In the movies, FBI agents, SWAT team members, counter-terrorism operatives and hired assassins always have their go bag ready, in the trunk of their Crown Vic or under their stained motel bed, so they can respond quickly to any dangerous, time-sensitive situation. As seasoned film-goers, we can imagine what’s in it: a change of clothes, polyester thermal undies, a flashlight, extra cell phone battery, waterproof matches, semiautomatic pistol, ammo. Maybe a few Clif bars, a grappling hook, some snorkel gear. Because you just never know.
I was never a Boy Scout, but as I age, I have begun to appreciate the value of always being prepared. I keep a roll of toilet paper in my glove box, just in case. In her car, my wife keeps bungee cords handy in case of tornadoes, so if the Santa Fe gets blown off the road and swamped by floodwater, she can strap herself and the kids to a guard rail, kinda like Helen Hunt did when she tied a leather belt to an irrigation pipe in Twister. Sure. Laugh. But she survived, is all I’m saying. Did you see her in The Sessions? BOY, did she survive. Her tank top stayed white too, if memory serves.
Like George Clooney’s character in Up In the Air, or echoing George Carlin’s famous riff on “stuff, ” I keep a go bag handy myself, especially during the summer months. This one was given to my son, who’s on the swim team at our local YMCA, by my sister. Swim season is on hiatus, so I’ve appropriated the bag until September. I used it recently to pack all my clothes and essentials for a 9-day stay on a Maine island. This beast is huge. It could practically hold a Smart Car. Or a toddler. Or a toddler in a Smart Car. Maybe even some clowns in a Volkswagen.
My bag is packed not for saving the world, but for saving myself. Board shorts, swim shirt, a few fluffy towels, sunscreen, an extra pair of flip-flops, water bottle. That’s about it. All I need for some karmic rejuvenation at my local beach or swimming hole. Ready in my trunk as we speak for those brief moments when the sun appears, or I’ve finished some landscaping work for the day and need to take a quick dip.
The backpack has a strong romantic appeal, doesn’t it? It lets us hit the road, Kerouac-style, anytime we want. To remake and reinvent ourselves in that classic American way we always do. Like Robert DeNiro’s thief in Heat, our backpack lets us walk out on anything in five minutes. It gives us a shot at freedom, even if it’s only mythical.
What did we do before backpacks were invented? We can probably date ourselves by thinking back to high school and asking if we had so much junk that we actually needed a backpack to schlep it around in. I know my parents didn’t carry backpacks to school. What happened? How did we all come to need a bag, preferably made of rip-stop, waterproof nylon and stitched in attractive, stylish, but not-too-bright colors?
Maybe in this modern era of constant, omnipresent advertising that tries to entice us to buy any and every thing we see, the taken-for-grantedness of social media and its resultant loss of privacy, NSA spying, errant drone strikes, and royal baby news, we want to hold onto, keep in close proximity, a few indispensable items. For when the zombies finally do stage their apocalypse, or better yet, when we see the sun and get the urge to jump in a lake.
To keep something for ourselves. If not our souls, then at least our stuff.