Tarp City


I can sleep anywhere. A friend’s couch. A friend’s couch covered in cat urine. A park bench (though I prefer the grass). A tent. Or no tent, but still in the woods. The front seat of a car. The backseat. A seat on a train. Standing up commuting to a 4am coffee shop gig on a train. Under a trellis behind my old high school as the snow blew in one frigid Pennsylvania morning. A hardwood floor the night after you’ve packed up your life and planned to move across the country (but a few days before you’ve actually put all your stuff and your bed in the actual place you intend to move across said country).

Well, that’s to say I used to be able to sleep anywhere. I hadn’t tried it for awhile. I mostly sleep in the back of a van these days, and there’s a bed back there. Tinted windows. Some curtains. It’s nice, really. Nicer than it sounds I’d imagine.

And that van is rarely parked in the same spot twice. Well it’s actually never parked in the exact same spot twice. Because I usually take it for a drive every day. To pick up smokes. Or beer. Or hike a trail. Or to make short work of all three of those activities at once.

But outside of that van, and all the places it takes me, I haven’t slept really anywhere else for a year or two or more.

So I went camping with my oldest son and a really good, old friend by the name of Roker. I call him Roker. I don’t think anyone else does.

So Roker, Tristan and I are sitting in a driveway in Seattle. Where our Airstream travel trailer, that the rest of my family—that is, those of us who don’t sleep in the van—where they all sleep. Essentially it’s our house and the van is like the master suite. I’m sure you can picture it.

So Roker, Tristan and I we’re in this driveway in Seattle and it’s raining. And we’re basically saying, “Well it’s raining so we can’t go skate,” there’s a great local skatepark just 6 minutes away, “so we might as well go camping.”

Because you know, despite having a dry house to hang out in, plus its driveway being filled with our Airstream, which is essentially a whole other dry house to hang out in, everyone knows that if you can’t go ride your skateboard because it’s raining, the only other option is to go camping.

So we’re an hour into the drive to the really good forest outside of the city when we start just laughing.

It’s not just Seattle drizzling now. It’s dumping. The highest level of windshield wiper can’t handle it. That kind of dumping.

Mind you, I didn’t bring the Airstream. Because we’re going camping. Just us three guys. And living or weekending in any kind of RV is not, and as a full-time traveler I fully admit this, camping. It’s just not. That’s called “living in an RV.” It’s cool too.

But it’s not camping.

And I didn’t bring the van either. Though that’s closer to camping, as I mentioned this was a fellas-only affair. The family would still need that master suite.

So we get there and the rain dies down a little. We get stoned (not Tristan, he’s just a kid) and all three of us start stringing ropes. There’s some amount of democracy, of teamwork happening, but the guy who brought the tarps and rope—Roker—is really stoned. He’s also a really nice guy. The kind of guy who lets you tear up his driveway just so you can scrape your big metal trailer into his very steep driveway for a couple of weeks. Because he wants to hang out with you. The kind of guy who gives you all of his stuff. Who puts stickers he’s got all over your stuff. Who plays DJ every night so you can sit around wearing his stuff and smoking his stuff and looking at your stuff with his stickers on it but also hear some great music. That kind of great guy.

Actually, he’s the kind of guy who takes you to an erupting volcano and says you should bring the kids along and then talks about how stupid it was that he brought you all here but how God damn beautiful is this?

And that’s the absolutely nicest kind of guy you can be.

But still, it’s his tarp and his rope and his forest. And he’s really stoned.

And I’m a dad used to telling my boys what to do and we all work together. But not with other people’s gear.

And Tristan, well, he’s not stoned but he’s a kid. And so the stoners laugh and try things out and don’t necessarily dismiss what he says. But they’re older. And more stoneder.

So anyway it takes an hour to hang a few tarps. And then a few minutes later there’s a fire. And then we’re whittling sticks and cooking hot dogs. And a woman comes over with hot apple pie. It’s raining. And our tarp is filled with smoke. A few deer mice start hopping around, so desperate for the crumbs from our hot dog buns that they start leaping on Tristan’s knees.

Did I mention it was raining?

So the beer runs out. The wood runs out. I string a tarp up and a hammock beneath it. Not some fancy tent hammock. Just a hammock.

The fellas sleep on small cots under that main tarp, the dwindling fire helping combat the rain. And that wind.

I woke up sometime around 5am. I had to pee so badly, but it was warm and dry in the hammock and that bucket of rain still hasn’t come close to emptying.

The sun eventually came up. I rolled out of my rigged up bungalow and gave nature a dose of her own medicine. Except mine was fermented urine.

The boys were slowly stirring.

“How’d you sleep?”

Roker shook his head and shimmied out of his sleeping bag.

“Damn deer mouse were crawling all over my face.”

“I froze,” now it’s Tristan’s turn. “But other than that, alright.” He shrugged his shoulders. There was no sarcasm involved.

I went to pack up my hammock, those other tarps. The hammock was soaked. My sleeping bag was pretty damn wet. The tarps had holes all through them. But I was bone dry.

I can still sleep anywhere.