A Visit to Another Place
There is a world out there, one that exists parallel to the one in which I live. It is populated by smiling, fresh-faced young women and small-framed, ponytailed men. They all wear green vests.
In this world is an almost endless supply of items that allow us to live life more fully -- kayaks, tents, bicycles. For "Outside" subscribers, it is always Christmas in this world, everything they could want is available, and everyone is on the same page.
I am speaking of the world of REI Co-op, where the Jawa and I went today to return the Thule luggage thing we bought last week. Ours came without the proper number of straps, we thought, and so we loaded into the Volvo -- the appropriate vehicle for REI Co-op -- and went South of Market.
Now come on. Of course I've heard of REI Co-op. I lived in Seattle for 10 years. Until they built their flagship store, the one with the climbing wall inside, REI Co-op was in my neighborhood, on the same block as The Stranger, the local weekly that published my impressions on music. I have been to REI Co-op.
It had been several years, though, and I'd forgotten that REI Co-op exists as a separate world, exempt from time and trends, a place where cargo shorts and trail running shoes are always proper dinner wear.
There is a smell to an REI store. It is a combination of rubber, Gore-Tex, trail mix and wax. It is clean and optimistic, the smell of people who live by the store's motto: "Life is good."
Each store buzzes, as it is full of people outfitting themselves for a weekend of adventure and fun. They may be climbing, biking, windsurfing or camping, but guaranteed they will wake up Monday morning sore. It will be a good kind of sore, though, the soreness of a weekend well spent, a weekend that actually adds years to your life, rather than subtracts them.
There was a time when I could have been an REI kind of guy. The year before I met Sandra Bullock, I dated an REI gal. We rode mountain bikes together, and camped next to her Mitsubishi Mirage. We wore our Nike Lava Domes and played tennis. It seemed like a very clean way to live, and I was suprised at how quickly I not only left it behind but in fact vehemently insisted to Sandra Bullock that I would NOT pursue that lifestyle again.
I'm an indoor guy. We're driving up to Washington on Friday, and everyone keeps reminding me to "stay on the main roads," a reference to the unfortunate and tragic experience of the Kim family, Noe Valley residents who got lost in the snow somewhere between I-5 and 101 in Oregon. Listen to me, people. THERE IS NO WAY I WOULD TAKE THAT KIND OF SHORTCUT.
I don't like wilderness. It makes me nervous. Once I attended a bachelor party held in a cabin near Mt. Rainier. Everyone else went cross-country skiing. Another groomsman and I donned our leather jackets and walked a mile through the snow to get to the nearest bar, where we felt comfortable. I like towns, cities and people. Not isolation. There's stuff that can kill you out there.
Which again is why it's unusual to find myself at REI Co-op, parked among the Subarus with their various luggage racks. Our luggage rack, naturally, was defective.
Or maybe it was me that was defective. Because when the nice young woman in the green vest opened the new Thule rack's box, it also had only 4 straps. That's all the straps you get. Not eight.
So the Jawa and I stuffed the bag into its little storage sack and slinked out of REI Co-op, dragging with us the dirty stench of urban incompetence. There will be no vest in our future.
Poor Sandra Bullock. I can't say that she was sold a false bill of goods, because I made it clear from the start that I was far more comfortable in front of a TV than kayaking down an icy river, but I know that her perfect world would include the occasional trip to REI Co-op, a tent and a Coleman lantern.
She grew up camping, but the one time she talked me into it we had to stay at the state park. It was fine with me, because the state park had bathrooms and was within walking distance of a bar but everytime the subject some up, she says, disdainfully, "We've gone camping once, and it was at a state park." But just as I am incapable of operating power tools, so am I uninterested, and more importantly, incompetent, in the outdoors.
Once we strap that big Thule bag on top of our Volvo and throw our dog in the back, though, who's going to know the difference?
There is a clean, optimistic world out there, operating parallel to my world of busses and dirty alleyways. But I can visit it whenever I want, to get a taste of what it would be like were I slim, outdoorsy and sported a ponytail.