I can feel a certain excitement in my veins as I contemplate the next trip. This time, I will be better prepared. I will bring my tennis shoes, because I will be doing lots of walking. I will bring my sweater, which I forgot the last time I headed for the Rockey Mountains. I will bring the monocular that allows me to read street signs, because, in Fort Collins, the signs are either small, hang out over the intersections, or both. I have 31 days to prepare for this trip, whereas the last time, which was truly an impulse journey (and the partial fulfillment of a lifelong dream) came together in just two.
Where my last trip experience occurred on the hinge of spring and winter, this escape will take place after the official beginning of fall. I know to expect he unexpected when it comes to weather. Will I arrive in Indian summer, warm and beautiful, or will there be rainstorms that share the days?
I have been a restless traveler since I was a child. On one family weekend, visiting friends in San Diego, I remember walking on a county road in a rural area, and getting perhaps a hundred feet ahead of my parents. I loved climbing the hills, moving quickly, then taking my time as I descended. I never wanted it to stop.
I was seventeen when the gypsy bug truly bit me. Sitting at home one afternoon, a friend of mine called me on my new phone.
"Ishmael and I are going to Las Vegas tonight. Do you want to come?"
I talked to my parents. They weren't sure they wanted their blind teenager to go running off to Vegas, but at least I wouldn't be alone. My friends, Louis and Ishmael would be there. Louis was eighteen, and his brother, sixteen.
Another concern was money. I had a bank account, and I had some money. How much would I need? How long would we be gone? After a couple more quick phone calls, some negotiation between us would-be gypsies, we decided we would go for just the day. That first trip would last about thirty hours.
Permission was granted.
Midnight found us at the Greyhound station, waiting excitedly for our bus to arrive. I remember being surprised at how many people surrounded us. Some were heading south toward Mexico. Some were heading north to the central valley and beyond. But there was also a core group of us waiting to head east.
We arrived in Las Vegas about time for breakfast. None of us were legally allowed into the casinos to play the slots, but sticking together, we managed to stay clear of casino security as we dropped nickels, quarters, dollars into various slot machines.
Ishmael, the youngest of the group, was the lucky one, hitting a four-hundred-dollar jackpot on a quarter slot before lunch. Meanwhile, Louis and I kept playing, drinking all the free soda the casinos would provide us. We even had a couple alcoholic drinks during that day.
The bus that would take us home was scheduled for midnight. When we weren't gambling, we ventured out into the summer heat to explore the city on foot. We managed to explore several casinos during our eighteen-hour foray into a life we weren't yet old enough to legally partake.
By eleven that night, exhausted, yet still running on the excitement of what we were doing, we made our way back to the bus station. There would be about six hours to catch up on any sleep. For the moment we just swapped stories of things that we had seen and done.
Arriving back in Los Angeles at dawn on Sunday morning, we boarded a metro bus and headed back home.
There would be two more trips to Vegas that year: one with the three of us, the last with just Louis and me. By then, we had found the city enticing enough to get a hotel room where we could crash, thus extending the weekend from just a day-trip to a weekend. On none of these trips did I ever come out ahead monetarily.
Three Greyhound trips in the span of about four months, and the gypsy bug was definitely in me. I began to dream about taking a longer trip, perhaps a cross-country trip. I would stop in various places.
As a kid, I had gone on several family vacations that involved long car trips. My family had driven to Baja Mexico one year, and to Vancouver Canada another. Another year, we drove around the country visiting aunts and uncles and cousins: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, then Georgia. From Georgia we visited more family in South Carolina, then drove through North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. Eventually, we reached Illinois, where the bulk of my maternal relatives were living at the time.
Leaving Illinois, we moved through Wisconsin and Minnesota, visiting even more extended family, before beginning the homeward leg. South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and eventually we made our way back to Los Angeles.
Future family travels would be shorter, as my siblings and I grew older. We went to New Mexico one year. The next, we went to Colorado. These trips were necessitated by the movement of my older siblings, and they opened my eyes to areas of the country I had not seen, or had passed through on the way to somewhere else.
Fast forward now to 1989. At twenty-six, working in my first job, earning my own money, I decided one Thursday afternoon that I wanted to go away for the weekend. After a couple quick phone calls from my desk on my lunch break, I was ready.
I arrived at work that Friday morning with just a small backpack containing two days' worth of clothes. When a coworker asked me about my plans for the weekend, I told her I was going to San Diego.
"So you have to go home and pack?"
"No." I gestured at the backpack. "I'm leaving straight from here. I'm walking over to Union Station at four-fifteen."
She didn't believe me.
At four-fifteen, we walked out of the court together. She headed for the bus stop to go home, and I headed around the corner and on my two-block walk to catch a train.
I never quite bought into the American Dream. Owning a home has never held any appeal for me. Even after I married, and started a family, the idea of laying down roots was foreign to me. I thought I would change if and when I found the place where I wanted to stay permanently.
Before we married, Chris and I had talked about relocating. She didn't like (more truthfully, she hated) Los Angeles, and made me promise we would relocate as soon as a job could be found closer to northern California and her family. That wouldn't happen for five years, and would involve an earthquake, stairs leading to the apartment being torn from the wall, and a fortuitous phone call.
I had let my boss know I was interested in transferring. She must have said something to one of her colleagues, because two days after the ground had begun moving, I got a phone call.
"How would you like to come to San Francisco?"
A month later, I walked into the San Francisco office. I would be there for the next twelve years.
Where Chris never made a secret of her desire to put down roots, I've never hidden my gypsy impulses. The competing dreams eventually led to separation. Whatever our similarities, our shared faith, our love for our daughter, it wasn't enough to keep us bound. Just short of eleven years, we separated.
One of my long-term dreams is to set foot on all seven continents. For now though, I'll settle for exploring the continental United States, on bus when I can, on foot whenever possible, by train when I have the time, by plane when I don't
(To be continued)
Copyright (c) 2013 by the author.