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At Home Outside

A tent stands in the foreground as lasers flash behind it.
Photo: Unsplash
Illustration: Ryan Vellinga

In my 30s, ‘going out’ has been replaced by ‘getting away’

"I need to get away for a few days,” my wife says as she drops her purse and keys on the couch — the garage door slamming shut behind her.

She’s frazzled. Her job seems more demanding by the day, a common malady in today’s world. I can see she needs to decompress. Frankly, I do, too. For weeks — months — I have felt the walls closing in …

We moved into a new house late last summer. It’s lovely, a palatial estate compared to our old place, but at the top of our price range. I’m not complaining, but we’ve had to cut costs where we can. Gone are the bar tabs and obligatory rideshares. Evenings spent at the stadium watching AAA baseball or going to shows are now rare. The thought of skipping town for a night or two is downright scandalous.

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To be honest, I’m okay with that. At one point, the thought of living a quiet, suburban life would have depressed me. I was terrified the walls of domesticity that confined my parents would someday imprison me. I wanted to be cool and interesting, part of the “it” crowd, to live a life filled with dinner parties and nights out on the town with friends. So, I played the part.

In my 20s, I went to bars and drank too much. I went to clubs and subjected myself to sensory overload. Bad karaoke nights were made worse with my off-key Bon Jovi. Late-night road trips with diners and fast food turned my lead-lined stomach into a vat of acid. It was fun in the moment … kind of. But it was also an expensive way to pass the time — a brief respite from my self-doubts and neurosis.

I’d wake up broke, with nothing to show for it but another inch on the waistline and crow’s feet around the eyes. I’d convince myself that next time would be different. I would finally be having the time of my life.

Now, in my 30s, the mere thought of staying out past 8:30 p.m. is enough to make me need a nap.

THE SHIFT OCCURRED during the pandemic, when I was among those who hunkered down and embraced my inner hermit. During the lockdown, when bars and restaurants were closed, I realized how little I missed them. Don’t get me wrong; I missed my friends, family, and old routine. What I didn’t miss was everything else.

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It was the first time in my memory that I was openly encouraged to stay home and avoid other people. My wife’s and my 950-square-foot house became my world. I took up gardening. I committed to making my yard the nicest one on the block. Plants adorned every shelf inside. A pottery wheel took over the dining area. For some reason, my wife and I got really into home canning. Who doesn’t like apple butter and pickles for Christmas, right?

Slowly, the pandemic’s so-called “new normal” transitioned back to the old normal. For most of us, daily life today is no different than four years ago. But it feels different to me. I don’t want to be among the crowd anymore.

I was on the Las Vegas Strip not too long ago. I didn’t mean to be there. I took a wrong turn and decided to go with it. Even from the safety of my car, I could feel the anger and panic well up as I watched waves of people crash into each other, every person for themselves, clawing their way up and down the boulevard. The resorts’ towers and lights further added to my confusion and overstimulation. I decided against further exploration.

It’s not like I don’t do anything anymore. My wife and I still like to have nights out. We’ll go to dinner, maybe catch a ballgame, or go see a play at a local black box. But more and more, “going out” means leaving that world altogether.

IT'S BEEN UNSEASONABLY cool in Reno. Searching for higher temperatures, my wife and I headed four hours southeast toward Silver Peak. As I predicted, it’s a touch too cold for camping. Snow is still clinging to nearby summits, but the wind is calm by Nevada standards. When there is a breeze, it moves through the pinyon pine and juniper and into a nearby valley of cholla.

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Little did we know that the flat spot we chose in a remote valley was once a popular place for cattle to rest (read: defecate). It’s since been claimed by mosquitoes the size of dimes. Every time I leave the tent, I become a smorgasbord; my arms, legs, and face are dotted with tell-tale signs of the bloodsuckers’ feast.

Our campsite is on the eastern side of the valley, and the sun is slow to climb the ridge. Maybe that’s why the deer doesn’t see us in the morning. The dogs see her, though, and give chase. They return with nothing to show for it but a spring in their step. Later, I help my wife cook dinner and clean up. We watch the moon rise as the sun fades, debating whether the cloying smell of citronella actually works or
is a placebo.

On the way home, we stop to eat turkey sandwiches at a spot overlooking Walker Lake. It’s a boring drive back to what some would call a boring life, but I feel content. For the first time in a long time, I’m happy with what I have and who I am.

My wife and I talk about owning a little piece of land north of town, away from everyone else. We’ll have chickens and a couple of goats. I threaten to buy a cow and name it Moo-lissa. Our plans don’t include talk about bars or ballgames; instead, we discuss how far we’ll be from the grocery store and hospital.

But it would be nice if it was close enough to the city that we could still catch a show … every now and again.

Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.