Tenting on the old glamp ground

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San Clemente traffic jam (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

Anne dug the tip of her knife into the wedge of brie, then buttered the cheese onto her fruit-filled “rainforest” cracker. Waves crashed below the bluff on which our room-size tent perched, the golden afternoon light spilling across the campsite.

“Let’s carry in a good fish supper,” she said. “We can get it in town.” Preferably something that went well with Prosecco. Melt-in-your-mouth John Dory, perhaps?

We could and we did forgo campfire beanie-weenies. We were do-it-yourself glampers on a seaside glamp-out. Neither of us had ever gone glamping – glamour camping – but it felt like the right time to try. The semester was done: no more keyboards, no more books, no more students’ dirty looks. We wanted to celebrate.

I’ve known Anne for years. We’re both former newspaper people, now independent business people who teach on the side at the same college. She’s in the legal field and I, writing and editing. We knew a lot of the same people before we knew each other. I’ve never known her to camp. Neither has anybody else. Camping to her is checking into a hotel that doesn’t have any little bars of soap. To me, it’s finding a flat spot to pitch a tent far from civilization and securing your food in an anti-bear barrel.

But I snagged the perfect campsite in a civilized campground in South Orange County, and I asked her to share the perfection with me: surf, sand and sunshine with cool pelicans and cute lifeguards for scenery. What else?, she asked. Hot showers, I said – it has hot showers. And flush toilets. I could throw in a pretty mat and a side table for the tent, glitter nail polish, tropical-scent sugar scrub, floral temporary tattoos, an inverter in the Jeep for running her computer and a new cooler guaranteed to make ice last for three days, so we’d have a good place to keep our makeup from melting.

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Beach fleurs (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

She said OK.

Anne must have studied camping. She traveled light. Instead of an inflatable bed, she brought a chaise longue pad; instead of a notebook computer, she used her iPhone to check email for her business and to help her husband navigate caring for a cat with a cold, packing for his trip to Hawaii and arranging a niece’s semi-annual beaches-and-Disneyland trek to Southern California.

If I hadn’t known she wasn’t a camper, I never would have guessed it. She never complained about the ants, and only a little about the goofballs who decided to sing “Sky Pilot” at the edge of the bluff at 2:30 a.m. She didn’t wig out over a visit from three skunks that tore up our trash bag. When one of our two days was cloudy, it didn’t faze her. We hit the beach anyway.

With our carry-in supper finished just after a classic ocean sundown, a string of solar lights clothes-pinned to the tent snapped on. A line of gulls rushed overhead to get home before nightfall. We toasted the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. As Anne shuffled a deck of cards (we soon realized the only game we knew was Go Fish), voices rose in harmony from the group camp across the arroyo like a sundown salutation in a Pacific Islander language (the next night they blasted a “Frozen” DVD, but we let it go).

The evening was perfect.

We never did get to the nail polish, the temporary tattoos or the sugar scrub. The atmosphere there on the bluff felt indulgent. In the right spirit, camping provides its own glamour—though a little brie on crackers and Prosecco in champagne flutes helps.

What’s the spirit? Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Dory the fish put it more simply in Disney’s “Finding Nemo”: “Just keep swimming.” Swimming is life. My friend Anne, who had not camped in 45 years, swims beautifully.

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