Last time I wrote about God playing Travel Agent in my life, it was about a different October, and the blessings that arose from my stay in a psych ward. (Halloween-themed craft projects? I’m now an expert!) This time God played a more literal Travel-Agent role… and naturally I have a Story to tell.
To set the stage, let me tell you what I think about myself as a Travel Agent:
I love the planning-parts of travel. My dad (who was himself an avid world traveler) always said there are three “stages of enjoyment” with every trip: the planning, the trip itself, and reliving the memories afterward (and in his case, disseminating them via Kodak slide shows).
So I don’t just book the locomotion and the landing-spot before a trip. I research places we might want to eat (so we won’t be standing on a sidewalk searching “food near me” on our phones when our needles have dropped below “hangry”). I make reservations in advance for Experiences that require pre-arrangement (boat, horses, fishing trips) because Experiences are what we travel FOR. I study maps with my highlighter (call me old-fashioned: I love me a paper map!), collect ideas, dream up routes that will take us on new roads… Sometimes I make up a little “travel brochure” for my husband, providing itinerary of pre-planned parts, and an array of additional options we might undertake.
As a kid I often imagined my bedroom into a boat. I planned to sail away in solitude and self-sufficiency…
I would stockpile “important” things in my room—often things I wasn’t allowed to have in my room (food!)—in preparation for my imaginary cast-off, and I would invest quite a lot of thought into (and derive quite a lot of pleasure from) this made-up scenario of having everything I wanted within reach at once. Before the word “Prepper” was even invented, I was practicing it with my play.
Fast-forward some decades, and I get to play “Boat” for real. Setting aside for a moment the horrifying reason why FOUR BILLION people are Playing Boat, I’m kind of acting out a kid-fantasy here. And—Bonus!—the invention of the Internet in the interim makes it even easier to “nest” contentedly in my home.
I feel that same sense of harbored hideaway–though the “important” items have shifted in form.
Forty years ago I was curating a different set of belongings, a different perspective of priorities–though with some definite overlaps. Back then I gathered up my teddy bear Toots, my blanket Pinky, my Nancy Drew collection, my diary, “Mr. Sketch” scented markers, flashlight and sleeping bag, Fisher-Price medical kit, a Triple-A “triptic” flip-book of maps, the contraband snacks… The Lutheran hymnal (filched from my parents’ shelf under the misapprehension that this was the “holy-and-important” church-book)…
My Kodak Instamatic camera and our Fisher Price tape-recorder (because even though I didn’t yet know the word “journalist,” I wanted to document my expedition)…
And stationery. I intended to write home.
Why am I reminiscing about this? Because suddenly we are living in the 2020 Pandemic, and we are SUPPOSED to Play Boat, all of us. Stock up with whatever you consider “essentials” and stay self-sufficient while hunkering down at home. We “go ashore” to provision (properly masked, gloved, wiped, and sanitized) and then we stay aboard our own boats. With only our own shipmates.
Toilet-paper jokes abound: this has been THE “panic purchase.” Inexplicably.
(By the way, that plaque was in my bathroom before the Great TP Privation of 2020. Just think: we can tell our awe-struck grandkids how toilet paper used to be so expendable we’d festoon teachers’ whole yards with it!)
Fortunately, I do have TP. And coffee. And laundry soap, eggs, deodorant, coffee creamer, kitty litter, prescription meds. Mini “Cutie” oranges. We haven’t been to the grocery store for more than two weeks, so the bananas are gone. And I’m out of Diet Dr. Pepper.
But we do have a new electric teapot, and we’re trying different teas. We have two-player games. I walk, in increments of time measured by “Outlander” episodes (I promised I’d ONLY watch when I’m on the treadmill!—Yes, I bribe myself). I have a “puzzle mat” to roll up an in-progress jigsaw and preserve its pieces from our cats. I’m working my way through archives of New York Times crosswords and a cache of logic puzzles on my iPad.
And hey, Toots is still aboard!–>
And LOTS of books.
No stationery, perhaps, but still an urge to write.
I’ve been posting blurbs on FaceBook every day, jokingly labeling them as entries in a “Captain’s Log”— carrying on my game of imagining my home into a boat. (An anchored boat, to be sure; my Google Maps cheerfully reported I traveled six miles in March.) It’s a string of the little goofy observations about Isolation Life (Day Twenty-Seven, by the way)….
Like trying to swipe open my grocery list at the store but my phone’s “facial recognition” doesn’t work with the mask. Or that our 2020 Home Projects list is unexpectedly done—so now what? Or how my mom & I exchanged pics of our propped-up feet and TV screens, watching the same Netflix show “together.” Or that my daily social life consists of greeting the mailman and UPS guy through my glass door. Or which is the more important protective gear when we took the motorcycle to the store: the helmet, or the mask? Or the difficulty of conveying an emotion with the “masked” emoticon. Or What the hell DAY is it? (With the follow-up: why would it matter?)
On the high seas of the nineteenth century, a cry of “Sail ho!” on a whaleship often augured a GAM–a social ritual of pulling alongside another ship to exchange news and mail.
But what is a gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster’s ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick
These days, of course, you can find the word in twenty seconds on Dictionary.com or practically any glossary short of UrbanDictionary’s. And if you pause there with your hand on that mouse… You are, in fact, possessed of the mechanism of the modern gam. (Possessed by it, perhaps—but that’s a whole different conversation.) That’s right, let’s hear it for Zoom gams, because my boat-ride could feel a lot more isolated than it does.
“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s OUT THERE.” ~Gandalf, to Bilbo Baggins
I’m grateful for books and maps when I’m not traveling… But given the choice, I prefer travel! Of course, my travels won’t involve a dragon (unless it’s the dragon-kite we flew on the beach last year), so I don’t need to muster as much courage as Bilbo did…
Hopefully we’re also better prepared than Mr. Baggins, who had to make do without his left-behind pocket handkerchief. We, at least, had time for a packing-list.
Still, what’s a journey without an obstacle? Ours was not a fire-breathing dragon, but a diesel-spewing fuel line just outside of Burns, Oregon. Jon climbed up and disappeared under the hood, emerging with some of his creative not-quite-cussword vocabulary… and the part we’d need replaced.
Just as we were about to (laboriously) unload the motorcycle from its trailer, prayer-for-an-assist got answered in the person of a Sheriff, who gave Jon a lift to town—and then proceeded to take him from shop to shop in search of the part we needed. At High Desert Diesel (bless their hearts!) they took the part off a truck that was in their shop for repair (and would be there anyway till after the new part came in).
The High Desert guy drove Jon back out to where I was standing guard on the truck (well, ok—sitting guard, in my camping chair. With a book. And a sandwich) and Jon had it fired up in about three minutes flat!
One of the things I love about a road trip is the lovely, lengthy conversation it often becomes. With so much time unfilled by other stimuli, we TALK. About work, about stories from our past, about pipe dreams, about goofy abstracts. We made up verses for a new song. We talked about things we saw, and things those things reminded us of…
I sat for hours with the open road-atlas on my lap, tracing our route landmark by landmark as we talked. I know, I know—my phone could have told us where to go… But you know what? Like Bilbo, I DO love a map. Especially combined with SEEING the world that’s “in” it.
My dad used to say that the enjoyment of travel was divided into three parts: 1) planning & anticipating; 2) the trip itself; and 3) re-living the memories. I always suspected he got his greatest amount of enjoyment from that first category—the man was a planner! He put together a six-month road trip through Europe in 1984 with every night pre-planned and reserved, all arranged by letter in that pre-internet era… So he knew trip-planning!
I’ve been feeling some of the same thrill this week as we prep and pack for our week on the Oregon Coast, leaving tomorrow. Jon has the truck half-loaded with camping gear and scuba gear, and our packing-list is growing even as we cross things off.
The weather report for the whole week looks gorgeous—sunny and in the 60s, when we could have expected Oregon rain—and we’re talking eagerly about poking through tide pools, climbing the lighthouse, eating clam chowder, visiting the aquarium, motorcycling along the coastal highway (we’re driving the truck and trailering a bike), flying a kite on the beach, scuba diving along the shoreline, maybe even taking out a fishing charter…
We always get asked if we’re “taking the house” on vacation with us—a reasonable question, since we live in an RV, but no. We have reservations at a lovely campground right by the shore, and we’re perfectly comfortable in a tent. Besides, I think it would feel like “cheating”—less of an adventure—if we didn’t leave home when we left home. (True, we wouldn’t have to pack if we hauled the home… But it’s a big rig, and so much more than we need for the week!)
Yesterday morning Facebook popped up one of its suggested “one-year-ago” memories to re-post: a photo of us on the coast last summer. Perfectly timed to amp up my excitement!
We just stopped at Walmart for a cooler and sandwich-fixin’s, and came home to pack our suitcase. I must be a girl—I took more than my half!
My 13-year-old daughter asked me last week if I’ve seen “Wonder Woman.” When I shook my head, she grasped my arm and leaned toward me earnestly. “It’s beautiful. You have to see it.” Accordingly, we made plans to see it together yesterday. She’s right—the movie is beautifully done, and though I’m more a “Pirates of the Caribbean” kind of girl, I enjoyed the artistic accomplishments of the film, as well as my artistic daughter’s appreciation of it.
The really precious time, though, was after the movie, when we came out from the chilly air-conditioned theater to sit on a padded bench in the sunshine. We both put up our sandaled feet (with matching turquoise toenails–we tend to share an aesthetic) on the table in front of us and leaned back into the cushions—she rested her head on my shoulder and we held hands while we listened to the music piped out over the “entertainment square” and chatted until her ride arrived.
I suppose a “silver lining” of not having custody is that we don’t have the usual parent-teen conflicts going on, and the time we do spend together is usually spent in meaningful conversation. Last week we talked about her art, her friendships, the social dynamics of junior high, her thoughts about eighth grade, her current reading, and some “woman things” that I can hardly believe I’m discussing with my little girl… (Well, she may a young one—but she IS a woman now…)
My mother has promised to take each of the kids on a special Spring Break trip during high school. My son Christian knew exactly what he wanted to do, so they went sea kayaking in Mexico last year. Elena Grace, though, hasn’t come up with a plan for her trip, so yesterday we were brainstorming some of the adventurous things she likes to do. Turns out zip-lining is high on her list, so I texted my mother to see how she feels about that. (She’s not wild about heights, but she’s plenty adventurous—she kayaks and river-rafts and fly-fishes and scuba dives and travels around the world, and she just bought herself an RV for further adventuring!) I got a text back from her with a thumbs-up.
Today the kids are heading north for the first of a couple summer adventures with “Grandy,” as they call my mom. This first one will be taking out a crab boat in the Washington coast’s Deception Pass, and later they’re staying in a Montana cabin and going kayaking. Elena Grace says she’s been looking forward to the trip, but at the same time hasn’t gotten up sufficient interest or energy to pack for it. (“Wait, you’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?” … “Well, yes…”)
She thought for a moment and then observed, “I’ve been really lazy this last month since school let out. I’m kind of enjoying it, and kind of feel guilty about it at the same time. I’m just hanging out with my phone or my friends, or going swimming some days. And I know I’ll have fun on the trip, but I’m not in that mode yet.”
Another moment of thought, and she added: “You know that thing about how moving things keep moving, and things that aren’t moving stay still?”
Yup, that’s Newton’s First Law of Physics. “Inertia,” I supplied—and she seized on the word.
“Exactly. I’m feeling inertia. I haven’t been in motion, so it’s hard to get in motion.”
It’s an apt observation, and true of more things in life than just summer vacation. (It’s probably why my husband brings me coffee in bed before I even get up—I have a serious inertia-issue before my caffeine kicks in!)
She texted late last night to say she still hadn’t gotten around to packing. “Inertia?” I asked. “Laundry!” she replied, with an emoticon-grimace. Ah well, she’ll get it done—she inherited her mother’s propensity for procrastination (along with the associated ability to get things done in a last-minute flurry). She’s my own little Wonder Woman.
Because I’m a sailboat skipper, I’m amused by RV terminology that borrows from the marine arena. Like the “shore cord”—the cord we plug in at an RV park to power the rig’s electrical system. On a sailboat a shore cord (which you’d plug in at the dock when you stay in a marina) makes sense—it goes from the boat to shore.
So today’s list is about ways that RV-living reminds me of sailboat-living. (Just add water.) And some ways that RV-or-sailboat-living is different from living in a house…
The toilet flushes with a foot pedal. [What does it say about me that this is the first thing that comes to mind?] This is reminiscent of every sailboat I’ve ever chartered. And to add to the illusion: the skylight over the shower is just like a sailboat hatch.
We have to pay attention our blackwater tank. We leave our gray tanks (sinks & shower) open all the time, but we empty and rinse the black (toilet) tank about once a week, keeping it closed and dosed with a chemical treatment between-times. Most people pay extra money for “RV toilet paper” that’s supposed to break down more easily in the blackwater tank. We opt to use the trash can instead—that way we never worry about our tank getting clogged. I don’t even think about it any more, until I find myself reaching for a trash can when I’m on a “land-based” toilet. (TMI?)
Spaces have multiple uses. Our bed lifts up to reveal storage beneath. Our garage has seats and a bed that can be lowered from the ceiling when we need more “living” space. The stove and kitchen sink convert to countertops. We set up our Total Gym in the garage when the seats retract to the ceiling. The bench at the foot of the bed holds our linens. The bunk above our kitchen doubles as storage space since we don’t host overnight guests. Even the back wall of the garage can be lowered down to create a porch, complete with railings. (It also doubles as the ramp up which we drive the motorcycle when it’s getting parked indoors for a move.)
Things have multiple uses. We don’t own a dozen pots and pans; we own one “red copper” frying pan and one deep square red copper pan (which can go in the oven, be a stovetop pot, or serve with a frying basket). The stand for our bedroom space heater is really a stack of boxes that hold photos and sewing stuff. The sewing machine in its case is the “shelf” where I perch my purse. Our TV trays serve in roles ranging from dinner-table to computer-desk. Almost everything does more than one thing.
We have power back-ups. When the “shore cord” is unplugged, our fridge and water heater switch to propane power and our lights run on solar. If need be, we can run the onboard generator. (“Onboard.” There’s another marine-echo…)
“Outside” is part of the living space. It’s not a sailboat deck, but we eat dinner and hang out on our patio for most of the year. We didn’t host dinner parties during the winter, but we do have some merry patio-parties under the “fairy lights” built into our awning.
We hear the weather. Rain on the roof is a lovely sound, though we couldn’t even converse through a hailstorm last fall! Combined with the outside living, I feel closer to the weather and the world than I ever did in a house.
We don’t buy many things in bulk. Just toilet paper and coffee. For the most part, we buy other things as we need them. We don’t keep a cupboard full of canned goods or “stock” supplies—we buy them as recipes call for them, or as we’re actually going to use them. (The glaring exception here would be the pickles, which we canned ourselves last summer and have in abundance!)
We can’t move the furniture. Everything is built in, from the bed to the couch to the huge surround-sound TV in the garage that we’ve never turned on. This is one reason to choose a rig with a configuration you actually like. (And yes, we have a few notes about layout that we’ll keep in mind when we decide to trade this one in… Especially the kitchen.)
Space gets cluttered easily, but clean-up is quick! There’s just not that much house to clean. By the same token, it usually doesn’t take long to find something I’ve misplaced. There just aren’t that many places to look.
We’ve learned to live without an “entryway” for dirty shoes and without a coat closet for the helmets and motorcycle jackets. I just vacuum more often, and the otherwise-unused end of the couch collects coats.
When someone knocks at the door, they’re looking at our knees when we open it. The steps up are so steep, the front door is most-of-a-person taller than the person standing outside. I usually come down the steps to talk because standing elevated in the doorway feels awkward.
We never have to pack. Well, OK, “never” is an exaggeration. We still have to pack when we go camping (to the mountains where we wouldn’t drag the monster RV), or on a motorcycle trip, or to visit my mom. But we’ve moved four times without packing a single box. And if we wanted to, we could take the whole house on a trip with us—we can go almost anywhere without “leaving home.”
RVers are unabashedly interested in each other’s homes, in ways that brick-house-neighbors would never admit to. Even models with the same name come in different configurations, and we all seem to get a charge out of seeing how individual rigs are laid out. Home repairs (like last weekend’s replacement of our roof-fan to the bathroom) are carried out publicly and discussed in detail (our near neighbor, who also has a Grand Design Momentum, called for Jon’s help for the same repair, just days later). We commiserate about design flaws, brainstorm solutions, swap stories of difficulties, share winterizing materials, and unashamedly ask to see inside each other’s homes. It would never cross my mind to ask a casual acquaintance to show me their bathroom or closets in a brick-and-mortar house, but it doesn’t even phase me to be asked the same here. All in all, it’s the same sense of shared adventure and camaraderie (maybe minus the bathroom-tours) that you’d find among sailors moored at a marina.
We don’t do laundry at home. I thought this would be a major pain in the neck, but truthfully it’s not that much more work to walk a basketful of dirties over to the park’s laundry than it would be to walk it to a laundry-room in a house. Initially I thought I’d be begging for a washer/dryer in our rig, but now I wouldn’t trade the closet space for that minor convenience. An amusing side-note: thanks to the coin-op laundry, quarters are a hot commodity around here—definitely higher-than-face-value. Part of my pay, working for the RV park, comes in the form of rolled quarters every month!
Getting professional home-repair done is a pain, because it can involve dropping off your home somewhere, and being homeless while it gets worked on. Our rig has a number of issues that are covered by the warranty, but we’re waiting for our vacation-week this summer to take it in to the dealer while we’re out of town. There is a mobile RV-Repair guy who makes frequent visits to the park—but Jon can do pretty much everything Jake does. (Side-note: it’s an unbelievable blessing to be married to a Useful Person when you’re living in an RV! Jon’s “automotive technician” skills spill over to a lot of handy-work for which other people are calling Jake.) For the major stuff (e.g. rear A/C unit that hasn’t worked since we bought it) it’s a shame to let that warranty go to waste, but I’m betting a lot of people pay Jake rather than hand over their homes for “drydock” repair.
“Home decor” mostly means decals (which won’t fall off the wall) and velcro under knick-knacks (so they won’t fall off the ledge). It also means we don’t have a lot of knick-knacks, because horizontal space is scarce. My Willow-Tree angels and his dad’s service flag are all velcroed in place so we don’t have to fuss when we move.
Internet connection is precious. Theoretically the park has free wi-fi, but it doesn’t really reach most of us most of the time. Since we can’t hardwire a cable, I finally invested in a wifi hotspot so I could get my freelance writing done (and yes, blogging too) but I spend my online-time watching the “meter” running in the corner of my screen, trying to get my gigs to last as long as possible.
We’ve gotten creative to keep things organized and accessible. Lacking bedside tables, we used to keep a basket by each side of the bed with the various things we’d use there—books, medications, phones, water bottles, kleenex… And we’d always be rummaging to find what we wanted, till I made us each an organizer to hang by the bed, with pockets for those items. I’m thinking I should market these things! (And send a cut to my mom, who used to make similar organizers for our crayons and coloring books in the back of the car…)
Christmas-shopping just got challenging. My mother expressed as much when she asked, “What do you get for the person who’s already gotten rid of almost everything I ever gave her?” For the record, I’ve kept lots of things she gave me—but she does make a point. When space is scarce and belongings minimized, gift-giving takes on a whole new aspect… So one of these days (before next Christmas!) I’ll do a list of ideas.
This list could go on, but if you’ve made it this far you’re already a tenacious reader…
When I was a kid, I used to pretend my bedroom was a sailboat. That particular game-of-Pretend requires rather less in the way of imagination these days! (A girl’s gotta have dreams… Just sayin’.)
Boise Idaho is bearing up under record-breaking conditions this week. We have more snow on the ground than EVER. (Well, at least the “ever” that dates from 1875 when someone started measuring.) We have wind-chill warnings for -25F and more snow on the way, possibly to be followed next week by rain, of all things, and likely flooding… All that to say that I’m not going out much this week!
Aside from my “commute” to the RV park office (thankfully, only a three-minute walk) I’m playing Hobbit and holing up in the cozy confines of our RV! Nevertheless, my mind is free to wander. No, wait—that’s not what I meant. My mind is free to travel, and I’ve decided that this is going to be my Year of the Travelogue.
My mom & Jon & I watched “The Way” (Martin Sheen & Emilio Estevez, 2010) during our Christmas visit, and it fired up my already-engaged gears on the subjects of Travel and Experience. I’m ultra-aware right now of the possibilities inherent in living-on-wheels, and the travel-bug isn’t new to me… Even more than GOING places, though, it’s an urge to EXPERIENCE places, which is what that film really explored (in my opinion). And that’s not to exclude whatever place I am right now, even when that might be holed-up-at-home.
For over a week now, I’ve had the Wikipedia-page for “Rihla” open on my iPhone, and it keeps drawing me back.
… the genre of work called Rihla … or the creative travelogue: a mix of personal narrative, description, opinion and anecdote…
I abhor travel guides, but I love travelogues. And I think this excerpt from Arabic culture has nailed the distinction: a travelogue is a creative and personal work. It’s a work about a person’s experience, rather than merely about a place. (It’s what this blog is for me.) Continue reading “2017: A Year for Reading Rihla”→