12 weeks into our expedition and I am OK…actually, I’m much better than OK. What I mean to say is that I really wasn’t certain how I would take to this nomadic lifestyle…and I’m pretty sure Anastasia was even more worried about my transition than I was. Leaving our home in Altadena for a year-long expedition was not my real concern…but selling our home and cars and furniture and placing everything I had made, bought, salvaged and collected during my 50 years on this planet into storage and having no place which to return…that had me a little wigged out at times.
When I was a kid, my parents never owned a house. We lived in several apartments in different cities and, finally, for a few years before I moved out and went to college, my mother rented a house in which she and my sister and I and a couple of my mother’s friends lived. When I did move out, I lived in a frat house with 21 other guys and a St. Bernard named Ed. Later, at 26, I worked a seven-day work week in the construction trades for about six months straight in order to save enough money to purchase a condominium (which I owned for a mere 11 months before trading up for my first real stand-alone house with no home owners association telling me which colors I could paint it). I have since bought and sold two other homes. I have owned my own place for nearly half of my entire life. The home that we just sold, I had redesigned and rebuilt myself. Though I had help, I tore down the walls and ceilings on Day 1 and I repainted the garage door a few days prior to the sale…and I had a hand in everything that went into it in between. Preparing to leave that home this past April, it became evident to me just how much I identified with the concept of having my own place.
The other day, while on the road, Anastasia expressed it very plainly, “Out here, we are exposed.”
Yes, out here there is no home, no resting place, no safe place, no place to run to and, consequently, no place to run from. Unattached to any place, we are subject to everything the world has to offer and impose. I recognize that the phrase “offer and impose” is an expression of my attraction or aversion to what simply “is”, and I am beginning to recognize that my initial adverse reactions to events, though often warranted, are unnecessary. Like, when the front right tire of our RV delaminated on the freeway just outside of Austin, TX. Well…the tire did not blow out and send all 13,000 pounds of Schwartz and us careening into traffic – a single belt of rubber simply let loose and went thunpa-thunpa-thunpa and we pulled off the freeway at the nearest exit and into the Discount Tire Center across the street. Safe, quick, easy and back on the road in 90 minutes. Lucky? I guess so.
Or when my computer broke down in New Orleans and we found a reputable repair shop uptown on Oak Street and dropped the computer off and grabbed a drink two doors down at the Maple Leaf Bar (clearly one of the most iconic, laid-back, old-timey dive bars in all of NOLA). We asked the bartender about Jacques-Imo’s Cafe another two doors down and she suggested we put our name in right away because they normally have a two-hour wait list for dinner. We followed her advice and told the hostess that we were at the Maple Leaf and they promised to send someone down to get us when our table was ready. We ordered the crawdad and alligator sausage cheesecake appetizer (think crumbled sausage and crawdads floating in melted gruyere cheese on a flaky pie crust – mmm), paneed rabbit with pork tasso pasta, blackened redfish with crab-chili hollandaise and some magical creamed and baked corn dish (corn maque choux).
When we returned the next day to pick up my computer, we parked the Schwartz in front of a BBQ restaurant and, not intending to stay and eat, we thought we should at least go in and buy a drink for allowing us to take up three parking spots. While sitting on the porch of the restaurant and sharing an iced tea, a young man in blue blazer and loafers stopped to pet our dog, Mattie. With southern politeness he inquired about our being in New Orleans and, after listening to our stories about leaving Los Angeles and our expedition and, finally, our desire to see the bayou and hear some music and eat some food, he opened his iPad, did a quick search and directed us to the best air boat swamp tour in the area. And then he pulled up info about the Mid-City Bayou Bugaloo – a free, all-weekend food and music festival in the park at Bayou St. John…dogs welcomed. The next day, we toured the swamp and held an alligator and ate and drank and listened to music and, while visiting the pet rest station at the Boogaloo, we met a guy named John and his dog and when we mentioned that we were hoping to go to a real New Orleans brunch on Sunday, he directed us to Buffa’s – another iconic old-timey bar with a super Sunday brunch, a smoking band (Some Like It Hot) and a literal wall of hot sauces. I had eggs Benedict AND biscuits and gravy, Anastasia ordered a Reuben sandwich omelet and we both had Bloody Marys and a great time…plus we became pals with Nita, the drummer of the band, herself a green gardener and new fan of Good Foot Project.
So, as it turned out, a good portion of the fun we had on our trip to New Orleans came as a direct result of my computer breaking down. Yep, crazy isn’t it?
Those who know me well know that I am definitely not a power-of-positive-thinking sort of guy. Rather, I firmly believe that we control our destinies by the choices we make…if life keeps giving you lemons, and you don’t want lemons, then stop planting lemon trees. Simple. But out here, on the road, I recognize there are so many things beyond my control…and I’m finding that there is a whole world of opportunity and good fortune in what could otherwise be bothersome, or even tragic, circumstances.
Though Mattie’s leg has healed up well (and she did get to ride around Philadelphia in a little red wagon on the Fourth of July) I’m still waiting to see what sort of rainbow is at the other end of her getting run over by a truck and breaking her leg on our third day on a farm. And the $5,155 for the rebuilt motor for the Schwartz? Well, at least it comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty…and it is getting better gas mileage. Who knows, maybe that’s all there is – a healthy dog and a new motor. And maybe that’s enough.
With all that has happened on the road, the most rewarding and encouraging part is having a compassionate and like-minded partner to share it with. Anastasia helps keep me in check when I start to piss and moan too much. Her choice is to work towards solutions. And, once the situation is resolved, she’s ready to move on to our next adventure. Of course, there are times when she’s not at the top of her game – she is human, after all – and that’s my cue to pick her up, dust her off and carry a little more than my share for awhile. That’s just the way it works. It’s a partnership. We work hard at it. We take turns supporting each other and it feels great…from both sides of it.
True, out here, we are exposed to lots of prickly things: poison ivy, ticks, biting flies, heat, blown engines, broken legs, busted computers, lousy cell service, no cell service, no internet, no electricity, foul water, no water…did I mention ticks? And we are exposed to the best of things, too: chance encounters, adventures, new friends, old friends, pecan pie, bread pudding, cupcakes and beignets and rolling into unfamiliar campgrounds in the middle of the night and waking to a bright and beautiful world…again and again and again. But, most importantly, we are exposed to ourselves – harshly and without any cover. Living in an 180-square foot home on wheels, we’ve got nowhere to hide – we have to deal with what is and allow ourselves to be surprised by how well it all works out.
It’s certainly not perfect out here – especially if one hopes to always feel safe and secure and comfortable – but, truthfully, the security and comfort that I had built for myself back home was far more tenuous than I ever wanted to admit. Often, that feeling of security allowed me to not meet the world head on because it allowed me to avoid seeing things as they simply were. And how many times had my veil of security failed me and left me totally ungrounded? How many times had I struggled to “fix” things and put them back the way I wished them to be? Looking back on those moments, I wonder how many excellent opportunities or people or events I have skipped over while I was busily trying to set things “right”.
Anastasia is correct, out here we are exposed. Of course, we always have been. But at home and at work and inside our own nest and tribe it is so easy to unwittingly create a web of discreet assumptions and relationships to help us maximize those parts of life which we prefer…and to plainly ignore those parts which we do not wish to see. It is a perfectly human thing to do. But out here, minus the comfort of a convenient backdrop and its false sense of security, I find I have little choice but to stand center stage and view myself as I am…whole.
Oddly, and gratefully, I believe that is exactly the kind of place I have been trying to build all along.