I live in a state that people want to visit in the summer. They want to camp by a lake and enjoy the calm quiet, interrupted only by a passing jet ski or motor boat. They want to rent a cottage by the shore and spend their days at the beach. They want to eat overpriced seafood because it’s so much cheaper than at home. And they clog up the highway going home on Sunday.
I want to go somewhere, too. I want to go on a road trip.
This trip is not the kind of vacation nightmares I had as a kid growing up. It wasn’t the vacations, but the traveling to and from the vacation location. For awhile, my folks owned a 1968 VW Bus, which was great for hauling around 4 screaming kids. We’d go camping, trips to the ocean, and the annual trip to my grandparents in Connecticut. But then, in a fit of insanity, my Dad decided the Volkswagen needed to go. He obviously thought we needed to upgrade to a vehicle that suited a family of our size. A vehicle that could accomodate pre-teen aged boys and girls. So, what do you think he bought.
He decided on a 1972 Dodge Dart.
Yes, a Dart. It was a four-door sedan with room for six, but only if you squeezed three in the front and back seat. Gone was the space to stretch out. Gone was the coveted back seat, the furthest point away from my parents, where you could lie down and feel like you were invisable. Going from a VW Bus to a Dodge Dart was like having the Brady Bunch move into a studio apartment.
But I liked the fact that we would go somewhere, and that’s the feeling I have now. I am planning to visit my folks when I take my last week of vacation in September.
Don’t you get two weeks of vacation? What happened to the other week of vacation? Oh, gentle reader, I did a foolish thing, a choice made while blinded by love. I spent it in Las Vegas in February. At the time it wasn’t so foolish. In fact, I got the offer of a lifetime. The woman I was dating (see the post Open Letter to the Woman Who Broke My Heart) was preparing to celebrate her 50th birthday. She didn’t want to stay in the Northeast, where it’s snows in February. Because it was the Big 5-0, she wanted to do it with style. She wanted to go somewhere warm. Last year, she went to Florida and left me at home. This year, it was Vegas, baby, and she wanted me there with her. She wanted me there so badly that she offered to pay for my plane ticket and hotel, along with the shows she wanted to see. I took care of the cost of my show tickets. The only thing I had to be concerned with was food and gambling money.
But something didn’t feel right. I felt like a kept man. I was her arm candy, and there was something that made me feel uncomfortable about being there. I thought maybe it was a percieved lack of control, that I didn’t plan this trip and it was out of my hands. We only made love once during our trip. It wasn’t until the break-up that I realized that was the beginning of the end. All the giddiness was gone from the relationship, and I was starting to feel….settled.
But, that’s in the past. I want to hit the road and travel at my own pace. I want to visit places I want to see and eat what I want. My inspiration is a book entitled, “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon. In a nutshell: our hero loses his job teaching English at a state university, and his wife leaves him for another man. His reaction is to hit the road. He tricks out his van for the trip, sort of the ultimate road machine, and heads out to discover America. He doesn’t travel the superhighways. Instead, he travels the “blue” highways: the roads that go through all the towns the big higways bypassed. For example, the old Route 1 from Maine to Key West, Florida is a blue highway. Although, parts of it are taken over by I95, the older sections of the road are still there. You get a sense of what America was like before superhighways
I flunked out of college after my freshman year. I will freely admit this, and it happened for two reason: lack of discipline and bad advice from a professor. I will take responsibility for the discipline. The professor, who I met with during Freshman Orientation, told me to take a full boat of 5 classes per semester. I was not prepared for the workload that was awaiting me.
It didn’t help that I discovered the campus radio station and focused my attention on being on the air.
During the year I spent at home, trying to earn some money and figure out what I wanted to do with my future, I hooked up with a casual friend, who would soon became one of my best friends. Chris and I graduated in the same high school class. Back inthe day, he wore these black horned rim glasses, which made him look like Buddy Holly. We traveled in different circles during our senior year. It was after we graduated that I got to know him from working in the strawberry fields not far from my house. The owners of the farm were members of my dad’s parish. He was a Danish engineer who taught at MIT. She ran a program at Boston College to teach people how to teach the blind. They also ran an organic strawberry farm and they would hire local kids to work the fields. The best part of the job was that we were paid, in cash, at the end of the day. Chris and I would work there for a couple hours a night, and we would have our beer money, or just walking around money. It was the easiest money I ever made.
From there, Chris and I were inseperable. We would go to the movies. We would go roller skating Wednesday nights because the ratio of girls to guys was 3 to 1. We’d hang out at classmates’ houses. Most of these guys I knew, but we didn’t hang out. These were the ones who didn’t go off to school. They had good paying jobs with Bose and still lived at home. We would sit around, drink beer and listen to music. I was exposed to more great music in those days that at any time. Chris helped me to broaden my social circle. We also talked about ourselves and our plans. We talked about the girls we dated, but not like the bragging we’d hear in the locker rooms. We’d talk about how those girls made us feel. Her trusted me and I trusted him. He gave me the gift of belonging at a time when I felt so isolated. I will always be grateful to him for that gift.
We also made road trips. The preferred vehicle was his 1974 Ford Maverick. Chris didn’t like riding in my VW Bug. He would hold for dear life, onto the bar above the glove box. I wasn’t a bad driver, but I think it was the size of the vehicle that made him nervous. We would frequently we’d head to Amherst and the University of Massachusetts. Chris was still a student there and there were plenty of places we could stay. It was usually the floor of someone’s dorm room. Sometimes we were invited to a few sorority parties, usually the invitations came from girls who lived in Chris’ dorm. Once I stayed in the bed of a girl I had only know four hours. First time, not so great.
But I loved taking to the open road. I would visit my grandparents in Connecticut. I visited my sister at Westfield State. I would travel into Boston to watch the Red Sox. I actually like driving in Boston, even with the one-way streets. I can honestly say I never got lost.
A long time ago, maybe 30 years ago, I would get a severe case of wanderlust every May. Why May? you ask. I went on exchange to Germany my senior year in high school. Our school sponsored a program that hosted students from a gymnasium in Menden, in the Sauerland, southeast of Dortmund. I partipated in the third year of the program, which was a month-long stay.
Oh, did I tell you it was an all-girls school?
It was that experience that inspired me to travel. Ever since May 1979, I get the travel bug. But now I get it all through the year. When I worked for the airline, it was easy to satisfy my urges. We flew direct to New York and Chicago, and could connect to anywhere in the country. I wasn’t always able to get the time, but the opportunities were there.
I now have set a goal for travel in 2010: my goal is to visit my friend Adam in St. Andrews and go to the Open Championship.
Here’s a thought: what kind of life could you have if your never traveled more than 50 miles from home? Would you have a sense that you were part of a greater global community, or would your world be defined by the distance you traveled in your lifetime? There are people all over the country who have lived in the same town as their parents and grandparents, who have never seen the amazing sights of our country, except the hills and fields and forests surrounding their hometown. Would they be better people for staying there, or would taking a chance to see the world beyond their world?