silicone?

Got talking to a guy named Tony at the last place we camped. Met him our first night there as Sharaun and I walked the loop, as is our habit.

He’s from South Alabama. Sharaun introduces herself as being from Florida and he nods simply. When I say I’m from California he smiles and quips, “Well the jury’s still out on you, then.” I offered a good-hearted chuckle in response, and he still looks at me just a little wary, like maybe my coastal elitism might be contagious.

We had a longer conversation the next day. I’m outside practicing guitar, he’s got his tow vehicle pulled into the empty site alongside ours so he can lubricate the sunroof.

Being that lubricating mechanical things is a universal male matter of interest, I walk over, brimming with testosterone, and ask, “Silicone?” “Yeah,” he says, “Trying to limber-up the rubber seal a little. Sun’s got it winkled and the seal’s bad and the air coming in is noisy when we’re driving.” I lean in for a look at the gasket, run it between my fingers to certify that, yes, the sun has indeed puckered it a bit. He nods approval at my inspection.

We are two such different people. I’m wearing shorts with full-length stretchy pants underneath, a Grateful Dead t-shirt with a long-sleeved undershirt, flip-flops and wool socks – none of it color coordinated in the least. He’s in bluejeans, workboots, and a white collared polo. The shirt’s tucked in and his cellphone is holstered on a belt clip. South Alabama, meet California.

We chat, using a shared appreciation for routine preventative maintenance as a springboard into more the personal. He’s not worked for six years now, been unable to ever since he had a benign tumor, along with a small part of his brain, removed from his head. His memory isn’t what it used to be, but, by all outward appearances, he’s fit and well abled.

When we get around to the bit where I share that I’m on the road for a year with my family he asks me if I work from the road or I’m independently wealthy. I answer neither and explain a little about deciding to take a year off. We talk about homeschool and kids and careers and traveling, even a little on religion.

And then Tony hits me with it: “So what do you hope to accomplish this year on the road? What are your goals?” Ho-lee crap South Alabama! We gon’ get all existential up in here just like that?!

I start to reply, then stutter and stop, realizing I don’t have this answer canned. Stalling, I say, “Oh man that’s a great question.” I stammer some more and Tony, maybe sensing that I’m really thinking, doesn’t stare me down in anticipation of a response and just goes about checking to see if that silicone hasn’t loosened-up that rubber yet.

“We actually sat down and wrote formal bulleted lists,” I say. Still not an answer. But, for the life of me, in that moment, I can’t bring them to mind.

It’s these times, when I know the answer to something and should have a response but just can’t get to it in my head, that I’ll often just turn to raw honesty. Turn off all the pre-processing and perfecting and situational-adjusting of words and ideas I do by habit and just speak what’s coming from my brain, heart, gut. Just say it, whatever it is, because it’s the truest even if it’s not what my practiced response might be.

“I wanted to spend more time with my family,” I say. “I was traveling too much, missed my wife and kids.” And then I heard myself say, “And our daughter is growing up so fast, maybe I thought I could slow that down a little.” And was shocked that I’d said it aloud, having, for some time heretofore only acknowledged it privately in my own thoughts.

So here we are, all that preamble to get to the point of this writing and now I’m nearly too spent to fully consider it. But saying the bit about Keaton out loud was powerful. I’ll have to write more about it later, it’s surely worthy of more, but I’ll finish now by telling the last of that conversation.

Maybe it was easier for me to speak so unfiltered because there was a subconscious anonymity saying it to South Alabama Tony. I mean, maybe it’d get lost when he tried to file it into that part of his brain that was missing. But, more likely it registered to me that we were just two ships passing in the night and there was no reason for pretense. (Heck, maybe there’s never reason for pretense.)

Regardless, Tony now looked me dead in the eyes and it was his turn to pause before speaking.

And right before he did, it all evened-out.

My hobo-boho ensemble and liberal leanings. His CCW, climate denial, and worn workboots. All our differences washed into a soft pink sameness of two humans living together on planet Earth.

“What you said just then,” he said, seriously, “I can truly understand that.”

And, then, there wasn’t much more to be said. Further, the realness of the conversation had maybe dawned on us, strangers both unto each other yet sharing quite the intimate sentiments, and the urge to flee took over. There’s gotta be some more mechanical stuff that needs lubricating, after all.

“Well, I’m going to go on in and eat lunch,” I say. “Guess it is about that time,” he says, “Was good talking to you. I’ll see you around.”

Thanks Tony. Safe travels, brother.

parenting

This morning, after breaking camp but before hitting the road, we stopped by the National Park Service visitor center so Cohen could turn in his completed Junior Ranger activity book and earn another badge. Before we went inside, he had to finish one last activity by finding and picking up at least ten pieces of trash.

It rained last night and this morning the skies are still grey with clouds. The wind is up and the waves are big and angry and frothy for the gulf. Sharaun and Cohen and I are walking a circuit around the parking lot looking for trash. Cohen’s got a plastic grocery store bag for collecting what he finds. Everything’s fine, we’re having fun even if it’s a little chilly in the wind without the sun.

When he’s about halfway to ten pieces a gust of wind roars through and flips his bag inside out, spilling the trash he’s just collected, where it is promptly scattered and gone in the breeze.

And he lost it, man. Flipped his lid. End of the world type stuff. Screaming and crying and carrying on, wouldn’t listen to either of us, angry at us both and the wind and the whole world.

In frustration I smacked him; “popped” him, whatever you want to call it.

God, I hate when I do that. Swung my hand and delivered a slap across the top of his head, not hard at all but more than just a push. I hate being physical in anger; I feel an awful emotional response – a mix of adrenaline and shame and failure and loss of control and also this sickening sense of, I don’t know, “parental righteousness.”

I know: I’m too sensitive; parents have been physically punishing their kids forever; it’s in the dang Bible. Don’t care. Don’t like it. Don’t like me when I’ve done it.

Walked away, upset with myself. Apologized to Cohen just after he apologized to me.

Back on the road.

welcome to florida

We finally made it into Florida and, I tell you, crossing that border felt like an accomplishment. For all the stupid fretting I’ve done about the ways I’ve mentally divided up this trip, all the times I wondered if we’d ever even get out of California, that arrival was a meaningful one.

Clear across the country; from one coast to another. I think back to those weeks spent on the Pacific beaches of Southern and Central Oregon and, although only a few months have passed, they seem ages ago now. A different trip, even, another time altogether. What even was this, then?

Google said, “Welcome to Florida,” over the Bluetooth and it instantly set me thinking. We’ve already come so far, seen so much, and it’s still just the beginning. I got a shot of energy then, thinking about all the unknown things to come. For a moment I felt like we had forever – that if these three months already feel this substantial then how much more will the next three, six?

It’s been two nights here near Pensacola. It’s cold, doesn’t much feel like Florida yet even if the white sands and flatness give it away. And each night when I’ve climbed into bed I think how much I’m enjoying this, how I don’t want it to ever end. I miss my mom and our friends and a select set of my coworkers, but all I really need is right here in this little box on wheels.

And there’s so much more to come.

knowing is half the battle?

Occasionally I get these flashes, short bursts of dire thought: “I’m not doing this right! I’m squandering this time!”

Continuing now into what, if you’ve followed along here at all, will be familiar ground – I’m still having these moments where I worry that the very way I’m thinking about and doing this trip is robbing me of some of its beauty.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I have (an almost instinctual) mindset of envisioning this journey less as one gorgeous, long thing and more as a series segments, linear, each with beginnings and end, but having to “finish” one to start the next. It’s almost as if years clambering up the rungs of the corporate ladder, and the hallowed halls of education before that, have conditioned me to this sequential grind.

And I know this is awful. I can feel it; breaking what should be a grand and languid unfolding into just another checklist of achievements. I’ve got to figure out how to transcend this (Western? American?) mentality and simply live in this space (surely I’ve said this many times before).

Three months! It’s been three months! And, yet, here I am still in my head thinking, “We’re almost to the Florida part. Then it’ll be the after-Florida part, then…”

Shameful, I feel… but maybe also just me? I mean, it’s not like I haven’t enjoyed these three months, I have – absolutely. But where and how do they sit in the bigger story of my changing through the entirety of the experience? Or maybe I just need something to worry about at all times, because I’ve been programmed that way through upbringing.

To end the rambling then, I’ll redouble efforts to stop and slow down. To walk more, no phone in-pocket; to pray and meditate and read more, not following what’s happened in politics that morning, afternoon, most recently-elapsed half-hour.

Maybe my acute awareness that this time is a gift and can, worst case, be squandered is a good thing. Maybe it’s a pox of hyper-awareness. Maybe this writing was done three paragraphs ago.

Peace.

about nothing really

The skies over Mississippi threaten rain. Across the whole of the southeast, for that matter, swollen clouds are stretched thin.

The prospect of a day trapped the RV taking refuge from mother nature sits very differently with Sharaun vs. with me. She’s gotta move, even if it’s just walk loops around the campground. And while I enjoy walking just fine, a day stuck inside playing games as a family, watching a movie, maybe making some sort of chowder, reading, etc., is something I love.

She’s over at the campground showers. We’re planning on driving into Biloxi today so I spent the morning doing all the road-readiness chores. If we’re just leaving the site for a day I’ll usually do a less thorough job, but since it’s going to be raining tomorrow and I don’t want to be outside breaking down in the weather I’ve gone ahead and done it proper:

Putting the bikes back up on the rack and securing them with the bungees and tie-down and lock; emptying the ashes from, cleaning, and stowing the charcoal grill after last night’s hamburgers; folding up the camp chairs; taking down the American flag; making the master bed and putting the solar panel and guitar and ukulele and big box full of school books on top; unplugging and tucking away our tiny Christmas tree; unhooking from water and shore power; washing up and putting away the dishes.

It’s a bit of work, living in a tiny space. Lots to move around, back and forth, to utilize space in different ways. Honestly, though, I like the routine of it. Before you can do A, you must do B, C, and D. After A, reverse it back to how it was by undoing D, then C, then B. It’s clean and almost military in protocol – perfect for my logical, stepwise mind. Work, sure, but the effort is super manageable – and the time to do it is both predictable and short. I can have the thing ready to roll in well under half an hour.

And into town we go, ahead of the rains if we’re lucky. Until next time.

good luck, brother

Somehow I always forget that visiting big tourist-frequented cities means encountering and interacting with the people of the street. It’s just not on my mind as we plan our days before heading into town. Then we arrive where we’re going and I’m immediately reminded.

It’s easy to dismiss these folks, assume they’re all drunks or junkies, walk by them like they’re ghosts with a forced lack of eye-contact, employing a firm “don’t engage” policy. I guess that’s honestly what I do most, but sometimes I can’t help myself. These are people, humans. Maybe they’re not taking care of themselves in the best ways at the moment, or maybe they’re living precisely how they intend to, but regardless I sometimes find it hard to completely disregard them as my brothers or sisters.

So I engaged. Gave a particularly broken looking young man “a dollar for coffee.” Told him, “Good luck, bruh,” and walked on with my family. Slumped, he looked to almost be relying on the French Quarter wall he was leaning against as an outside source of physical stability. Face covered in tattoos, hair dreaded rather nastily. Cue lectures about enabling and toxic chairty and blindly giving money; I know, I know.

Later that afternoon we saw that very same young man being hauled away in an ambulance, unmoved from the spot on the sidewalk where I’d earlier offered my “charity.” The shopkeeper was hosing down the area where he’d lain in repose so I can only imagine what may have happened. Did my dollar help pop this kid’s last balloon? Dunno.

I do know, though, that we could do better talking to the kids about classism and racism and homelessness and addiction and mental health the social aspects of it all.

Know better do better, right?

you mean like in the toilet?

We took 90 into New Orleans, decided that anything other than 10 might be a nice break, thought maybe it’d be scenic. Probably should’ve stuck to 10.

Didn’t realize how badly the sugarcane-county roads get beat down by the trucks that move harvested stalks. The truck lane is worn and so bumpy at points I was worried the steady drumbeat of vibration might see the RV rattle itself apart. Like an army breaking step to avoid bringing down a bridge, I rode over the center line when possible to avoid the worst of it.

Driving through the miles and miles of cane field, I felt the same the sense of discovery as when we drove through Texas oil country. That realization and awe at entire industries and livelihoods and ways of life wholly unfamiliar to me. It’s fascinating, really, how foreign regional cultures can feel within the same country or even state – seems the more vibrant the culture the steeper the learning curve.

I enjoy discovering what locals are shocked we don’t simply know. “Plate lunch” lines in sit-down restaurants, drive through daiquiri shops, chicory in coffee. Things they’ve never not known, things we’ve never known. Blew a waitress’s mind when we told her you can’t just order a “sweet tea” in California.

And so the trip continues to teach me. About culture, about people, about my family and myself and our country. I pray I pay attention, I learn, I change for the better.

Peace.