Today started six months ago. That strangest day in mid March, the day I was faced with a cold reality regarding my Northern California home.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
At least it didn’t feel like I was.Of course that sounds self pitying and is not to be confused with not loved or not appreciated, both of which remain true.No, this was truly odd but no less real – probably why I didn’t believe it at first.
Driving west of Petaluma over and through the beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma and Marin – roads I’ve traveled since before vhs tapes and actors as presidents – I had an out of car experience. No I wasn’t thrown from the vehicle in a dramatic roll-over, something which did almost happen on that road btw.. no this was different. It began to feel like I was gliding, not even touching the ground, like the tires were fake and we really were in the future with some form of magnetic-rocket-auto travel. Like if I stopped and tried to touch the hardened clay that makes up the western edge of California my hand wouldn’t be able to find it.. it would just..
It was if even the land was saying “you’re done here, nothing to see, move along.”
Passing by that land, with Lucas’ ranch just a few miles away, might as well take a moment to remember the most romantic scene of Episode II, that was probably filmed in Italy but very well could have been filmed just off Nicasio Road.
I wrote about the retail side of that day briefly – knowing my time as artist and merchandiser needed to end – but regarding the bigger elephant in the room, I was shocked to the point of wondering if and when I should tell anyone at all, and if and where I should go, if anywhere. As anyone who’s lived on this earth long enough knows, a horrible boss, a nosy neighbor, soul-sucking traffic, those things rarely disappear for good, they just manifest themselves in different ways if we try to escape them. As Thomas Earl Petty famously sang:
“baby if you can’t change the world, maybe you should just change yourself..”
Back to the elephant.
Not being needed – esp. for a task oriented person – is possibly one of the worst things in the entire world. It’s the opposite of the bumper sticker that says “yes this is my truck, no I won’t help you move.”When I see that sticker I’ve got half a mind to go buy a truck JUST to help people move.If I were a superhero I’d be simply “the helper.”
But its not arrogance or one sided, scores of people have filled needs many times for me too. When I needed a place in LA as I returned to college, another friend was just graduating college, and relocating to LA at the same time, we both needed another person and a place to call home.When we parted ways there was another friend who was heading south for graduate work and needed a place and people all over again. When I submitted my old car for background work on a Tom Hanks film I got called immediately – there was clearly a need, for guys (and a couple ladies) that had unmolested old cars and were in between jobs. And it was great.
The last time I felt that much reciprocal need I was.. running crazy around the state with plastic pot buckets imploring folks to give money to a recklessly budgeted California state park system.
Could it be that my John Olmsted experience of cleaning the house and fulfilling his estate – and of course imploring state parks in a way that only a family member could.. could it be that the “need” I felt was SO strong, SO right, SO purposeful, that everything since is just…
Of course for those following along this is partly why I’ve taken to searching for answers and adventures in many other places, places like:
finally landing in..
Nashville?? Well why not?
I took a 4,000 mile journey on the way out, visiting friends I hadn’t seen in 5, 10, even 20 years. I bought a new car and finally turned in the convertible to get a new interior. And I live on a lake house where I paint and do odds and ends work in exchange for rent. The sunrises are beautiful and the owner just bought us a boat.
Somedays I go into town and drive for a rideshare company and answer questions like why did I move to Nashville. In fact this week I got my first review – by a girl who was trying to meet her friend at an out-of-the-way concert venue after midnight. She barely wanted to go and had questionable directions but we persisted. Here’s what she said about the ride:
Is that enough? Do I feel needed? Do I feel useful? Is there a purpose for me in Nashville?
To which I can answer wholeheartedly,
Here are the top five songs that have come along at just the right time, newest first:
5. In the Blood – John Mayer (2017)
“I’m right on time for my career, and I’m running late for my life” – John Mayer April 2017
Aside of the private jets and millions of screaming fans, I feel you bro. Apparently John is turning 40 and missing Katy P., blonde shave and all, and shares so on his latest album The Search for Everything. And how timely his sharing is.
But the album came out back in April, why did I hear nothing from it? Not one song, not one single, until I heard this on the radio about three weeks ago:
How much of my mother has my mother left in me? How much of my love will be insane to some degree? And what about this feeling that I’m never good enough? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?
Obviously I kept listening:
How much of my father am I destined to become? (Seriously?? WTF??) Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone? Will I let this woman kill me, or do away with jealous love? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?
And then here’s the kicker – the pre-chorus sums up almost everything:
I can feel love the I want, I can feel the love I need But it’s never gonna come the way I am Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?
The day before I heard this song I’d just said to someone “I guess it’s finally time to invest what I’ve put into finding a career – into finding a better half.” I can feel the love I want, I can feel the love I need – and probably could’ve said that for the last six years, since dad passed. Death can have that effect I’m learning.
I’d always wished my dad could hold my grandchild, fortunately he did hold his granddaughter, my brother’s kid, but not having any of my own while he was still around obviously strikes a nerve.
Transition: From over-analyzing my dna and my past choices, to embracing it and being ready to give away the very love I say I want.
But how do these songs – some that are around before I need them – some that are released literally exactly when I need them – seem to rise into our sphere – right at the exact time? If I were writing a cool music article for Vibe or someplace, I’d call it Sonic Serendipity, Audio Kismet, or maybe the ‘God-shaped vacuum‘ theory – on a musical level.Whatever the reason it seems when I’m near a major turning point, esp. right on the precipice – knowing what I’m about to do but just staring at the gate, here comes the perfect song, right when I need it.
The first instance where I really took note of this phenomenon was in a very unlikely place. Maybe my least favorite place in all of California:
a Sonoma County transit bus.
I’d made some bad choices. Ok I’d made lots of them. Not like stealing cars or agreeing to pick up a friends’ duffle bag in Mexico, more like short sighted choices, working at summer camps with no plan for the fall, hiding from the cops with a broken taillight instead of dealing with a suspended license, dropping out of college to start a bmx bicycle co. with no business plan, you get the idea.
And I’d hit rock bottom.Understand rock bottom looks different for many people.What looks like rock bottom when I watch “Cops” doesn’t seem to faze the people on the screen.My rock bottom wasn’t even when my brakes went out and I smashed into the back of a Golden Gate Transit bus on hwy. 101.It wasn’t even when I fixed the brakes again but didn’t pay for new rotors and I hit a bmw two months later. It wasn’t even – amazingly – when two minutes later the hood from bumping the bmw became unlatched and flew up at forty miles per hour, slamming 50lbs. of detroit steel right back into and shattering my windshield.
Still not the bottom.
It wasn’t even one month later when the chp knocked on the door of – wait for it – my moms apt. – where I was living – to give me a copy of the police report, for the accident which I hadn’t told her about. And then my car insurance called – my coverage had lapsed – you got it – at midnight the night before the accident.
Back to the bus:
Thankfully I had no desire to push things any further. I went to a temp agency and took whatever they gave me. I agreed to pay mom some rent, and I made it known that I was rebuilding. No concerts, no movies, this was time to suck it up and grow up, even if it meant taking two different busses on a three hour round trip to a $9/ hr job while living at home. At 26.
At some point I realized I needed a prize. A carrot. I needed a goal that wasn’t just a macguffin, but something that made this reality boot camp worth it.This is what I found:
But I was still rebuilding wasn’t I? Yes I was. So everyday I got up at 5:20am, ate a quick breakfast, and got on the bus for the long ride to Santa Rosa, to put plates of beryllium metal through an acid bath that would become an artistic template for a picture frame. And I saved.
2. The Precious Jewel – Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny (1997)
One Sunday I read through the new album section of the San Francisco Chronicle, and read a review for an album called Beyond The Missouri Sky, an instrumental album by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny. Beyond the Missouri Sky. Just the title and the image made me want to go. I didn’t even know where, just out there.
That the parenthetical title was “short stories” made even more sense.
The album might not be for everyone. As the title suggests, it’s a wide open album, just a guitarist (Metheny) and a stand up bassist (Haden) playing atmospheric songs with no real beginnings or endings. At least that was my two-bit album review.
That is until I heard track 6:
If that journey on the bus those long winter months needed a soundtrack this was it. A baroque-meets country music instrumental song – an old Roy Acuff song – that made me think of a top down-open highway -free spirit- no regrets kind of a life. The life I wanted. The life I knew I needed. I asked the mentally unstable guy next to me in the darkness if he could keep the screaming episodes to one per trip.
When we bought the car in Indiana (yes some dreams do come true), and brought it back through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, that song made even more sense. And it still does.
Transition: From living for something out there – on the horizon, to living for today, grateful just for the ride.
When the car got settled in California, after a road trip that would become a bit of a pattern for this land yacht, another transition wasn’t too far behind. Of course it involved a girl.
She was a good girl, loved her mama, loved Jesus, and America too..
Nope not the song you’re thinking of, but those words by Tom Earl Petty actually do describe her pretty well. A girl-next-door tall cutie raised with two older brothers, kind and sincere but not afraid of holding her ground. My kind of girl. She didn’t even mind the hair.
Too bad there’s always a but..
She had a family. And for various reasons too involved for this post, they had pretty high standards for me. Which I’m ok with. However after a few years of limited dating and feeling like I was never doing enough in their eyes, I felt I’d had enough, in fact I knew I’d had enough. Strangely so had mr. Petty.
3. No More – Tom Petty (1999)
Tom himself was coming off a long and drawn out divorce from his first wife Jane, a marriage he felt was over long before, but took awhile to actually get out of – as these things do – esp. for rock stars.
I bought my new-old convertible on April 2, 1999, in Indianapolis. On April 13th, Tom Petty’s tenth studio album Echo – and the first with the Heartbreakers in almost ten years, was released. With a blurred photo of the band in the hills above LA, and songs with a heavy lonesomeness to them, I knew the minor chords would have an effect. But there were upbeat songs too, and putting the top down and driving to the ocean while “Room at the Top” and “Swingin’ ” played through new Alpine speakers, was a memorable and soul-reaffirming experience.
But then came track 12.
No more No more I ain’t gonna do it no more It used to be a big deal But, I ain’t gonna do it If it ain’t real
Big money Big plans You stand with a ticket in your hand You don’t play you can’t win But, I ain’t gonna do it ‘Til I feel it again
When I see that sun go down My mind begins to clear Sure was a hard time It sure was a hard time my dear -No More, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
When I see that sun go down indeed. Before the 2nd verse even came on I felt something in my gut. I knew what I had to do and this confirmed why. I don’t blame Tom of course, I had felt these things for months, that I loved her, I thought I had done all I could, but if I wasn’t good enough for them, and they didn’t want to let up, then I was done. No more… no more.
Sadly it wasn’t her, it was them. And you can’t really separate a girl from her family – even if I’d wanted to.
Transition: From accepting what people think of me, to speaking up, and in this case moving on.
My father’s trials of the last year of his life have been well documented – in words and in films – so I won’t regurgitate the obvious. However the part that wasn’t overly shared was clearing out and selling his house. It deserved almost its own movie too – at least a good book or maybe a podcast, but frankly I was just too spent. For the locals of Grass Valley and Nevada City my radio call-ins about what I had for sale each week were regular as clockwork, and the yard sales I rolled out were the stuff of legend. Selling 3,000 vinyl records, 103 yr. old sewing machines, an Edison wax cylinder machine, and bear skulls and pinned butterflies will do that.
The CA state park closure threats threw a wrench in my efforts, but there was a time in the late summer when I actually had a few moments to really contemplate.
Enter Paul Simon.
Paul’s 16th studio album had come out in April of that year – like I said, sonic serendipity.
4. Dazzling Blue – Paul Simon (2011)
If you hadn’t been a Paul Simon fan for awhile, there were a few albums that might have reeled you back in. Rhythm of The Saints (1990), You’re The One (2000), Surprise (2006), and of course one of the biggest comeback albums of all time – for any artist – 1986’s Grammy award-winning Graceland.
So it was with 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. I’d heard the first single on Nevada County’s eclectic and purely locally dj’d KVMR radio, and I was only somewhat intrigued. Make no mistake, I was excited about a new Paul Simon album but hey – I had bear skulls to sell.
But I stopped by a record store on J Street in Sacramento and caved. Then I bumped along in my dad’s Explorer in western Nevada County, in California’s gold country foothills, on roads with names like Jones Bar, Newtown, Bitney Springs, Dog Bar, and let the words begin to sink in.
It was fitting that this album found Paul much more contemplative about the next life than the current one, which after losing my dad was on my mind more too.
I think it was on a warm, late August evening, under an immense blanket of stars, that this song really gave me the feeling of transition, a transition song, a transition moment, for me.
Truth or lie, the silence is revealing An empty sky, a hidden mound of stone But the CAT scan’s eye sees what the heart’s concealing Now-a-days, when everything is known
Maybe love’s an accident, or destiny is true But you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue Dazzling blue
Miles apart, though the miles can’t measure distance Worlds apart on a rainy afternoon But the road gets dirty and it offers no resistance So turn your amp up and play your lonesome tune
Maybe love’s an accident, or destiny is true But you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue Dazzling blue
It felt like a song that would never end, like a song that if you came in 1/2 way on you wouldn’t know it. A rambling, open-sky feeling song that helped me let go of dad – let go of his spirit even, as I was letting go of shovels and vhs movies back at the house.
Transition: From not knowing how or when to really say goodbye to my dad, to being at peace with his passing.
And my first transition song?
This one holds more weight than many others combined. Maybe it’s because the transition in question was between adolescence and adulthood. Lite weight stuff you know. 1989
– The Year that changed everything –
That I graduated from high school this year is just another in a long list of reasons why historians and social commentators have deemed it a pivotal year. The end of modernism and the beginning of post modernism. The Berlin Wall fell. The first commercial Internet providers surfaced as well as the proposal for the world wide web. There was a new show called the Simpsons, and later that year a show about nothing.. Seinfeld.
Me I was rocking out and looking forward – to an awesome summer and then college in LA, with a 3 bed/ 2 bath home, and marriage and family not too far behind.
Yes I really thought that.
1. Love Song – Tesla (1989)
I’d found the band Tesla somewhere around 1987, after their first album Mechanical Resonance had gotten their name sufficiently out in the rock subculture, even got them on tour with Def Leppard and Poison, which is like saying Beyonce and Bruno Mars today.
I was hooked pretty quickly, but when a friend from Northern California called and said they were doing some kind of show at a tiny club named Slim’s in San Francisco and they were calling it “all acoustic,” I went with a tight group of my best friends and would never look back. The passion and rocking flair these guys had was something I hadn’t seen or known. The show was one of five across the U.S. and had multiple repercussions. First, it launched Tesla with their cover and biggest hit of “Signs,” and it actually jumpstarted the entire “acoustic” movement of the early 90’s. From Nirvana to Eric Clapton, every artist was learning they could sell more albums just doing acoustic version of the same songs. Brilliant!
I don’t remember where I was when I first heard The Great Radio Controversy, their second album, probably in my car, but it had me from the opening track. There was just something different about the sound – the vocals, the seriousness of the guitars, these guys got lumped in with the infamous ‘hair bands’ of the day, but they weren’t singing song after song about how my grupies they landed on the tour bus. Not that they were choir boys but that second album just felt more.. adult. There were songs about responsible breakups, about life paths, about ethereal rock subjects, and then there was track 11. It didn’t even need a name after all the times I would play it.
This song made me do lots of crazy things.
Like talking to girls.
Like going to more concerts.
Yes even like buying a guitar.
I swore to someone that “I will learn to play guitar if the Love Song intro is the only thing I ever learn.” Of course after I learned it that was not enough, and I still would like to learn much, much more. But I did it. I bought a guitar. I took lessons and then learned on my own. I even recorded a few albums – mostly that shouldn’t be listened to in public but hey they’re mine. They’re something I accomplished. That song somehow motivated me like a friends’ hand pulling you back into a raft in the rapids, or a mother bird kicking you out of the nest of adolescence, whether you’re ready or not.
So you think that it’s over, That your love has finally reached the end. Any time you call, night or day, I’ll be right there for you if you need a friend.
It’s gonna take a little time. Time is sure to mend your broken heart. Don’t you even worry, pretty darlin’. I know you’ll find love again
Love is all around you Love is knockin’ outside your door. Waitin’ for you is this love made just for two Keep an open heart and you’ll find love again, I know.
I’ve naturally heard the song now hundreds of times, but recently I found an old cassette single of it, and bought a cassette player just for fun for an old car I use for commuting. Putting in that black plastic cassette and hearing that mechanical click, the fuzzy whirring of the tape spinning, and hearing those opening six notes of hammer-ons and pull-offs that I practiced for hours on end, transports me right back to that ridiculously confident 17 year old kid. That kid who had the highest hopes in the world for his life, and who believed that love is all around, just waiting, if only I could still believe.
This is only my fourth attempt to put down in a coherent order the events and new feelings of the past three months.
And I can’t really complain of not having time or space to think it over:
Reactions were common: “You went where? The south of France? I’d like to go to the south of France!
For how long – 10 Days?
I’ve never taken a 10 day vacation!”
Well maybe you should.
“And you won an award? From the Red Cross?”
I guess I did.A ‘real hero’ award – for my efforts of carrying on Dad’s Across California Trail. It was a great event and a very meaningful bookend to the past few years of tying up some of dads loose ends and hopefully better securing his legacy.
If you’ve been reading along you’ll recall how good it felt to see my brother working again and happy, and to feel that I was helping someone with a very real need, as well as rebuilding my own life too. The feeling was long coming, it was real and it was deeper than could be expressed in a few sentences.
That feeling lasted about one month.
It’s not as much a downer as it might sound, and maybe that’s why I hesitated to share, it was just a huge roller coaster – this overwhelming feeling of fulfillment and purpose and then in the space of a few weeks going back to just taking care of me. Actually it wasn’t a roller coaster at all, it was more like the mining cart chase in Indiana jones, and I felt like that one that hit the dead stop and the cart goes caterwauling end over end into the abyss.
And then came the sledgehammer.
March 17. I know it because I wrote it down. Yes on my hand but still.
I was hitting a few stops on my small business route, on a gorgeous green pre spring day in Sonoma and west west Marin counties.It should have been a great day, having a break from the day job, driving past rows of eucalyptus trees and over green hills, listening to music and feeling good about my business, and other things as well.Oops I said it.
What other things?
That’s when it hit me like the mike tyson punch from the hangover.There are no other things.
I walk into one of the retailers to refill products and they say hi but don’t even really talk to me anymore.I’ve gotten it established to the point where it seems silly and even pointless for the artist to continue driving around filling racks.Not beneath me, just not necessary. They know it as well as I do – anyone can do this part.
My day job is the same – grateful to have it but anyone can do it.
Understand, this is very unlike me. I’ve got a history of doing things only I could, or at least in a way that only I would.
And what “other things” you say? Well not to put too fine a point on it but when you’re not providing for a wife, or working so your kids can play little league, learn an instrument or go to college – heck maybe just so they’ll be able to eat every day and be clothed – when it’s just taking care of number one, it can be a pretty empty existence.
But still. France.
Our good friends Jeremiah and Betty had gotten married last year and like many new couples doubled down on the whole adventure part of a new life together. Jeremiah had gotten an engineering job in Toulouse, then a few months ago got transferred to another plant near Nice, between Cannes and the I-talian border. A rough spot indeed.
So we got ten days on the Coté d’ Azur. Ten days to roll out of bed around 9:30, to wake up with an espresso and a fresh croissant, maybe head down to the beach around 2 and look over the girls, hit up a nice dinner spot or have drinks with J when he got home from work.
And it was great. Really.
I even thought about staying longer. Like a month or even more. Maybe hike parts of the Cinque Terre and make it down to Sicily where I’ve got a friend who’s working with Syrian refugees and maybe…
I can’t even finish the sentence it’s so empty.
My favorite line from any movie in a long time is still the one from the shawshank redemption. You know what it is before I even say it.
I could amend it – as I’m wont to do – “get busy living [for something or someone], because living for yourself just ain’t gonna cut it.”
I can hear the attempts at encouragement – and I don’t begrudge anyone the effort – I’d probably say the same things to myself. “You’ve got a job, somewhere to live, you’ve been able to do some great work with state parks and your dad’s legacy and…”
And what? What else?
Maybe since dad’s legacy is better secured, maybe since my brother is over the hump, planning for his wife and daughter’s return, maybe I am feeling released – or at least more free than I’d expected.
Timing is way more important than I used to realize. So it was that just two weeks after this sinking, empty feeling a friend recommended the above book and I didn’t hesitate, I bought it and dove in – I’m trying to learn to think less and just answer the call.
I haven’t finished it but so far it’s working.
So in conclusion no – I’m not interested in a life of servicing myself, taking vacations and posting gorgeous pictures, fun as it may be in the short term.
It’s not time to meditate –
not time to hesitate –
not even time to educate.
It’s time to polinate.
It’s time to put the same effort I’ve put into having adventures as into finding someone to share them with. Hopefully she’s still out there.
Well it only took six months and tapped out at a mere 240 pages, but my road trip account ‘Life is A Highway, an Olmsted Journey’ is done. Available in magazine format and full color by Blurb Books I think it turned out great. Hopefully it captures what it was like to be on the road for almost four months, traveling over 10,000 miles in a 50 year old convertible.
Thanks of course to the many who housed and fed me, and enjoyed this adventure alongside. I have a feeling it’s not done just yet.
Destruction, ruin, death, or some other terrible fate (like sleeping on a friend’s floor AGAIN) – Alden’s abridged dictionary
The end of my epic, soul-searching, amazing trip of summer/ fall 2016 was in most ways just that, an end. But something happened while I was in Chicago just a few weeks prior, that my friends noticed, and that I touched on briefly in the wrap-up, that knocked me down pretty good.
I knew what was coming. And I was toast. Defeated. In fact I was – if I’m completely honest – terrified. Many of the places I had been to in the four months of June – October were new, at least in a car. And most were separated from California by vast deserts, majestic mountain ranges, criss-crossed highways, or just a ton of miles and 24-hour Waffle Houses. But Chicago.. Chicago is on I-80. The same I-80 that goes from Oakland to San Francisco. The same I-80 you take to get to Ikea, or an A’s game. The same road I started on.
DAMMIT ALL to H-E- Double hockey sticks
The fear was strange – after all it’s still 2000 miles. TWO-THOUSAND MILES. 2000 miles still driving the old boat in which anything could happen. I could break down in Iowa – in Davenport say and become a davenport salesman (thats a couch to the layperson). Or in Lodgepole Nebraska and become an Antelope horn sharpener. Or maybe join the hipster California transplants and make a home in Salt Lake City, or Provo. Sell insurance and… Nope. You can tell by reading and I know before even thinking, fate doesn’t allow a way out when the mountains are in front of us. When Vader is waiting on the escarpment (so what if I just wanted to say ‘escarpment’). When the mines of Moria and the Balrog beckon to us there really is
I can, at times, go about my day and make the best of many situations, while underneath the surface I steam and scheme and twist and ponder. However – when things have boiled to a frothing mess, and I can no longer hide it, I can wear my emotions on my sleeve with the best dissatisfied wide receiver in the game. They knew. I was not ok.
I was faced with the reality that I was coming back to the EXACT. SAME. CRAP. That after saving my money, prepping the old car for an epic trip, surviving 95 degree traffic in Austin, TX – in a convertible – making it safely through 23 states and meeting old friends and new characters, getting some amazing photos and sleeping under the stars and next to gator-infested swamps, that after this huge, awesome, amazing trip, that “home” was going to be right there where I’d left it – completely unchanged – and the situations that were attached to it. Now. Obviously this isn’t really news to anyone paying attention, heck it wasn’t news to me. I had at least hoped however, that if my situation was the same, that maybe I would come back different. That I would somehow come back with a different mindset, renewed ambition, re-centered philosophy, etc.. Or maybe, that I’d find what the majority of heroes find in stories new and old – that I had it in me all along, I just had to believe.
Sounds great, but how does that floor feel?
So what should I do? Get up, start my day, get some coffee and post my resume for the millionth *&#@! time?
I guess the answer was yes, yes I should.
Because then the unexpected happened. An unlikely event occurred, in fact two unlikely things. First I got a job. *GASP* Ok fine, I “accepted” a job – but a job I previously would probably have turned down. Not because it was beneath me, or too much work, or too corporate (ok that last one might be true), but because it’s the type of job that I wouldn’t think would lead to anything else.
What do I know.
Just three weeks – not three months, or three years, but three weeks after accepting said job and putting on the corporate polyester shirt and magnetic name tag, my brother called. Let’s pause.
Yes I have a brother.
His name is Erik.
He has a family.
He lives in Brazil.
Having a brother that many of my friends have never seen reminds me of that Three’s Company episode where Jack told Mr. Furley that his brother Austin was visiting from Austin, but he could never seem to get them in the same room.
So my brother, for a variety of reasons, was ready to come back to the states, a few months ahead of his wife and daughter, and would need a place to live, a roommate, maybe even a car. Since he hadn’t lived here for five years he might need someone already here to find a place to live, someone with credit history, local references, a current job, maybe even an extra car that he could use to get to work.
Not to put too fine a point on it but sheesh God I get it. I get it.
On his first day as a substitute math teacher at the local middle school – yes the same one our mother went to as a little girl – they begged him to stay for the rest of the school year. He wouldn’t even have to do the substitute thing, checking messages, hoping for work. Nope. Easy.
He leaves each morning before I do, with a smile on his face I haven’t seen in years. He gets in my Honda and drives to work. He pays 1/2 of the utilities and the rent and makes dinner. Sometimes he makes a little extra for me. I drive my old car, the same one that went 10,000 miles around the country, to sell cars yet again. I found a sales rep for my side business. He drives around the state in my place and emails orders from new stores that want to carry my cards. I reopened my savings account.
All because I did what? Try harder? No. Try smarter? Maybe. Not give up. Probably.
Or maybe it’s just that life is like a mountain, some mountains can be climbed, some can be tunneled through, some can have a new trail blazed over a pass, but mountains never disappear.
Maybe I did come back a little different after all. Or a little more like…
Baby I’ll be there to shake your hand, baby I’ll be there to Share the Land, that they’ll be givin’ away, when we all live together…
I’m talkin’ bout together now
Next week – So this is normal: Breaking my silence part II
As you may have guessed, the ‘road’ part of the road trip is done. However in the week or so that I’ve been “home,” and seeing how where I’m at still doesn’t feel like a home, I think the mental and spiritual part of the trip is not done. At least not done like toast is done, where it can’t be put back in. So I’m not closing the books just yet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following along as I’ve enjoyed have some structure in which to record these thoughts. I’ll remain vigilant and with open eyes and ears will continue to record and share. I’ve learned enough to know it’s one thing I’m here for.
Alden (old-friend) John (from my father) Olmsted
Bookends. Even before I learned about screenplays from the master Blake Snyder himself, I recognized as well as many have, how many movies ended in the same spot where they began, with one basic question. So what? Did this guy or girl change? What did we get on that roller coaster for? Was it really just for the ride?
My time in Chicago was aptly placed. At the end of an amazing, exhausting, emotional, soul-searching, at times lonesome, at times crowded trip, I ended up in the city of cool buildings, surrounded by fans of a certain team that had over 100 years of pent up frustration and tragic curses to power through.
Sheesh. Try not to glean any similarities from THAT.
I saw Chicago as I have before, with very good friends from California K and B, through eyes old and young.
The night before the big game I managed to connect with some good Cubs fans who invited me to brave the wilds of Wrigleyville for the first World Series game played there in 108 years – if I was up for it.
Yes I was.
I won’t go into all the details but after a three hour wait to get in to the bar, a great game but one-run loss for the cubs, a long conversation with a cute Chicago DA (Samantha if you’re reading this look me up when you’re in SF), a dead phone and a late night memory exercise on Chicago’s transit system that resulted in a police ride home, my head hit the pillow, knowing I too left it all on the field.
See what I mean with these darn metaphors.
My insightful friends in Chicago had mentioned, “are you alright?” a few days before, as I sometimes have too much boiling up to hide, and on this particular day I was failing big. Why? Because I wasn’t ok. Because the road home was clear, and reality was settling in – after all these miles, all the great places I’d been, all the new and old people I’d met and visited, I knew what I knew at the beginning: the problems back home were waiting for me and didn’t give a rat’s a** how much fun I’d had. And I knew it. I knew it.
But money was running out, weather was changing, and I had to make the call.
So I did what I know how to do. I drove. I drove all through the night. I stopped when I wanted to see something I hadn’t seen before. Like a forest in Iowa.
I played my ukulele on the banks of the Mississippi River. I stopped at rest areas. I slapped my face until I heard the tires hitting the bumps on the side of the freeway then I stopped again. I woke up at 4am and kept driving. I ate pancakes and hash browns in North Platte. I watched football in Wyoming in an old saloon where the bartenders still smoke. I stopped once the landscape began to change and just stood there.
Taking it all in.
Then I thought about the statement at the top. If this is it, if this is the end of the ‘road’ part of the trip, what did I learn? What was I reminded of?
Well fortunately I had many miles to think it over:
I was reminded how big this country is (duh).
I was reminded how many chain stores we have.
I was reminded how cheap lawn chairs are at Walmart.
I was reminded that might be the only thing I will buy at Walmart.
I was reminded how beautiful the west is.
I was reminded how different the heat feels in Arizona than it does in Austin. And Charlotte.
I learned how good it is to just go. To just take off and not know every stop.
I learned how good the food is in Nashville, the roads in Louisiana, the corn fields in Virginia, and how cheap the beer is – pretty much everywhere outside of California.
I learned I like the South.
I learned that though it’s a cliche you really can’t take the California out of the boy.
I learned that the Chrysler ran faster than it had in years, though I never learned why.
I was reminded how many people love to talk to someone who is on a journey.
Whether or not that person is in the mood to talk is irrelevant.
I was reminded how many friends I have, strewn all about, and what kind of people they are.
hint – The really good kind.
I was reminded how much I love the smell of gas, and of the land as you breathe it in.
I was reminded that my choice to fly to Indiana 17 years ago and buy a certain gold convertible was a really,
I learned that the one thing rich or poor, old or young, that we all fall under, is time.
I was reminded of how important it is to spend it well. And I still don’t know what to do about that girl.
Appropriately enough a full-blown snow storm was my test to re-enter California:
The Chrysler stayed the course. Sandwiched between semi trucks on three sides this 50-year old car that few think might make it to LA let alone around the U.S. was as solid as the day I bought it almost 17 years ago. Before Obama, before 9/11, before y2k. When Britney was still queen.
And I made it.
And man that Welcome to California sign still looks good.
I did it in California, I did it in Arizona, same for Utah and New Mexico. Texas? Nope I tried but the threat of an agitated gator kept me inside my (I’m sure) impervious nylon tent. No matter – I had my fill. If you want a good road trip, gotta brave the elements at least once and let your mind wander up to the constellations. Are aliens out there? What about satellites? What are the people on the space station doing right now? Probably watching Law and Order. What about the cute girls two tents over? You’ll drift off around 12 or 1 but maybe you’ll wake up around 4 to pee and be so glad you did. Enjoy it while you can.
EXT. Mid-morning – A random street in middle America
A huge boat of a car, gold, floats over patched streets in the town of Kent, Ohio. The driver remarks to himself that despite the signs he really doesn’t know where
he is, or it could be said, there’s nothing on a per street basis that makes Kent
all that different from New Jersey, upstate New York, from parts of Virginia,
or Maryland, or even Sacramento.What’s interesting to the driver is how
little unease he feels, that this “out-of-city” transcendental experience is
beginning to feel… well,
I first noticed this phenomenon I think in Louisiana, but it could have been Mississippi.. heck who even knows anymore. I was at a diner where the locals were piling in for just another midday lunch.Their conversations gave it away, if their clothes hadn’t already.Construction guys, office workers, a few nurses.. they lined up at the first of many “meat and three’s” I would visit throughout the southern U.S.I realized that unless I broke the fourth wall and spoke to someone, which I did about 1/3 of the time, that I was, for the most part.. invisible.I was a fly. A passerby, a sojourner, whatever other descriptive label might cause a romantic view of “life on the road.”
This I think is something very strange, something that only happens when certain circumstances are present, or missing.A deadline. A schedule. A partner with an opinion. If you want to disappear, hit the road – with no firm destination.. You’ll find it actually not that difficult to disappear.
Even to yourself.
* * *
But it wasn’t just that the towns looked or felt similar, it was that the strangeness of being on the road for this long of a period faded away – possibly somewhere around North Carolina. Maybe it was leaving a friends’ house work-project in Charlotte that had me excited and actually aching for the road. On the road things made sense. On the road I could stop or go, fast or slow, sleep or not as the mood struck me. But it’s more than just some kind of bachelor – freedom thing, I think it happened when the adventure outweighed the fear.
It wasn’t that I was nervous, so much as I was hoping against hope that everything would be fine. That this thing I so needed and had thought about and planned for so long was actually going to happen, and not just barely happen but happen well. And it did. It really did.
Maybe getting over the hump of driving a 50 year old car from coast to coast and ending up in one piece gave me the confidence I needed. Not the just the confidence to travel in an old car, but the confidence to do what I was there to do, talk to people, enjoy the land, discover things and share them.
Anything but blend in.
Of course my car doesn’t really allow the blending in part, and that’s probably a good thing.