Problem with picnics is distance from home

June 17, 1998|By Rob Kasper

WE HAD OUR first picnic of the year the other day. It will be a while before we do that again.

Having a picnic seems like an appealing idea, until you do it. Then it becomes a logistical operation that resembles troop maneuvers. Everything from plates to the pepper shaker has to be packed up, checked off, moved to the meal site, then ferried back home. What a hassle! And for what? You have to eat hunched over at a picnic table, a contraption that is both uncomfortable to sit in and difficult to get out of.

I am aware that being anti-picnic is not a popular stance. Like most Americans, I was brought up believing that almost any activity conducted in the presence of fresh air and sunshine is, by definition, good. Moreover, I am familiar with the companion theory that any activity you conduct in the sunshine with members of your family is considered to be wholesome.

So, by admitting anti-picnic feelings, I realize I am opening myself up to charges that I am neither a good nor a wholesome person. I am ready to take that chance, especially if by doing so, I can make even one person stop and think before they suggest, "Let's have a picnic."

My main problem with picnics is that they tend to be held outdoors, a long way from the kitchen. Dining outdoors is fine with me, even though it means you sometimes have to dodge bugs and bad weather. But it is the schlepping component of the picnic experience that I don't care for.

The other night, for instance, to pull off a "simple" family picnic meal held a few blocks away from our house at our neighborhood swimming pool and tennis club, my wife had a checklist that rivaled the kind the astronauts go through before they shoot themselves into space. As we went over the list together, we sounded like a couple from Mission Control. "Plastic plates, check. Plastic cups, check. Silverware, check. Serving dishes, check. Paper towels, check. Sharp knife, check. Charcoal, check. Matches, check."

If we had eaten this meal at home, all these items would have been easily available, stored in a room designed for this very purpose. The room is called "the kitchen."

But for reasons that defy common sense, we chose not to eat in a room designed for dining. Instead we chose to eat outdoors, sharing the evening with the birds, the bees and a couple of kids toting squirt guns.

In our family, the kids are pro-picnic. They like the idea of transferring the site of supper from our kitchen to the playground next to the neighborhood swimming pool. There are several reasons why. First of all, it means they don't have to come home for supper. Like most kids, our younger son, 13, would rather hang out at the pool with his friends than sit at the table with his mother and father. Our older son works at the pool as a lifeguard. So having his parents fix supper at the pool playground makes his life easier.

The other night my wife and I agreed to the picnic ploy. We should have known better. Unlike our kids, we are the ones who have to both pull the meal together and then move it.

Picnic work is divided into two shifts. The other evening, I worked the first shift, securing the picnic table, starting the charcoal fire, and toting some of the foodstuffs. My wife worked the second shift, assembling the remaining 10,000 items, including side dishes and dessert, that had to be carried to the picnic site.

Invariably, the first shift doesn't think the second shift is ever going to show up. So the first shift delays putting the food on the charcoal grill, and gets hollered at for this decision by the late-arriving second shift.

Then there is the problem of trying to get everyone to squeeze under the table, at the same time, and eat a meal together. This rarely happens at a picnic.

The other evening, for instance, our older son was at the table, ready to eat, before the steak was ready to come off the grill. Meanwhile, the younger son was 50 yards away from the table, playing tennis. By the time he and a buddy made it to the table, the meat was cold.

As this experience wound to a close, my wife and I packed things up and assessed the food. We liked the shrimp and mint appetizer, the kids didn't. We liked the steak, the potatoes, the salad and the strawberries for dessert. It was a good meal, but it had been a lot of work.

By the end of our first picnic of the year, I was in agreement with the opinion offered by the 17-year-old as he sat down at the table and eyed our labor-intensive meal.

"What we really should have," the picnic-table denizen said, "is some steamed crabs."

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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