As we approach the three month anniversary of our departure, I have to keep pausing to think back on what I’ve accomplished so far. It’s sort of an exercise, a pumping-up of my Positive Thoughts brainmeats. Doing something as drastic as abandoning a decent life and hitting the road without a plan pretty much requires some mental acrobatics in order to avoid anxiety-caused hyperventilation. We’ve finally come up against our financial wall and we haven’t even made it to the east coast; we’re in Michigan, 843 miles from the coast of Portland, ME. And it’s true that, despite the relatively narrow odds of success– as a measure of comfort– I don’t as yet regret my decision. I do sometimes wish we could hold still for a while, though.
So, to celebrate, I remember these things.
1) I have been to many places I did not think I would like, and I loved them. I have spent many years thinking (without fault, really) that California was the very best place to be. How could anyone want to live in Michigan or Tennessee when California– well, Northern California, was hanging out over on the West Coast? What about Iowa? Or the Dakotas? All the news I heard of North Dakota made me think that I would step over its borders and be shot on the spot for having a uterus that belonged to my own self. Idaho, save for Boise, was built up in my mind as a giant citadel full of gun toting libertarian sociopaths, too ridiculed to live anywhere else without being pantsed or having a “kick me” sticky note slapped on their backs. Obviously these were opinions formed entirely in ignorance. I had driven through but not stayed in most of these places before. All of them turned out to be pretty swell, each one holding within it little gems of towns I even considered calling home for a bit.
2) I have avoided the news. This is especially significant to me since, with morbid fascination, I could not tear myself away from those high-paid prophets of doom during the last ten years of my life in Santa Rosa. Perhaps living in a large town or city one can become so isolated, knocking around inside a series of boxes, that the outside begins to resemble those fears that strangers are paid to put in your head. At one point I couldn’t eat without wondering if I had salmonella poisoning, nor fall sleep without wondering if the batteries in my carbon monoxide detector were about to die, nor properly work out a plan for my future without wondering if there was any point when this country looked like it was heading toward Roman Empire-esque doom. Trips to my favorite coastlines involved a thorough inspection of plant life to see if it had diminished noticeably in comparison with last year’s vegetation count. And the heat! It was as though I had never felt it before the advent of the term “Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” But when one is in a car or a tent or too busy catching up with old friends to watch their t.v., it’s much harder to be afraid of the world. In fact, you can begin to see the hope.
3) I have made great strides in listening before judging. I recently went to a dinner party filled to 80% capacity with white people arguing over who lived in a more gentrified neighborhood, and I did not roll my eyes once. Not even a little. Not even when one of them eyed me like I was a dead fish who’d just flopped into her Toms shoe, and informed me that entering my thirties without having saved 2.5 million third-world orphans meant that I wasn’t living my dreams. Not even then. In fact, I learned a lot about my past self in contrast with my current self that surprised me. Fourteen years ago I would have hopped on their noble bandwagon like a madwoman, yearning for the exhilarating glee of collective world-changing. There’s nothing like camaraderie in the face of fear, and if there’s one thing this world has taught me, there is a lot to fear if we allow it. But I now understand the subtleties of change and its many, many forms. Good change isn’t only achieved by megaphones and chants– though those are important elements, too. It is also achieved by laughing with your grandmother and by taking children seriously when they talk to you. Organizing your own self into not being an asshole makes a colossal difference in the great shift of the human paradigm. At then end of the day I realized I had met a group of people who just wanted to find their place in an increasingly unbalanced world– which is essentially what I am trying to do right now on the road. They were mostly all of them wonderful people doing good things in the best way they knew how, and I was glad I met them.
4) I have learned to appreciate pets. Before I left home I mostly didn’t pay attention to pets, save for the cats of a few beloved friends. That was because they were more like extensions of those friends. Mostly I felt overwhelmed by dogs and plotted against by cats. I have since met many dogs and cats that I wished were my own. Among these were Handsome Bob, a wonky old Lab mix who was unconditionally jolly and who ran as if his legs were made out of rubberbands being snapped by an unruly child; an English pointer puppy named Blu with a tiny voice; Lily the Great Dane, who pushed her head into our legs when she was shy and who liked to smell flowers; Yoda the cat, who laid exclusively on his back with his paws in the air when relaxing, and a feral cat at a cemetery, chilling under a copse of trees like a wild beast king– but when I called to him, he jumped right into my arms, as docile as a house cat. I miss all of these pets so far. Perhaps I am growing soft in my over-twenty-nine age.
5) When driving across the country with your loved one, be a better person, even if he or she says they love you exactly the way you are; absolutely expect them to do the same. This is pretty self-explanatory. Driving across the second largest country by area in the Western Hemisphere, in a space that constitutes two phone booths on wheels, is bound to present some issues. And it should; otherwise you should pinch yourself to see if you are made out of titanium or some other such non-organic feely thingy. This trip gives me a lot of time to think about the things that annoy me; fortunately I have a boyfriend who is very good at delicately pointing out that that’s a two-way road. Do you ever wonder how bandmates and teammates don’t end up killing each other on a tour or away game? Well, I have a idea about all of that nonsense and I for one can tell you their secret– they cheat! They’ve got vans! And buses! And planes! And in some cases, drugs! We’ve been traveling in a Honda Accord for three months straight; half of the time we get out of a car and into a tiny tent. And we still love each other and make each other laugh, and we talk about everything we are going through. Even the hard stuff. And even if I have to be the hard-stuff conversation instigator. I have to remember that this is a person who I chose to do this life-changing thing with on purpose, after months of thought and planning. It is worth all of the bad for the incredible good. Though, yeah, sometimes I picture us as a comic strip, the road stretched out unendingly like Route 66 from panel to panel, silent and serious, our thought bubbles full of the symbols used with the shift key above the numbers on my laptop.
6) I still really, really, really love food. Coming from California, the state where nearly every town top to bottom has some kind of sustainably grown, locally harvested food item shat from magical fairy butts directly into Mason jars decorated with wheat and organic cotton ribbon, many people would assume I would have cried when we left the bounteous coast. Fortunately, I am no such snob. My secret pleasure food is Kraft macaroni and cheese, after all. I’d driven cross country three or so times with my family and we were never rich, so the consistency of designer eats was spotty at best and almost entirely non existent on the road. I developed an appreciation for canned fruit, truck stop snacks, American cheese-wrapped meat products, and weird gravy that probably came in powder form before it was unceremoniously dumped on Pillsbury biscuits, a la half of Tennessee fare. On this trip, Miles and I have managed thus far to avoid fast food completely, but we make up for it by going to the place that has “Chix stix 4 bucks a lb” written in hand scrawled letters on a cardboard sign instead. And it is delicious.
I’ve met so many kinds of people on this journey. Risk takers, homemakers, shy, coy, loud, mean, gentle, awkward, ignorant, learning, wise, weird, old, and young. If the purpose of this trip was to find what I want to do with my life I have strayed awfully far from it. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, though. It only means that, as I suspected, and in the manner of a true unschooler who was lucky enough to know no bounds in the world of educating herself (save for, obviously, eating habits), I’ve found that there are so many things to learn and I wish I could learn all of it.
Now. To make more money, in order to keep doing just that…