I’m not supposed to be where I currently am.
Or at least I wasn’t supposed to be here, last night, when a cop showed up and flashed his lights into Sputnik. He didn’t put on the siren, which I was grateful for, but it was still mighty unpleasant to be woken up about two hours after going down. I put on pants, quickly, and hopped outside.
“What seems to be the problem, officer?” I asked. Maybe too loud. Maybe too funny. There was zero doubt about why I was there: Bathrooms. Lake. Bumming. And zero doubt that I wasn’t supposed to be there: a sign that says, “Park Closes at Dusk.”
“You can’t camp here,” he said.
“Aw, yeah. I know, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just passing through town.”
“Show me your license,” he said.
“I keep to myself, stay out of people’s way. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble and I’m happy to move along if this isn’t a good spot for me for tonight.”
There were a bunch of empty beer cans on the grass, about six feet from Sputnik, lit up by headlights from the officer’s vehicle. I knew exactly who put them there, and why, but I wasn’t about to say. “Those beers weren’t mine,” I said.
The conversation was severely lacking, so I tried to fill up the space. “I just got into town,” I said. “Late in the day, after a little stretch in Marquette. Great place, really.”
Digging deeper, I told him about my brief stint in Ishpeming so far: “I spent some time with a few teenagers who were hanging around here with a golf cart.” Weird. That’s a weird thing to say. I prevented myself from explaining that the golf cart had leopard-print seat covers. Instead, I lied: “I don’t really drink, by the way.” How interesting, I thought, I just used “really” to make a bald-faced lie just a tiny bit less completely untrue. That fascinated me.
Needless to say, I wasn’t off to a great start. But it’s true that I have limits and that I don’t drink with teens, and I want this guy, this cop, to know that. Regardless, I was running out of time to course correct.
“Anyway, I was just making myself a little snack and those kids told me that nobody would bother me here.” That was true. They did say that. On the tip of my tongue was an even crisper version of that story: “They told me, specifically, that this, what’s happening right now, wouldn’t happen.”
I also said, “There’s no sign that says I can’t camp here,” which, of course, was wildly untrue and I knew it. But I needed to establish that this was a misunderstanding, versus a breaking of rules.
It became exceedingly obvious that this cop just wanted someone to talk to, and I obliged, for a little while. But please know, reader, that this is a game I loathe. For one thing, it feels like an exercise of white privelege. It also zaps my manhood to have to suck up to people in power. Pretending to like a person that I actually don’t like, as a tactic to get what I want, puts me in a piss-poor mood. Being fake irks me.
But what am I supposed to do? I can’t jump out of Sputnik with guns blazing. I don’t like cops! There’s no reason for you to be here! Leave me alone! I wish that was an option, but it isn’t. Or is it?
More talking. “I’m driving clear across the country right now. Kinda just wandering around with no destination in mind, taking every day one day at a time,” I said. He seemed pleased. I continued. “I know someone who knows someone from Ishpeming. They told me I should swing through, grab a beer at Congress and a cudighi from Ralph’s, so that’s what I’m here for.”
It was working, so I keep going.
“Up next, I’m thinking about heading to the Keweenaw Peninsula,” I said, except I said “quinoa” instead of “Keweenaw.” I keep doing that. It embarassed me until I realized that nobody around here knows what quinoa is anyway. I think that practicing on Sputnik – “Keweenaw. Quinoa. Keweenaw. Quinoa.” – has made me more confused.
In front of this cop, the word “quinoa” was so perfectly formed that I smiled a bit when it floated up into the trees.
I kept going. “From there, I’ll probably go to the Porcupine Mountains before heading into Wisconsin.”
I knew I was home free long before the officer said, “I’ve always wanted to do something like this - just drive,” and I also knew I’d end up writing about it in the morning.
Anyway, here I am in Ishpeming, a little place with some beautiful lakes, plenty of public bathrooms, a library, and a rich cast of characters that I’m eager to continue getting to know. My golden hour walk last night was sublime.
I’m still in this illegal camping spot that I charmed my way into. Less than a hundred feet from here, a young couple is waking up in a hammock near a picnic table covered in food and, I think, booze. That’s inviting bears, I think. I’m old and boring, I think.
Every once in a while, they giggle and wiggle in the hammock, hungover probably, trying to get comfortable, trying to hide their eyes from the sun. I have no idea when they got there. The cop came to check in on me around midnight and they weren’t there. So they must have arrived in the wee hours of the morning. How are they surviving without a mosquito cover?
They have a giant quilt. That tells me they live nearby. They walked here.
Maybe their parents don’t want them to be together. Maybe it’s an Ishpeming Romeo and Juliet story.
Regardless, they seem happy as a clam together in that hammock. If nothing else, they’re definitely warm. I am too, but in a different way.