Even Jake Johnson -- an unflappable ranger who has seen everything from televisions to air-conditioned trailers in his three summers at Cunningham Falls State Park -- was nonplused. Not only had the woman driven to the bathhouse, 100 feet from her campsite, she had gone the wrong way down a one-way road. And she had parked her car in the road, blocking traffic.
Johnson gave the woman a warning. "She said she was in a hurry to take a shower," he said. "To me, this isn't camping. It's a drive-in motel."
One person's civilization is another's idea of roughing it. So the campers drive to this park in the hills of Western Maryland with their tents and trailers and Coleman stoves and transistor radios (and, occasionally, TVs) and their suitcases and diapers and coolers filled with beer and soda and food -- oh, the food they bring for a weekend, enough for a week. The showers are hot, the toilets flush and the state park has a small grocery store. The campers sigh and say this is a wonderful vacation, here in the wilderness.
The weekend crowd included one certifiable maverick, Lee Davis, a dermatologist from Chambersburg, Pa. He camped under a 16-foot-tall tepee, walked around with a skunk pelt on his head and hoped no one would ask him what he did for a living. "Then everyone asks, 'What's this?'" he said, pointing to an imaginary insect bit on his arm. "It if were a gynecologist, no one would ask."
It costs $5 a night to pitch a tent or park a trailer at one of Cunningham's 179 sites. Most campers are members of families, and for many of them, the state park is the only vacation they can afford. Many work hard enough during the week that they are happy to just lie on a chaise lounge under the maple trees, thinking about the hamburgers they will cook later over the Coleman stove. They see chipmunks and raccoons and maybe, if they're lucky, a deer, and it is a kind of wilderness. The children of the suburbs are awed.
"Wow!Look at the mountains! Look at the tents!" shouted Tony Lazzari, the 4-year-old son of John and Dale Lazzari, of Silver Spring, Md.
The Lazzaris -- he is a planner with the Prince George's Park and Planning Commission, she teaches French and Spanish in Montgomery County's public schools -- sat at their picnic table, eating a lunch of cold chicken, potato salad and grapes. Dinner would be T-bone steaks and corn on the cob. The transistor radio was tuned to FM 98, and the Pointer Sisters were singing.
Mrs. Lazzari had brought Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" to read, but her husband's plans for the weekend were modest: "Just eat and sleep -- What Else is there to do?"
Eugene Sweeney, 29-year-old construction worker and father of three from Federick, Md., couldn't wait to pitch his family's tent. Usually he lays sewer and water pipe, but lately work is scarce, and this week he did a job at his boss' house, putting stone around a swimming pool.
"Three days of nothing but hauling stone in wheelbarrolws," he said, sipping a beer at a picnic table across from his wife, Bertha. His 6-year-old son Andy walked around the campsite in a state of enchantment: "I saw the moon.It was all white." Philip, the baby, slept soundly inside the tent, his Wynd-a-Matic swing motionless outside. The 43-acre lake at the bottom of the hill, with the white buoys bobbing in the water and the orange aluminum canoes for rent, beckoned to 8-year-old Paula, who asked summer's eternal question: "When are we going swimming?"
All over the campground, wet bathing suits hung on ropes stretched between the trees. The campsites are grouped around loops, and each site is a kind of still life in the woods: car or trailer parked in front; tent pitched; bathing suits drying and sleeping bags airing onthe line; toy trucks and Star Wars dolls scattered on the ground; picnic tables piled high with Tupperware, thermos jugs and coolers, Wash 'N Dri, decks of cards and big bags of potato chips, always potato chips, usually the sour cream and onion kind.
In the midst of their still life, a 27-year-old stonemason named Kenny Alford played gin with his wife Holly while their children and their baby sitter -- 13-year-old Rosie King, who lives next door to the Alfords in Middletown, Md. -- napped inside the tent. The car radio was tuned to rock-and-roll.
"It's nice to get away from the tube," Mrs. Alford, 28, said. She dreamed of breakfast. "I love the way it smells in the morning out here."
Pam Davis, wife of the dermatologist with the tepee, arrived at her husband's campsite around noon. She was not thrilled to be there. Even Cunningham Falls is too much wilderness for Mrs. Davis. "I hate camping," she said. "My idea of the perfect vacation is a nice hotel in Bermuda."