I have yet to figure out how I feel about picnicking.
Or really any of those sorts of things where you have to pack food up and take it somewhere else and set it all out again in some sticky, buggy location, and then have to pack it back up again because it’s raining or the picnic site is marauded by bears or everyone is sunburned and drunk and you can’t find a bathroom. It’s a lot like camping: it seems like a whole lot of work just to be uncomfortable.
Still–at some point in your life, inevitably someone will give you as a gift some sort of picnic set: you know— the charming, nifty wicker hampers—all cunningly packed in, with the plates buckled onto the lid and a corkscrew and some cute little napkins. Very popular shower and wedding gifts. My grandmother calls these “baskets of broken dreams.” Because, just as inevitably, these adorable little picnic devices will find their way to the Goodwill. Most people think they will use these for romantic picnics for two—as if they will suddenly manifest a vintage convertible on some leafy autumn lane with a loaf of crusty french bread and a bottle of beaujolais nouveau. When the reality is usually picking up a box of Cheezits and a bag of M&M’s at the grocery store and sucking down a Diet Coke while squatting in a parking lot. (And that’s if you’re lucky. More and more, it seems like people who do outdoorsy things can’t be bothered to interrupt their grueling biking or climbing or trail running activities with something as banal as eating anything but the occasional chalky protein bar and green tea in a scratched-up Nalgene bottle.)
And, just as inevitably, those baskets—and all their shattered dream-picnics—will find their way to the giveaway pile. Their dream picnics never unpacked.
But I can never pass up those abandoned picnic hampers when I see them at garage sales or the Goodwill. I am, contrary to appearances, a romantic—I want to believe that the dreams they once inspired can be filled! I want to believe in a world where all that pre-wrapped soy protein is replaced by cucumber and radish sandwiches with the crusts cut off and juleps in silver cups! Where people will forget about their gluten sensitivities, or their fiber and protein ratio or their cycling cadence or running times or beta and sit for an afternoon and talk about Greek mythology. Or botany. Or just something else. Something smart. Maybe wear something nice. And maybe a hat that isn’t a baseball cap. Okay—I can stand the baseball cap if you don’t wear cargo shorts and flip flops. But we are definitely not going to talk about your fiber ratio.
Country events—horse shows, livestock sales, hunting and shooting events, steeplechase and dog trials—still provide easy venues for classic tailgating—technically a picnic but without the backbreaking effort—just open up the back of the SUV and voila! (Well, you can do the back-breaking thing—as I did for the High Hope Steeplechase races at the Kentucky Horse Park this summer—with oriental carpets and silver samovars and decorative taxidermy—but it’s not required. Not even advisable, frankly.) But if you keep one of those darling picnic sets in the back of your car—even if you just buy the box of Cheezits and spray-cheese, it just feels nicer if you can put the Cheezits on those cute little plates. (Like a fancy party, even, if you spray the cheese onto the Cheezits in cute little flower shapes. You may even feel smarter. And thinner; those plates are small.) And for godssakes, no one at these events is interested in how you feel about horse racing or shooting or working dogs or taxidermy. If you’re one of those people—just disregard this entire thing and stay home and eat your chalky protein bars and be sad.
So bring me your picnic sets, your frayed wicker baskets, your plaid Thermos coolers yearning to be filled! Open your hearts! Your mouths! Your tailgates!
Bring an umbrella.