Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Schprock Takes Another Holiday

Well, I spent all of last week at my beloved home away from home, the World Fellowship Center (aka Hippie Camp) in Conway, New Hampshire. It was “bike week” and, as I am the only one in the family committed to practicing this truly perfect form of human propulsion, I went away all by my onesies. World Fellowship has a small campground where you can stay for really, really cheap, so I brought along my nearly 30-year-old mountain tent and my sleeping bag and so placed myself a little closer to Mother Nature.

Folks, I had a blast. Good food, good company, good weather and good exercise. Most mornings we went on 25–30 mile treks except for Wednesday, when a guy named Jerry and I went on a “century,” a 100-mile bike trip through the beautiful White Mountains. It was absolutely idyllic. New Hampshire has this scenic stretch of road that cuts through a part of the White Mountain National Forest called the Kancamagus Highway whose summit reaches nearly 3,000 feet. We began our trip by pedaling up that to be rewarded by a spectacular view at the top. There I met a fellow cyclist named Larry who appeared to be somewhere in his late-sixties, early-seventies. He attracted my notice because his bicycle was loaded down like a pack mule. Every conceivable spot where you could hang a pannier or other type of bag was taken up. When I inquired about his journey, Larry told me he started off in Washington state on June 1st and had been following an eccentric zig zag route that has taken him from as far north as Canada to all the way down to parts of the US south. His destination point was Bar Harbor, Maine, which he should have reached last Saturday. He had already gone 4,600 miles when we spoke!

Going off alone to Hippie Camp was sort of a gutsy thing for a shy guy like me to do. I am not a particularly social animal, so placing myself in a situation with strangers to all sides of me was not done without some trepidation. When I try, I can be reasonably engaging — in fact, in college I was generally taken for the genial, easygoing type. But I do put up barriers and sometimes these barriers can be hard to overcome. However, the great thing about World Fellowship is the general atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance. When you eat in the dining hall, you find yourself seated at a long table among roughly ten other people. Handshakes and introductions are de rigueur and often you are asked where you’re from, what you do for a living, how long you’ve been coming to World Fellowship and so on. If you have any social skills at all, it’s impossible not to apply them and improve upon them. As a result I made several friends with whom I plan to keep in contact.

This experience isn’t all that different from the overnight camp I used to go to when I was a kid (which, coincidentally, is only 12 or 13 miles away from World Fellowship Center in West Ossipee, NH). My parents used to drop me off with my trunk, instruct me to write home, and then peal away in their car in a cloud of dust and flying road debris, leaving me alone in a cabin with a bunch of strange kids whose space I was supposed to share for two weeks. But it always wound up that when Mom and Dad came to pick me up I didn’t want to leave. To this very day, one of my ideas of earthly paradise is good old Camp Calumet Lutheran.

Last week I actually had a chance to go visit my old camp — I hadn’t been there since 1973 when I was a C.I.T. Incredibly it was exactly the same. Exactly. All the buildings were still in their accustomed spots painted red with white trim. When you walk from Luther Hall to the dining hall where the main office is located, Lake Ossipee is on your left and the girls’ cabins are lined up on your right, all of them named after women from the Bible. It was just like going back in time, only here I was older, taller, and, unfortunately, playing the role of interloper. I was quickly accosted by one of the camp directors and after regaining consciousness from the tasing she gave me (just kidding!), I explained I used to be a camper there as a kid. The director kindly told me I couldn’t go anywhere without an escort, which of course was perfectly understandable and was, quite naturally, unacceptable to me, so I thanked her and left. But that was enough. Perhaps next year I’ll talk Daughter Number 2 into going for a week or two to Camp Calumet and then, when we drop her off, I’ll wallow in nostalgia to my heart’s content.

A great discovery was a tiny theater found in the nearby town of Tamworth called the Barnstormers Theater. During one of our rides we came across it and I made mental note to come back to attend a performance. The play was The Lion in Winter and it really was very well done. The actor who played King Henry did a passable, if unintentional, imitation of Sean Connery (I kept waiting to hear him call his royal mistress Miss Moneypenny), and I found the play itself to be smart and funny, full of memorable lines and reminiscent of Shakespeare. I recommend it to everyone.

One last note and I’ll let you go: I met a man named Marc Mauer who is the executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., an organization “that promotes criminal justice reform and the development of alternative forms of incarceration.” All last week I made idle chit-chat with him at mealtimes and found him very pleasant company. On Friday he gave a presentation based on his book, Race to Incarcerate, a publication which questions the conventional wisdom of battling crime by building more and more prisons. I found him to be an extremely persuasive speaker who could adroitly field a barrage of questions from his listeners by simply having all the facts at his fingertips. I purchased his book and am reading it now. I won’t choose to go into it at this moment, but one tidbit I think worth bringing up is this projection: among American males born today, African-Americans stand a 1 in 3 chance of spending some time in a prison, as compared to 1 in 8 for Hispanics and 1 in 16 for whites. Now I know what conclusion your typical skinhead will draw from this statistic, but you have to believe that economic factors play a large role in this, along with a healthy helping good old fashioned prejudice (i.e., crimes that might merely put a white person on probation land a black guy in the slammer).

That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for stopping by.


Blogger Scott said...

I read a passage in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrel about a black servant called Stephen, who is accosted by a white "gentleman." He realizes that though it is not his fault, he will go to jail because he is black; his guilt will be assumed. I believe economics has everything to do with it, exacerbated by prejudice. If I had no opportunity to make money, what would I do in order to survive? Anything I think.

I don't know if you've seen Traffic, but I highly recommend a viewing. Not typical.

I would be very interested to read your review of Race to Incarcerate. People come out of that system worse for the wear. How can a person be considered rehabilitated after having lived in fear of rape and murder, and living like an animal to survive. Isn't that more like surviving a war campaign in the jungles of Viet Nam?

All that said, I firmly believe that America is truly a country where opportunity exists for everybody. Maybe not the same opportunities, like for instance, advancement through corporations where the ladder is controlled by an all white-boys club. But hard work and determination pay off for people of all stripes. There are wealthy successful people that have lived that very dream.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Schprockie - I like you more and more with every post. I never went to camp, but your Hippie Camp sounds very cool.

I can't wait to read your review of the book, either. I believe that the American Dream is a myth and that not everybody has the opportunity to work their way up. Granted I put myself through college and have bought anything I wanted (and sometimes needed) from the age of 16, I still had a good home to sleep in and didn't need to use my earnings to help the family like so many very poor people today. They're working just to eat, not to go to college.

5:50 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I'm still in awe of these "vacations" you speak of that involve pedalling hundreds of miles. In my world, that's a close second to concentration camp.

I think instead of building more prisons, we ought to do a little more executin' to make room.

9:02 AM  
Blogger tiff said...

Can I apply someplace to be your not-secret admirer?

Your holiday sounds marvelous, at least if you're in top physical form.

9:45 AM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

My face has been frozen in a contorted expression of horror upon reading about your vacation. Sleeping outside on the ground among strangers? Biking 100 miles?

I'm curious to know more about the alternatives to incarceration. I think sending the convicts to hippie camp sounds like a fair deal.

(Just kidding, Mr. Schprock, you never cease to amaze me...)

9:54 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

"I think instead of building more prisons, we ought to do a little more executin' to make room."

I have to admit mr. schprock that Trina and I are of the same mindset on this.

I'm completely intrigued by these long bike trips you make, but I still feel intimidated when I contemplate going on one. Six months of Spinning classes doesn't necessarily mean I'm ready to take on the open road.....

Plus I'd have to buy a real bike. ;)

1:32 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Scott, great comments! One thing I tell my kids is, if I had been born black and endowed with the same talents and drive I have now, I probably wouldn't come anywhere close to where I am financially right now. I think African-Americans in particular have to work that much harder.

"I believe that the American Dream is a myth and that not everybody has the opportunity to work their way up."

I'll agree as far as saying that it's a hell of a lot harder for some than it is for others, Kathleen.

"I think instead of building more prisons, we ought to do a little more executin' to make room."

Oh boy. I can just picture you as Hangin' Judge Trina during the frontier days.

"Your holiday sounds marvelous, at least if you're in top physical form."

Wellll, I've got a sore knee right now, so I'm not exactly Lance Armstrong.

"I'm curious to know more about the alternatives to incarceration. I think sending the convicts to hippie camp sounds like a fair deal."

What a great idea! We can sentence the truly hardened criminals to toil in the organic garden. That'll scare 'em straight!

"Six months of Spinning classes doesn't necessarily mean I'm ready to take on the open road....."

Michele, next year you'll be going on 40 to 60 mile bike tours, guaranteed. I'll work on John to buy you a nice road bike.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I never would have thought that you'd have a hard time socializing with people. You seem so out there. Not out there in the crazy sense, but ... well, you know.

Statistics are interesting. I don't usually blame the area though. Look at Oprah. She didn't even have running water or plumbing.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous fringes said...

It's been a long time since my last visit. I came today to see what you've been up to and to get ready for your Flash Flood interview.

What an introspective post. You were very brave to go to grownup camp by yourself. Unless I had wi-fi, I don't think I could have done it. 100 miles on your bike. Awesome. I drive more than 15 miles in my car and I'm pissed at the world.

I'll have to pick up the book you mentioned. It looks like an educational read. Thanks for the recommendation and for the insight.

9:01 AM  
Blogger briliantdonkey said...

Been a while since I visited as well, though I am a fairly new reader. Welcome back. Wow sounds like a GREAT trip.....well it SOUNDED great till I realized by "bike" you meant as in "cycle" at least! The camp story brought back my own in extreme detail. I can smell the fire, and taste the burned to a crisp marshmallows as they slide off the stick! Anyways, before I get TOO wordy(I have been known to do that),,,,I dont know if I have ever left a comment or just meant to, but nice blog you have going here. Thanks for the reads.


11:40 PM  

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