“There is a tuba sitting on that picnic table!” my buddy exclaimed as we pulled into the campground. “Can you see it?” he asked. Of course I spotted the instrument gleaming in the sun on top of the picnic table. How could I not see it after all? How does a person miss a sight like a big chunk of brass, let alone a big chunk of brass on a picnic table surrounded by trees at a campground in the middle of nowhere-northern Minnesota?

We drove past the tuba player’s camping spot and proceeded to set up our camping gear at the farthest and hopefully quietest spot at the campground away from the herd of other campers. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the tuba as we unloaded and got everything organized and established for our week there. As we went through our business and motions that whole first day I just couldn’t get the idea of bringing a tuba camping out of my head.

Who was this person? Why would he bring a tuba camping? Who has the room for such an item in such limited camping space? Was he a good musician? By the next day I had already created a persona for the tuba-tooter in my head. He was a sturdy and windy Norwegian. Mid-60s, tall, and husky fella so he could handle such a big and bulky instrument. A first generation immigrant from a very musical family. He was a passionate and penny-pinching musician that traveled from venue to venue, and to save a buck he stayed at campgrounds.

The next day I was riding bike past the tuba-tooters site and noticed two well-manicured, mature, and overall stunning ladies sitting at the picnic table with the tuba between them. I immediately screeched to a halt, dropped my bike at the side of the trail, and sauntered over to them with a head full of questions. I casually introduced myself and began chatting with them, nonchalantly at first not mentioning the big, brass elephant in the room. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore and said, “So what’s the deal with the freaking tuba?” The two gals proceeded to burst into laughter, offer me a seat at the table, and tell me a tremendous tuba tale.

The tuba ladies, as I now affectionately call them, were lifelong friends, neighbors, and widows. After they lost their husbands, they decided to travel together and see the country they had missed while raising children and making happy homes for the past decades. They also were intense garage salers. It was at one of these sales that they picked up the tuba as a gag gift for a friend. When they returned back to their campsite with the tuba, they didn’t know how to pack it at first and left it sit on the picnic table. They then noticed when people spotted the tuba on the table, they wouldn’t take any adjacent campsites and would rather proceed to a further, and presumably quieter camper spot. The tuba became the perfect neighbor repellant!

Now these ladies were anything but antisocial and quite the opposite actually. But, they did like some peace, quiet and distance from other campers at the usually overcrowded campgrounds. The tuba became a running joke between them and also a delightful and quirky neighbor deterrent. In the following days we shared a few meals, lots of laughs, and heard great stories of their travels in which they always had the tuba out in plain sight.

Some people build fences, walls, and put up signs to keep people at a proper distance. More creative and subtle folks have a tuba on a picnic table. Lesson learned tuba ladies; lesson learned.