A few years ago, I was driving down Olive Avenue past George Izay Park
and spied an unusual scene -- scores of people sitting in lawn chairs,
pitching tents, all queued along the sidewalk leading toward the Olive
Recreation Center. Curious, I stopped and asked a bystander, "What are
you guys in line for?" The somber reply: "Summer camp."
Ah, summer camp. For kids, it begins the week after school ends in
June. For parents, sign-up began at 7 a.m. May 4, when the choice spots
in the summer camp programs at McCambridge, Verdugo and Robert Gross
parks are ripe for the taking. Unfortunately, the enrollment spaces are
few, so the demand for them is great. Hence, registration officially
began around 11 a.m. the day before, when the first group of squatters
carried their couch and television up the sidewalk and parked their
posterior on a comfy cushion, initiating the time-honored vigil of
My wife was the one responsible for adding "day camp" to my son's
vocabulary. Three years ago, she met a friend around 5 a.m. on
registration morning, hoping to enroll him in the majority of sessions,
but was shut out of three weeks of camp (enrollment is 60 children per
session). Two years ago, she came an hour earlier (yeah, right) thinking
she'd jump the gun, and still didn't get all the weeks she wanted.
Thenl, last year, she breathed deeply, grabbed her down jacket and
showed up at 2 a.m. (again, what's she thinking?) and missed the
ever-popular Disneyland venue. That, along with the fact my son had to
endure a week at Robert Gross Park ("But they don't have a pool!"),
brought her to the realization that the only way to beat the odds and
procure those precious weeks was to beat the other campers at their own
Thus came those immortal words, "Honey, this year we're camping out."
Words to live by when living in Burbank.
The game plan was simple: She'd grab a book, a folding chair and
meander over to the park around 6 p.m to get an early spot. Wrong. I got
a panic call from her cell phone at 3 p.m. "You would not believe the
size of that line. It's down the street."
Frantic, she beelined down to Izay Park, where she took her place on
the sidewalk in a spot not more than a few feet away from the spot she
took last year at 2 a.m. Timing is everything. Unless, that is, you're
the guys with that couch and TV who had the bright idea of upping the
jeopardy level and arriving before the dawn of time.
I arrived with the tent at 8 p.m. A fellow in a pickup ranted and
raved about the injustice of it all, about how silly it is, then grabbed
a sleeping bag and headed for the back of the line. Come on, what's silly
about summer camp, aside from the names -- Hocus Pocus, Time Warp, Joe
Cool Daze. Camp is about Zuma Beach, the log ride at Knott's, and the
latest G-force plunge at Magic Mountain.
The evening winds seemed to be blowing a part-carnival,
part-resentment atmosphere, with a touch of tailgate mentality without
the tailgate. People were crammed into geodesic tents, bundled up like
mummies, playing their battery-powered laptops, DVD players or board
games -- a mood resigned to the fact that this one event is the be-all,
end-all in the constant fight for kid care.
Yet we made it through the chilly night and waited our turn at the
door to hear the results -- congratulations, all the sessions you signed
up for are open. Woo hoo! The things we do for love.
We packed the tent, wiped the one hour of sleep from our eyes and felt
relieved. Then, from the street, came the yell from a motorist: "Hey,
what are you guys in line for?" I smiled, gave the thumbs-up, and yelled:
He looked at me like I was nuts.
I think I am.
E. ARTHUR BOOTH