I want to farm ore or herbs endlessly for hours, I put one of Lewis Black’s comedy albums from iTunes on. I have them all. It’s like listening to myself rant and rave, but without getting the sore throat.

How would YOU schedule the event?

We’re at a fun point in the game right now, in terms of planning.

Let’s pretend, just for a minute, that this huge decision is actually in OUR hands.

The date for the release of the Cataclysm expansion is set, and it’s about two weeks away.

In the United States, one of the biggest family events of the year, Thanksgiving, is set for less than one week away.

You’ve been increasing the pressure in the prelude to Cataclysm every week up to this point.

You’ve got one BIG game change coming that you’ve said you will do before the actual expansion release date; the literal breaking of the world.

You are more than a group of brilliant game designers. You are also one of the biggest game companies in the world, and you have to take into account the realities of supporting massive patch releases with physical support to anticipate and correct any problems that may occur.

Historically, every big patch, no matter how well tested, has had some unforeseen problem crop up. You’re too smart to think this one would be different.

What would YOU do?

Regardless of what actually happens, how would you handle it?

Would you release the big world breaking event this week, giving you two weeks to work through problems and get things settled before the expansion… but knowing that if there ARE problems, it will cause a lot of grumpiness from the United States’ customers that will, most of them, have a four day weekend for playing nothing but WoW… err, I mean spend time with their families?

Or do you wait until next week? Do you give things a chance to build some more, maybe have one more ramp up to the final world breaking, and let the big crash come after Thanksgiving, trusting that any last minute problems will be corrected in that last week prior to the box expansion going out there into the world? 

How do YOU play the timing?

Storytime: Early Warning Signs

This storytime is dedicated to my wife, Cassie. If she’d known this story going in, she never would’ve married me.

The great thing is, you think I’m joking.

Warning: I give up. This isn’t a Bearwall, it’s a freaking testament to one bear’s stupidity. But after a while, I just gave up and rolled with it. It’s 5300 words. I’m going to go and drinik a case of Red Dog now, and ponder my utter inability to get to the point.

I’ve written before about the fun of my teen years. If I were to give a name to that era, I could call it the “Overcompensating Age”, for it almost seemed that my father was trying to compress a lifetime of manly training into as short a period as possible.

But that’s not really true. I wasn’t the point; I was the accomplice.

This is the period of my life that brought about such stories as the Gunslingers Tale, The Artiste and the Raccoon Story. Ah, the raccoon story. You know, ife is worth living JUST to have the raccoon story to remember in my old age. I’ll be the hit of the nursing home.

When I say I was merely the accomplice, it’s because the point wasn’t to instill within me any manly skills. The point was for my father to, how best to put this? Ah!

The point was for my father to munchkin his character sheet with survival and combat skills in anticipation of the impending apocalypse.

My father was a police officer for the city of Boca Raton, a former Navy submariner, and an all around macho kind of guy. Yes, he even had the “cop” bushy mustache. Of course.

But this dude was, like, obsessed with developing and mastering new manly skills. Once he had some new thing under his belt, though, he rarely maintained them on a continuing basis. It was always some new shiny beckoning him on. Very much like a teen with three video console systems and a limited budget, now that I think about it. Get a new game, play it through and beat it once, then trade it in for store credit on a new one.

He’d slide into a new ‘manly’ interest about every three months; fishing, reloading, duck hunting or wild boar hunting with a pike, spear fishing, scuba diving, gunsmithing, knife and swordmaking, leatherworking, axe throwing, fabricating pistol silencers, blowguns, handmade crossbows, black powder muzzleloading (making AND shooting), making log cabins from scratch, trapping, just omigod.

He’d get this new interest, he’d blow a ton of money on all the necessary supplies and books and training materials and classes, and then he’d obsess on it for a few months, and then off he’d go onto something else. I have to give him credit, he’d stick with it until he’d mastered whatever it was to some extent, but c’mon, talk about a guy with the staying power of a ferret on a pixie stick.

I thought it was normal at the time. After all, I didn’t know any of this stuff myself, and it all sure sounded cool as hell. I wanted to learn these things myself the second he’d mention his latest obsession, what boy wouldn’t? What, learn how to make your own rockets, add engines, build an electrically fired control panel and then go shoot them off? Then add explosives and stuff to them? And floaty cameras? Sign my butt up!

As far as HOW he went about learning things, I just figured everyone did this intensive cram course craziness when they needed to learn something new. It was just how things got done.

Balance in life is not something I learned at home. 🙂

Even now, my tendency when I have a new interest is to want to work on it to the exclusion of all else until I’ve mastered it. I’ve since learned to temper my enthusiasm a little by setting what I think are reasonable goals in stages, and once I hit a goal I’ll force myself to move on to something else for a while. It’s something that Cassie has noticed on more than one occasion, and she likes to say that when I get some new hair up my butt that I’ve got another obsession. I wish she was joking, but it does irritate her. 

No, that’s not the thing that would have canceled our wedding if she’d known about it in advance. Well, maybe. 🙂

Ah well. I got even with him in the end. I introduced him to computers. A grown man with a problem managing obsessions set on mastering computers… I destroyed his credit rating. That right there is a bottomless well he’ll never fill, but damn has he tried over the years. And I got to play with all the toys he bought! A job well done, thought I.

In the middle of the Overcompensating Age, probably around the time I was fifteen, my dad decided it was time we went on a ‘real’ camping trip.

The summer before, we’d gone canoeing, something which I’d loved. It had involved going to a KOA campground in Florida that provided drop off service. We loaded up some packs, grabbed our canoe, and KOA dropped us off at the head of a river, along with one of my dad’s cop friends from Deerfield Beach. Nice guy, can’t remember his name though.

We spent something like four days canoeing down the river, fishing along the way sometimes, and at night we’d pull off at the side of the river to pitch a tent on the river bank, have a fire and relax.

I am intentionally not mentioning things like mosquitoes or humidity levels. 

We went down that river until we arrived at the KOA campground, where our vehicle was parked. That’s it, trip over, time to drive home.  

I thought, in my misguided way, that this was a camping trip with a value added canoeing on top. With sprinkles. 

Um, no. I was informed that what we did was not actually ‘camping’. He seemed faintly shocked at the very idea!

No, we had not gone ‘camping’. Was I crazy? camping? How could I think that was camping?

This lack of fundamental understanding seemed to weigh on him, for the next Fall he announced it was by God time for me to really learn what ‘camping’ was all about.

He announced this in the Fall, because while I may give him crap about it, he is not a stupid man. During the Fall season in Florida, the mosquitoes mostly land at the airport so they can remove weapons and ammo, refuel and get winterized in preparation for the next season’s campaign of war on our fragile blood vessels. 

Finally, I would learn more about what my father thought of as ‘going camping’!

I had some vague ideas from movies and Scouting handbooks of what camping was… or so I thought.

Maybe a tent is involved? Fires? Marshmallows on pointy wood things? Weenies, perhaps? I’m sure I heard something about roasting weenies. Or was that chestnuts? Wait, what kind of chestnuts? Horse chestnuts? Those things look disgusting!

Will there be singalongs by the fire? Will the a song with the word “Koombaiya” enter into the picture at some point? If it does, will I be expected to know the words to the song? I don’t know the words! Are there words?

Mental images intruded of Hobbits wearing packs hiking across the frozen mountains on the way to the lonely door, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky.

I was pretty sure that, whatever the reality may be, hidden tentacles in murky pools would probably not be involved in real camping. Nor would Balrogs or riddle quests, darnit. I spend all my time studying for the wrong tests!

Dad sat me down and laid it all out. He set me straight.

‘Camping’, I learned, consists of driving a long, long way away so that the comforts of home are unavailable to you. The more remote the destination, the better. This most especially means no bathrooms. Going potty in a flush or chemical toilet automatically invalidates the entire camping experience, relegating it to ‘tourist crap for pansies’.

Apparently, in the proper camping experience, it is important to be as far from civilization as you can get. It is also to be hoped that, along the way, a party member will get mauled by a bear, bitten by a snake of a breed with less than immediately lethal levels of toxicity, or perhaps have a rotten tree fall on you. Mauled, poisoned, crushed, but not killed.

See, this gives the more manly member of the camping trip the opportunity to kill the bear, axe the snake or hoist the tree, thus saving a life, and then result in a desperate fight for survival against all odds as you work to bring the wounded man safely back to the world and easy reach of hospitals. It doesn’t count as true camping unless a Reader’s Digest article about your heroism is a definite possibility when things go horribly wrong.

Me, I consider that, well, crazy as a shithouse rat might be a pretty good way of putting it. Let me be blunt; if you know a guy that might think like this, DO NOT GO INTO THE WOODS WITH THIS MAN! If you do, don’t pull a Blair Witch. For God’s sake, YOU keep the map, compass, and a big f’ing gun on you at all times.

No, do not let him have the compass. Just, no. Not unless you want to wake up one morning with stick figures and moss wrapped with string hanging around your tent. Uh, no. Oh, and I’ve heard witches can be killed with cold iron. I don’t normally carry cold forged iron weapons, but I’m willing to bet if you fill them with hot lead, that might also serve as an efficacious cure. One way or another, I’d be willing to test that hypothesis.  Preferrably with a Barrett M82A1 at 5,200 feet.

To continue, you get a pack that you wear, and everything that you’re going to need on the camping trip must be able to fit in this pack. Hey, protip? Bring extra water containers. And in some of them, carry some actual water.

Then, you must have guns, for there might be bears. I refer you to aforementioned story about potentially saving team from bear.

And there must be small arms, for there WILL be snakes. We’re talking about South Florida, after all. That’s MY rule. Snakes? Shotshells. Or a machete, but why bring a knife to a gunfight? And they’re snakes… I don’t WANT to be on a mano a mano basis with snakes. Mano a reptilio? I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, some of them fuckers can coil themselves and fly through the air. And lizards, too!

Flying snakes. I’ve seen the video, don’t even argue with me about this.

Indonesia, Amazon rainforest, Florida Everglades, I don’t care where the hell they supposedly live, I hear New York’s got alligators in the sewers. Fuck that, where’s my gun? Don’t give a sucker an even break, or a chance to fang you. If you get bit on the butt by a rattlesnake, don’t go crying to ME to suck the venom out. You tell me someone’s got to suck the venom out or you’re gonna die, I’m gonna look you square in the eye and say, “I’m gonna miss you on poker night, man.”

And there must be knives and axes, for we are manly men, and manly men apparently need the comfort that being festooned with edged weapons provides.

And there must be a tent, and a sleeping bag, but no sisy pads or air mattresses. Those are strictly for candy asses. This is starting to sound less like fun, and suspiciously like something designed to, [shudder], “build character”.

I build characters all the time, I got GURPS, D&D, WoW, tell me what kind you want me to build, I’m your guy. You don’t have to con me into a forest, ‘kay?

But most of all, you have to hike your ass out to some remote place to do the camping, so you’re “getting away from it all”, looking for that unspoiled expanse of raw nature.

Hold on, I have to stifle the giggles. This is America, there ain’t a square foot of land that ain’t been crossed by somebody in the last year. You just won’t find some hidden expanse of untouched wilderness out there, hiding the fountain of youth or the secret gold of Blackbeard the Pirate.

That scene, where Clint Eastwood climbed that insane chimney stack while training in The Eiger Sanction?

I bet when he got up there, he found the cans from an empty six pack of beer, a dead campfire, and a used condom. Oh, and somebody will have tagged the side of the chimney stack with spray paint in the shape of a giant wang.

Untouched wilderness? Yeah, right. But we can dream.

That was what camping meant for my father.

Before you even begin to think that bears any relation to reality, let me disabuse you of that notion.

I’ve come to learn in the years since that, when I mention camping to other folks, that definition ain’t the norm.

Cassie is a prime example.

When we started dating, I mentioned to Cassie that I really liked camping, even after having been in the Marines and having some damn SENSE pounded into me. 

She told me that she had gone camping with her family many times when growing up, she’d spent lots of time camping. She kinda liked it.

Then I mentioned tents and wet sleeping bags, and things kinda fell apart.

See, even after years of the Marines, what I was thinking when I said “camping” was hiking up a trail wearing a pack, setting up a tent in the back of beyond, having a fire and listening to the coyote howl out his one lonesome song as the stars rise to illuminate the face of the sky.

What Cassie meant by camping was having the family get into the car, drive up to the campground where the trailer was kept parked year around, and then hang out at the campground for the weekend. With chemical toilets in the campground, but nobody used those because they were icky. You used the nice clean bathroom in your trailer.

Who has the right of it? Which version is more closely accurate?

Well, let me put it this way. Campgrounds are called campgrounds for a reason. 

Now, part of why it’s hard for me to shake my mental image of camping is that I was actually raised in South Florida. If you’ve never really lived there, it’s hard to imagine, but I don’t think of living in a trailer as camping.

In South Florida, for a whole LOT of folks, another word for trailer is your HOUSE. Y’know, that place you live and where you keep all your stuff, at least what you don’t have rusting in the sugar sand and weeds you call a front lawn on cinder blocks, or hide under a tarp in the back.

You don’t go camping in your HOUSE. I mean, it’s your house! You might go camping in a tent behind your house, but you don’t camp in your house! It’s the house!

And anyway, if people didn’t live in trailers in Florida, what would we use for sacrifices to appease the hurricane gods each year? Hey, the Hawaiians can toss people in volcanoes, we didn’t have hot lava to worry about. We had 100 mph winds that can drive a straw through a tree or throw a cow into orbit. We put our dumb shits in trailers for the hurricanes to eat each year, and that cuts down on the severity of the storms each season by approximately 34.7 % annually.

It’s a fact! Check the data, that’s all I’m saying. 

If too many rednecks leave the trailer park, it’s gonna be a BAD year for storms, man.  

So, my dad wanted to go “camping”.

As we lived in South Florida in Boca Raton in the Southeast, in order to get our beer budget butts to an ‘exotic location’, we had to drive across the state to the Northwest. He chose an area near the west side of Ocala National Park as his destination, a nice spot near a lake he “knew about” where we could get the jeep in there, get a tent pitched up near a lake, and have a fire and do some shooting.

Doesn’t that sound idyllic? A nice chance for some father and son bonding.

Right. Dream on.

Thinking that I perhaps needed somebody along for that peer bonding thing, he called up my best geeky friend…. oh wait, no he didn’t. No, I would have enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have had the chance to build any more damn character. I just would have had fun. That was not the objective of this exercise.

I was beginning to learn what camping was really about. PAIN.

No, he called up his buddy on the Sherriff’s department that lived across the street (yes, the one whose house we think we shot), infamously mentioned in The Gunslinger episode, and asked him if his son would like to join us.

His son, the wanna-be jock that thought books were wonderful… they made such a mighty fine, rosy glow when you burned them. Not that I’m saying he was opposed to original thought or learning… opposition would imply he had a thought enter his head in the first place.

Okay, I’m being mean, but he was such a stereotypical jock with poor grades and zero imagination that it’s embarrassing. And it’s not really germane to the story, except to say that he and I weren’t exactly ‘buds’. I thought he was an idiot… I couldn’t understand then, and cannot understand now how anyone can actually be against learning something new. Like, as a philosophy or a way of life.

And he wasn’t the biggest fan of mine, since I actually liked to read science fiction and play role playing games with other guys at school, but I didn’t safely fall into the ‘geek to be bullied’ category since I could kick his ass, shoot better, fish better, and generally laugh at one of his dad’s jokes the first time without having to have it explained to me. In small words. My existence tormented that boys’ soul. “He’s a geek ’cause he reads, and geeks are pencil-necked nerds to pants and stuff in lockers, but he can fish and shoot and wrassle and kick my ass… no, those things can’t go together, brain overheating, must shut down before it explodes… arrggghhh! Too late! [kaboom]”

It’s the pride thing that got to me, too. The whole, “Oh, I’ve never read a book except what they make me read in school.” And being proud of it! Like, an admission of reading a book and liking it is a sign of being a little light in the loafers. A gateway to slapping a rainbow sticker on your bumper. It probably makes you a commie.

Moron.

Hmmm, I’m inspired to write a Katy Perry song spoof, “I read a book and I liked it, the works of Mr Terry Pratchett, I read a book and I liked it, it had Sam and the Night Watch all up in it“.

Sigh. Maybe next week. I promised twww a Converging Forces.

On the first morning of our camping trip, we gathered our gear together, grabbed Doofus the Moron and headed north for a four day weekend. I’m pretty sure. It was definitely longer than one weekend, but I don’t think we took a whole week off in Fall. 

It was chilly, no mosquitoes, and wet. Wettish, anyway. The weather reports were threatening stormy, freezing weather alternating with fog all weekend.

Well, maybe so, maybe no, but when you’re in our tax bracket, if you’ve planned a camping trip for such and such a date, you damn well go on a camping trip. You do NOT cancel your plans because it might, I dunno… blizzard. You never know when you’ll ever be able to afford another trip again. 

And yes, I know it doesn’t blizzard in Florida. I also know snakes generally hibernate come the chilly wet weather of Fall. I don’t care. I go out in the Fall, and I hate cold weather. If I can do it, why can’t the snake?

The drive up was uneventful. Hey, something had to go right!

Once we reached the end of the winding roads and back trails my dad was sure would lead us to this promised land of camping isolation, it was time to park the jeep and get our packs and assorted gear settled.

My first lesson; put all your stuff on BEFORE you actually leave the house. This is the very bare minimum load planning possible. You do not wait until you are actually IN THE WOODS to find out that you weigh 155 pounds, and your proposed PACK with all attached gear weighs 255!

After strapping on our quick draw gunbelts, pistols, knives, hatchets, canteens, rifles, backpack, tent sections, sleeping bags, tarps, rain gear, food bags, coleman lantern, sterno stove, pots, pans, spoons and forks, a steel grating from a charcoal-style grill that rusted out on the bottom, a twisted-iron tripod and percolating-style tin coffee pot, and a shotgun with ammo “in case I see a duck over the lake”, we looked like a bunch of idiots. 

I mean desperadoes. That’s it. Desperadoes.

Noise discipline my ass, we sounded like a herd of elephants wearing a kitchen supply store crashing through the woods as we hit the trail. I guess you can’t expect better out of a Navy submariner, huh? I kid, I kid.

Good thing we weren’t there to hunt, I bet we chased all the Mule Deer clear out of those woods and all the way to Alabama.

We hiked a good long while, following trails that looked a little too well worn to be simple game trails. Eventually, sure enough, we reached a nice cleared area at a slight elevation overlooking a very pretty blue water lake, lightly wooded for cover and with decent runoff. It had been misting all day, but as we got there to the 9obviously well used) campsite, the rain began to really come down.

Priorities quickly became established as my dad directed us in what to do.

“First, take all your stuff off.”

“No, don’t just put it down, get it hung up on a tree and throw a tarp over it.”

“If you have to set it down to get the tarp out, at least don’t set it in the mud! Omigod!”

“Okay, now the gear is up out of the mud, it’s got a tarp on it, and we’ve got our wet weather gear on. Let’s get the tent site cleared of rocks and dig a drainage trench.”

“Where’s the entrenching tool?”

“Oh for… okay, get the packs back down and dig the entrenching tool out!”

“NO, not in the mud!”

“Okay, get the packs back up and let’s get clearing.”

“Okay, we’ve got it cleared, let’s throw a tarp down and start setting the tent up.”

“Where’s the tent?”

“YES, we need the tent now! Get it out of the packs, please.”

“Okay, we need the tent poles too.”

“The tent poles.”

Tent. Poles.”

“Those long pointy things that look like… well, that look like fucking tent poles, what the hell do you THINK tent poles look like?”

“Who the hell was supposed to pack the tent poles!?!?”

“Oh.”

“Okay, now what we’re going to do is set up a field expedient tent. we’re gonna run some of this rope to those four trees, to hold up the top of the tent. First, let’s stake the tent corners down. Okay, now you take this end and tie it to the brass loop in the canvas peak, and once we’ve got four ropes set, we’ll lash ’em to those trees, and they’ll keep the tent up without poles.”

“Okay, so the tent goes up and down like a massive bellows every time the wind blows the trees. Hmm.”

“Maybe we can leave it like “DAD!” okay, okay, just a thought.”

“All right, you two go find some branches, and we’ll carve some tent poles out of wood.”

“Okay, now go back and find something more like a ‘branch’, and less like a ‘tree’.”

“Okay, it’s dark now and it’s really pissing down, so let’s get this tent finished.”

‘Shit, we need a light, let’s get the lantern lit.”

“Boy, that wind sure is something, isn’t it?”

“Funny how cold it gets when it comes straight in off the lake like that.”

“It’s a good thing this style of Coleman lantern can be lit even in a strong wind.”

“Okay, boys we’re going to need to get a shelter up so I can cut this wind down to light the lantern.”

“No, I didn’t bring a flashlight!”

Shut up!”

“Go get a tarp and some more rope, and we’ll make a half-assed shelter so I can light this lamp.”

“NO, not the tarp over the gear! Another tarp!”

“Yes, we have another tarp.”

“Will you get those packs out of the mud!”

“No, I don’t…. what do you mean there isn’t any toilet paper in there? I packed the… oh. Well, crap.”

“LEAVES, I don’t give a shit. Use your hands!”

“You can take a bath in the lake tomorrow, we’re gonna sleep in this damn tent tonight!”

“Okay, we’ve got the lamp on, isn’t that better?”

“Now, let’s get this finished.”

“Screw the branches, we’re gonna lash the tent to the trees. Get those ends of the ropes, and hold them while I get this one thrown over a high branch and tied down.”

“Okay, let’s get these others lashed down.”

“All right, now get your sleeping bags and toss them inside the tent. Leave the rest of this shit out here under the tarp.”

“Where are the sleeping bags?”

“What the hell are they still doing in the mud? OMIGOD! When I said get the gear up the tree under a tarp, I meant the bags too!”

“Okay. Toss some rocks on the loose stuff so it doesn’t blow away. Don’t worry, this rain will let up soon.”

[everybody gets inside the billowing, roaring, wheezing tent, twisting every which way as different trees are moed in different directions violently by the ever increasing force of the storm, climbs into sleeping bags while still fully clothed and mostly soaking wet, and the lantern is turned off]

And that voice comes out of the darkness, cutting across the roaring of the wind and the flapping of abused canvas.

“So… hey, isn’t this great? Nothing beats camping in the woods, does it boys?”

“Get some sleep, we’re going to have a LOT more fun tomorrow!”

After a very long night, I finally did fall asleep. And yes, I’ll admit that it’s impossible for me to quote exactly what was said 25 years ago. But I have spent the last two days thinking about this, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the sequence of events down right. Including what happened next. And I do know how my dad talks, so I’m pretty sure, aside from some rah rah bullshit pep talks, I’ve got it close.

The next morning, I awoke feeling quite rested and refreshed. What a wonderful night’s sleep.

Damn, maybe my old man knew something about this camping thing after all.

I lay in the sleeping bag, all curled up and warm, the only opening being right over my face, where the cold and the wet had condensed and made me know one thing; I wanted to put off getting out of the bag and into the clammy morning air as long as possible. Like, until there was a roaring fire outside, if at all possible.

As I lay there, trying to be quiet so nobody else in the tent would be disturbed and, like, wake up and make me GET up, I heard the flat crack of a rifle echoing from off a ways. 

It kinda sounded like someone fired a rifle, down near the lake. But the way sound travels near water, it could have been fired from the other side of the lake for all I knew.

I poked my head up a little bit, to find the tent empty. Deserted.

No sleeping bags, no dad, no Dufus the Moron, nothing but me in my bag, and my new hiking boots there next to me, and my rifle and gunbelt coiled on top off the wet tarp we used as a ground sheet.

Yes, it was a wet tarp, because it took forever to get the damn tent opened and set up on top of it.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag, feeling warm and comfy, but damp with my thick clothes full of moisture that had been well warmed by my body heat.

My body steamed in the morning chill, and the tent was still. There were no sounds of rain, no blowing of wind.

I threw on my boots without lacing them, grabbed my gunbelt and strapped it down. Then I poked my head out, expecting to see the two of them at a roaring fire, getting some food ready.

Nope. Things were straightened up a fire pit was laid in, sopping wet but laid in, wood seats were set up, the gear was stowed away neater, and a line had been set up between trees with sleeping bags unzipped and spread out to dry in the wind.

I drug my bag out and got it tossed on, but there was still no sign of my dad or Doofus.

Then I hear the very faint sound of voices, down from the water’s edge, and another flat crack of a rifle.

I stroll on down with my rifle in hand, and see the both of them fully dressed, shooting at a tree near the lake.

As I walked up, they both gave me the strangest look I’d ever seen, like I was a mutant, or had grown a third arm or an eye in the middle of my forehead.

They looked at me like I was a freak, or a clown, and I might start doing tricks or frothing at the mouth at any moment.

“What’s up?”

My dad looks at me, and asks me, “Did you hear anything this morning? Anything at all?”

I have to admit I didn’t. I tell him I’m sorry that they cleaned up the camp, but I didn’t hear them get up and move around.

My dad looks at me, and says, “Well, we got up and we made some breakfast. Then we cleaned the camp. Then we got our shit out of the tent, and you still hadn’t moved. Then I chopped some wood, and that didn’t wake you up.”

“So then I was a little pissed, so I had (whatever the hell the kids name was) hold the tent flap and watch you, while I took my shotgun, laid it across the top of the tent, and fired it to get your ass up.”

“You didn’t even twitch.”

‘So, we gave up trying to wake you and came down here an hour ago to do some shooting.”

“By the way, you snore louder than anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. Tonight, you’re sleeping in a shelter-half on the other side of the camp.”

Now, if my wife had had any idea, any idea at all how loud I could snore, and how easily I could slip away into sleep and sleep the sleep of the just in a heartblink, she’d never have come near me with a ten foot pole, let alone marry this chainsaw of a snore.

Ah yes, the joys of camping. True bliss.

Boy, it sure does build character!

I’m sorry

I tried to give you storytime today.

It reached over 3 thousand words… and I haven’t gotten to the camping bit yet.

I’m either going to go insane and post this monstrosity right before I nuke the site from orbit, or I’m going to fall back and punt, and just start over.

I have no idea what happened. This is ridiculous.