I found what I thought was a fine camping spot just inside Perryville, across the Fourche La Fave River. A lovely park complete with pavilion, picnic tables, electric, bathrooms, water, playground; in short, everything one might want or need.
I got there early in the day, and was able to wash up, make some phone calls to family who I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and cooked up some dinner. I began setting up my tent probably around 8 o’clock with a few people still hanging around the park as night was falling over everything. Once the tent is up I go about organizing my gear within, slide into my sleeping bag, and open up Thoreau’s Walden before turning off the light. About 11 o’clock a cop shows up. He does the typical cop thing, which means he shines his flashlight into, or onto, my tent and orders me out of it. A rather rude thing to do, if you don’t mind my saying. Anyway, I crawl out of my sleeping bag and tent in my boxers of course, and he just looks at me for a second, probably not expecting a somewhat clean-shaven, young man to be stepping out in only his boxers, before telling me the park closes after dark and that I am trespassing on city property. I simply stare at him in bafflement, like some sort of deaf and dumb idiot, clearly unable to decipher the words that have come out of his mouth. And, in a sense, I couldn’t—this bizarre idea that I might be trespassing on city property because I happened to either a) not be from the city, or b) be there after hours is baffling to me. He then asks me if I understand that and I sort of stutter an incomprehensible reply to which he responds by looking me over with an appraising eye. He then tells me that I have to pack everything up and move on, but then immediately asks me what it is I’m doing camping at the city park anyway. I launch into my story about how I’m cycling around the U.S. and that I had come from Little Rock earlier in the day, and that the park just looked so inviting that I couldn’t resist choosing it as my spot to stay for the night. I mentioned that I have a tendency to like being in plain view of the public in these smaller towns in order to invite conversation; I’m not some sort of maniac, just a traveler needing a place to sleep for the night. He likes my story and is impressed with what I’m doing but tells me I still need to pack my things up, but also that he can give me a lift to the next town if I’d like. He also wants to check my ID, presumably to make sure he’s not letting a murderer, arsonist, or some other felon of sorts off the hook potentially.
I begin packing up my gear, at a rather glacial pace I might add, while he’s over in his vehicle doing the whole song and dance, whatever that might be, with my driver’s license. He comes back and tells me my ID checked out OK (very relieving!), and, in fact, that I can stay the night as long as I’m gone not long after daybreak. Apparently he appreciated the fact that I was “straight” with him. He even said he would come back from time to time to check on me and make sure all’s quiet. I don’t actually know if he did this because I eventually fell asleep, though not so quickly as I would have liked thanks to having been roused from my tent and confronted in the manner that I was. Needless to say, I was exultant when he told me I could stay put for the night.
It is now about 7:30 am, the following morning and I’m sitting here at a picnic table writing this after having strolled the park, said hello to the few people out for a morning walk, and taken a number of pictures of morning sun and sky through the trees and flowering bushes. I did wake up early as I promised, packed up most of my gear and, most importantly, my tent, but really couldn’t resist the temptation to wander about the dewey field, and along its wooded edge with my camera. During this entire time the police officer never showed back up, so I figured what the hell, I’m going to make a cup of coffee, cook my breakfast, and relax. If someone else shows up and tries to give me a hard time it doesn’t look as though I camped out there, and I can just say that I rolled off the street to relax for a bit and make a cup of coffee.