Just as I manage to connect to an ESPN radio affiliate, I notice overcast darkness looming to the West behind Devil’s Tower.
“We need to get those hot dogs cooking, honey,” Shannon says. “Looks like it’s going to start raining soon.”
Ten minutes later, I’m crossing the misty campground with a package of hot dogs in one hand and my open laptop in the other. Devlin has his hands full as well, holding a flashlight and an open umbrella. Sounds of the third quarter follow us through the overcast dusk, providing our only comfort.
As we arrive at the campground’s communal fire pit, time is of the essence. The mist promises to become rain at any moment, the umbrella is a flimsy 8 dollar number from a Chicago Walgreens, and my old laptop battery can’t retain a charge for more than 20 minutes. Needless to say, the last thing I need right now is a deliberate, time-consuming ceremony that prevents me from roasting my wieners.
“Uhm, what’s going on here?” I say to the uniformed man I assume to be in charge. Tearing his attention from a solemn group of boy scouts holding an American flag, the man speaks to me in a hushed voice.
“We’re retiring a flag,” he says.
Various unnervingly calm adults lounge on log benches around the pit. I look around at them like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
when she realizes she’s just walked into an incubation room full of gestating alien babies. Boy Scouts...why'd it have to be Boy Scouts?
The mind-numbing silence of the group is very church-like, and accentuates the sound pulsing from my laptop. I press the down arrow on my volume until the radio broadcast is barely perceptible, then show my franks to the scout leader.
“Can I cook these?” I say.
“Sure, as soon as we’re done,” he says.
Of course, the next logical question is How long will that take?
but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not going to like the answer. Devlin and I sit down and huddle beneath the umbrella.
A voice calls from the other side of the fire.
“Wow, are you a wimp,” Patch says.
“What do you want me to do?” I say. “It’s a boy scout troop
Patch watches in disbelief as one of the boys scissors off a piece of flag and drops it into the large fire pit.
“Isn’t burning the flag what terrorists and people in countries who hate us do?” he says.
it,” I say. “Not the same.”
Bandana appears next to the scout leader. “Am I
going to be burned up when I retire?” he says.
“Eventually,” Patch says. “If you go the cremation route.”
Stache is next, of course. He is staring down at his iPhone. “This says that to properly retire a flag, you need a color guard,” he says, looking around. “There’s no color guard here.”
“Look, I’m just gonna wait this out,” I say. “How long could it possibly take?”
We all watch in silence as another scout cuts another tiny piece, and slowly – very, very slowly – escorts it to the fire.
“This is agony,” Stache says. “Reverential, patriotic
agony, sure, but agony nonetheless.”
I check the tiny battery symbol on my laptop screen. It’s almost dead.
Stache continues to scan his iPhone screen. “Did you know that a nylon or petroleum-based flag could release harmful chemicals into the air when burned?” he says. “You may want to notify a park ranger of the potential health hazard here.”
Dismissing Stache’s suggestion, I check my laptop screen.
A pop-up balloon appears:WARNING: Low Battery. If you do not plug-in to an outlet in the next 5 minutes, you are going to drop your connection to Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is having a career night and you’re going to miss it because you don’t have the common sense to head back to the tent and plug into your outlet, dummy.
It’s amazing what computers can do these days.
Links: Travelling: Intro / Book Jacket
, Chapter 1: Cribbagegate
, Chapter 2: Two e-mails
, Chapter 3: Pattern
, Chapter 4: Shattered
, Chapter 5: Hilarious Pee
, Chapter 6: Suicide
, Chapter 7/8: Coaching High school, Shark attacks and appetizers
, Chapter 9: June
, Chapter 10: 18 and oh no
, Chapter 11: DNA
, Chapter 12: Peanut Butter Sandwiches
, Chapter 13: Tom Brady and the McGuffin
, Chapter 14: Game 1
, Chapter 15: Who the H is John Havlicek?
, Chapters 16 - 17
, Chapter 18: Game 2: Great White
, Chapter 19: Pickle
, Chapter 20: Marty McFly
, Chapter 21 / 22: standard deviation, all the pretty flowers
, Chapter 23: Game 3: Black Hills
, Chapter 24: Twister
, Chapter 25: Game 4
, Chapter 26: Patriotic Agony
, Chapter 27: Locusts
, Chapter 28: skype
, Chapter 29: Click
, Chapter 30: Superman
Labels: chapter 26, Patriotic Agony, traveling