Julia and I took an apartment yesterday. Just over sixteen months ago we rented our home, uprooted nearly every element of our lives, and hit the road in our thirty-seven foot motorhome. We spent four days with the coach parked in front of our house moving about a half percent of what we own into it. I haven’t missed a thing. Of course, I didn’t give up my tenure. I simply took my sabbatical. And Julia didn’t sell her business, though she did take on a partner. (We’ll call him Deep Pockets.) But we did disconnect our lives and travel, just as we both love. Julia returned to Los Angeles periodically to teach classes at her school, while over twelve months, I returned for one night only, early on, to help close the deal with DP. I never wanted to come back. But I did have to teach again, and the Workshops finally required more complete attention from Julia. Everything ends. Everything transitions into something else.
For the past four months we have been living in RV parks around Los Angeles – whenever we could, right on the beach, right at the Pacific. However, the pleasures of motorhome living have been less without the daily excitement of travel and new places. The disruption to our lives became more pronounced. Most people who fulltime it – that’s what it’s called – are retired – you know, the gray-hairs everyone thinks of when they hear of motorhome travel. But those older RVers are not all fulltimers. Some are snow birds, heading south for the winter. The gray hairs are what Julia thought of when I first talked to her of motorhome travel well over a decade ago. I had some little experience, and already knew the joy.
Those older travelers are much misunderstood by the people who capture them in a cliché. On one of the countless occasions along the way that I observed some back-bent codger emerge from a forty-footer, and his maybe spryer but plumper spouse head for her own work in parking, setting up, maybe unhitching what’s called a fifth wheel, leveling it, and connecting it to the grid, I turned to Julia and said, You know they’re actually very impressive. Most people their age are rooted like plants in front of a television. These people are out there seeing the world, traveling the roads, engaging life with all they’ve got left. They’re something. And so they are.
One of the rich rewards of travel is the regular encounter with lives, kinds of lives, whole subcultures of which you would otherwise never have known. It’s like discovering new planets, populated planets, right there around the bend, over a mountain, deep in a wood. The fulltimers and the snow birds are two kinds of motorhome traveler, and there are many who are younger, younger than Julia and I, and the family vacationers with their kids. There are the people, too, old and not so old, who are not travelers, who are a different kind of fulltimer. The RV may be a twenty-year old motorhome worse for wear and time, or maybe a fifth wheel, up on its blocks, an apron around its base like a foundation to a house, a makeshift yard of chairs, tables, bird feeders crowding the site. There are many variations, but in each case, not in the resplendent motorhome resorts on lakes and oceans that are condoed and timeshared, but in the small, meager parks stuck back in the rural trees, tucked away on lots off the interstate, they may rent monthly for three or four hundred dollars, and they are not recreational or much of a vehicle, but they are a permanent home, twenty-five feet by ten or even eight, for someone old, or veteran, or attached to reality a little differently, and its better, by far, than a big-city street or some charity hotel, and you’ve got some propane for heat and maybe a pet and your own blue sky, and life is always a road to somewhere you didn’t know you were going.
So finally, for Julia and me, after sixteen months and no longer traveling, fulltiming became too much. She has this business to help guide, I have several book projects in progress and too long in coming, and life is joy if you can make it and let it be that, and if you are lucky, but it is also work, and we just need more space and to be settled again. We needed to land somewhere for awhile.
Among the oddly contradictory feelings of preparing to land, is my reluctance to give up the Allegro Bay, our motorhome, just as we prepare to sell it. (If you’re interested, by the way, the asking price is $125,000 for a 2009, with many extras and a Hydralift, hydraulic motorcycle lift, the best on the market and adaptable for an ATV, welded to the rear, an $8,000 value newly installed.) All my life, whenever talking with friends about the fantasy of wealth, I always said my definition of the kind of rich I’d like to be is the ability to travel wherever I want whenever I want. If you are intrepid and disentangled enough a person, that doesn’t have to be that monetarily rich. For me, though it doesn’t yet cross oceans, the motorhome, has been that freedom, that rich, and while I have longed these past couple of months to be landed, I feel, too, like a cowboy about to give up his horse.
Julia and I both love and embrace change. It comes to you anyway, and we make our own. Our apartment is little more than a mile from the home we own, still rented out, and which I never wanted to live in again when we left it. We expect to stay in the apartment for a couple of years, do some traveling by air and auto to continue our work in Indian country, and then see where the economy and work and circumstance have delivered us. We anticipate another year of motorhome travel in four or five years. This time around with only a very little experience driving RVs, I was reluctant to go above the 37 feet. Now I’ve driven through mountains and over narrow country roads and barreled along interstates amid crowds of trucks and trailers, and loved every second of it. Next time, I’m going 44 feet – the king size bed, the second bathroom, the kitchen island. (Some cowboy.)
We’ll see where we are in four or five years. We are all held out into our existential space, deep into the unfathomed universe. It is cold there, and dark, and in the very dead of night it is frightening. So we seek connection, in love and family and faith, in culture and tradition, in the comfort of habit and routine, as if to believe there is no wonder that anything, a tree or a walk in the park, is the way it is – even though we know our end is to separate from most or all of those connections.
In these final days before we move next week, I walk the dogs along the low bluffs of Playa del Rey, overlooking the Pacific. The ocean and the beach are my heaven, what I hope to see at my end, if not after. I grew up in several communities in New York City, but mostly in Rockaway Beach, a collection of communities, actually, along a peninsula in the Atlantic that many New Yorkers don’t even know is part of the city, or think is in Brooklyn, though it is Queens. My parents moved us there, twice, because they loved the seaside too.
My father, who was born in Ukraine, a cold and unforgiving clime – especially in the first half of the twentieth century, and before, for a Jew – loved three things in the world: his family, everything new and clean (because in his youth everything had been old and of the earth), and the sun. He worshiped the sun, and so he worshiped the beach, and on his restful Sundays, while his indolent children still slept, and when we didn’t live in Rockaway, he would make the drive to Jones Beach, farther out on Long Island, and lie for hours with a reflector, be home before we had risen yet. In the painful days after he died, and now, several years later, every time I sit on a beach, whenever I feel, simply, the heat of the sun on my skin – feel that the universe is not empty space surrounding me, but something touching me – I think of my father. In that inexplicable communion of heart and memory, I am my father.
My mother’s love of the sea was more melancholy, as she was. She loved to sit at her window beside the Atlantic on stormy days and watch a dark Caribbean mood travel up to New York’s southern shores. She swam in sorrows that were buoyed by the love of her family.
On the day before we took the apartment, I walked Homer and Penelope amid those kinds of stormy seaside colors. The ocean was steely beneath dark clouds, the wind blowing, the white caps churning, light, though not sun, cracking the clouds for contrast. On this day, thinking of beginnings and ends, and the distance in between, I was not my father but my mother. In contrast to seasides, mountains, and great plains, cities like New York are great works of imagination, architectural installations, stages of human drama, the worlds of the novel a reader enters to live on its streets and know the merchants and neighbors. But on a bluff above the ocean, one returns to the original creation. There is the sea, the sky, the land, where they all meet, and one can feel, originally, how one connects to them, to the sphere they embody, and what lies beyond.
I walked ahead of Penelope, who these days, no longer hunting in woodlands, does not forge maniacally ahead anymore, and followed behind Homer. When he was a puppy, Homer was frightened of the world itself. I had to pull him down the stairs of the three-story Venice loft we lived in then, and out the door, just to get him to do his business. He was not unlike the shy, timid, frightened child I was, who in my infancy, through a long week in the Catskills, would not go potty until my father drove up for the weekend to hold my hand.
Now Homer has seen the country and peed on it all. He was about my age when we left, our gray about the same, but is older than I am now, aging faster, though I’ll get there. On the Playa del Rey bluffs, he lumbered through the gusts ahead of me, each slow step rippling through his body to the hind haunches. He turned to look back at me, his eyes wondering.
“I’m coming,” I said.
AJA (photos from my Moto Q)