Wednesday, July 16, 2008

does it count if i went to REI recently?

Usually the only people who call my land line aren’t people at all, but bill-collecting machines asking for Cesar or Rosa Perez. When I pick up, my expectations are low: I hope not for a friendly voice but for an “If you are not Cesar Perez, press 1 now” option.

So I was pretty excited when a real live woman called last night wanting me to participate in a survey sponsored by the forest service.

She asked questions like, “In the past year, how many times have you gathered with family or friends in an outdoor location that is not someone’s home?” and “In the past year, have you gone caving?”

Although I have a newfound love of picnicking, it quickly became clear that I am a pasty mole of an urbanite. No, I had to admit, I had not gone caving. I had not gone camping. I had not swum in a river or jet-skied or hunted or fished. One of the questions was about an activity I hadn’t even heard of, something like “orienteering.”

I asked the woman to define it, in case maybe I did it all the time and just didn’t know what it was called. But it turned out to involve, like, being given map coordinates and going to search for a treasure or something. The weird thing was, it was like her second question. Really? Are there more orienteer-ers out there than skiers?

When I was little, my mom was always trying to send my sister and I outside to play on our charming, kid-friendly cul-de-sac or in the playhouse with running water that my dad built us. But we’d just hide beneath piles of blankets in front of the heater vents like ungrateful little vampires.

Nevertheless, I still very much like the idea of being an outdoorsy person, and I found myself inflating my numbers in the survey. I must have gone to the beach more than three times, right? And that one time I went hiking in the Palisades—surely that was sometime in the last year, right? (Wrong.) And just because you didn’t stay overnight at a place didn’t mean you weren’t, in your own way, camping, no?

It made me realize what bullshit all polls really are. If I can’t be trusted to be honest about something as neutral as my usage of the great outdoors, can I really be trusted to tell a stranger my most intimate thoughts about race or gay rights or elections?

In a way, polls that ask about straight-up opinions are a lot safer than polls about habits. I’m proud of my views on, say, public transportation, but I’m likely to get pretty defensive if you ask me how many miles I put on my car last week.

Maybe that’s why I never go camping. I don’t want to pollute the air as I drive to a remote location. Yeah, that’s it.


Laura and the family said...

One thing, I can say I remember I was impressed your father build you a running water play house with an outdoor light.

Since you mentioned about liking outdoor, how about trying something different? Sleep outside in your small patio. My mother and her husband build a mosquitoes net and an air mattress. Then, they slept under the stars. I would love to do this with my husband and two boys if it s really HOT in the evening.

It is hard to trust the questions from the polls. Lots of questions are ironic when voting for someone: city council, congress and so forth. Look what happened in our today's society!

Cheryl said...

We did lounge outside in our brand-new-off-Craigslist patio chairs last night. Maybe we'll build up to backyard camping, then real camping.

Peter Varvel said...

Please don't say 'orienteering.' We prefer 'Asian Americaneering.'

Cheryl said...

But still better than "chinamanteering," right? (Kidding, of course.)


Veronica said...

i go orienteering every time i get in the car.

Ms. Q said...

I'm actually pretty good at orienteering - does that count as a sport?

Cheryl said...

V: Gas prices have made orienteering an expensive sport lately, huh?

Ms. Q: Absolutely! See above for use in a sentence.