So yesterday, in an event we had planned for some time but which I had never expected to occur, we celebrated Mrs. DMG's birthday by picking up trash from the side of the road between Byrd's Campground and Redding as part of Turner Bend's Annual Mulberry River Clean-up Day. You see, the day before was spent at Red Lobster and the Razorback Theater watching The Book of Eli in what was our first Donaldless "dinner and a movie" in nearly five years, so I had earned an afternoon in the woods, as far as I'm concerned. That so, I still gave the good wife plenty of opportunities to bail out of our picking up trash plans. As it happened yesterday morning, it was she rousting me out of bed listing all the things we needed to gather to get ready. Within an hour, wife, kid, and more outdoor accoutrements than we would ever need were loaded into the USV, which for me is a '91 Accord (because the Ultimate Shuttle Vehicle is always the one which you already own), and we were on our way to the river.
Actual river cleanup is best left to open boaters. Kayakers--and by kayakers I mean all kayakers: kayakers who really do go kayaking and fraudulent kayakers like me who don't go kayaking but blog about kayaking as if they do--usually just walk along the roads to the put-ins and take-outs picking up trash. That's what the three of us did, at least for an hour or so. Of course, managing the Donald Situation along a busy highway hindered our trash gathering, but we still filled three bags between us, enough that we didn't feel the least bit guilty drinking the free beer and soda or eating the free barbecue back at Turner Bend. I enjoyed visiting with my Fort Smith friends, most of whom I hadn't seen since Fall.
For me, the Lunch at Turner Bend is really the highlight of the Mulberry River Clean-up Day. I was content and quite prepared to leave without staying for the door prize drawing. The spread of prizes on the pickup's tailgate looked pretty much like last year's: There was the toy raft with paddle which would be the grand prize--Donald will have a real-deal Jackson kayak before he has one of those bath toys! Then there were the frisbees and Arkansas Stream Team insulated coffee mugs and the Jagermeister keychains. There was nothing on the tailgate which would not make my life worse, if only because of the guilt that throwing a gift in the trash would bring. But I was not by myself, yesterday. I was with Mrs. DMG who thinks door prizes are worthwile and provide a meaningful incentive to participate in the event in the first place, and also to stay longer than necessary after the event is over. She put her name on an index card, folded it once, and dropped it in the box with all the others, and insisted that I do the same. I struggled for an instant with the question of whether the guilt of throwing away a Jagermeister keychain would be more or less painful than whatever marital strife I would bring upon myself by not doing the polite thing and simply entering the drawing. In the end, I filled out my card and dropped it in the box.
The drawing was endless. I was surprised when they gave the grand prize away first, until I saw why. They pulled the inflatable raft out of the box and used the box as a trash bin for the discarded index cards. Mrs. DMG won an extra-large Coors Light T-shirt with a neckhole so large that her thin shoulders would not hold it. It fit like a hockey jersey, but she was happy to win something. I waited and waited for what seemed like hours as the thousands of prizes were distributed, until finally--it felt like midnight but was probably closer to 3:30 in the afternoon--the tailgate was empty. Just then, the guy with the bullhorn goes to the cab of the truck and pulls out one more item: "And now for the grand prize donated from the Pack Rat in Fayetteville." And he walks back to the tailgate holding up, to the surprised oos! and ahs! of those who had not yet won something, a Watershed Ocoee Drybag!
An explanation is probably in order for my non-kayaker readers. Some kayaking gear is better than others, you see, and everybody knows the difference. Take drysuits: Everybody knows that Kokatat makes the best drysuits on the planet. They are made from GoreTex and they cost a thousand dollars. The advice to new kayakers considering a drysuit purchase is always "By once, cry once!" because a Kokatat drysuit will last forever. A drysuit costing half or even two-thirds as much may only live a few seasons. The thing with Kakatat is that everyone understands that they are a great value; the only question is whether a kayaker has the cash or the available credit to buy one. When we see someone wearing a Kakatot drysuit, we do not see a snob or an ostentatious person; we see a smart person who had the patience and determination to wait until he had saved the money to make the most intellegent purchase. This is not so with Watershed drybags. While Watershed drybags are universally understood to by the dryest drybags, they are not generally thought of as a great value at $80, about six times as much as a roll-top drybag which is more convenient and nearly as dry. When we see someone with a Watershed drybag, unless she's a videographer or scientist carrying equipment which absolutely must not get wet, we see a snob. We see an ostentatious person who has $80 to keep her socks and underwear dry. The only way I could ever show my face on a river carrying a Watershed Ocoee Drybag is if I had won it as a door prize at Turner Bend's Annual Mulberry River Clean-up Day, and I wanted that bag!
The man in the Bob Marley T-shirt reached his hand into the box and withdrew a single index card. He raised the megaphone to his lips and anounced a name: "Marcel [pause to consider pronunciation] Proust?" "Marcel Proust!" he said again, this time with the confidence that came with not having been corrected the first time. "Does anyone know Marcel Proust?" Silence. "Last call for Marcel Proust!" And after a short delay, I watched my $80 Watershed Ocoee Drybag flutter slowly downward into an empty raft box.
Then we went home.