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Thursday, February 07, 2008

I'll be BACK... (I AM BACK!)

Three hundred fifty-eight days
eighteen thousand two hundred thirty-one miles later…

I have returned…

Tonight, I sleep in my own room. My very own room.

(Check back in a week or two for a final blog entry -- OK, maybe not till the end of the month...)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And the hunter, home from the hill

The wild and windy night
that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I've been alone
and many times I've cried
Anyway you'll never know
the many ways I've tried

And still they lead me back
to the long and winding road
You left me standing here
a long, long time ago
Don't leave me waiting here,
lead me to you door

        -- Paul McCartney, 1969

A journey of 18,000 miles ends with a short drive north on Highway 99.

Tomorrow, I will take my time packing for the last time. I’ll take my two suitcases and backpack to the Saturn in a single trip – as I have dozens of times over the past 51 weeks; and I’ll pile them in the back seat. I’ve opened the trunk only occasionally as nearly all that I need resides in the three portable containers.

I suspect that the miles will flash by as I continue experiencing the mixed feelings that began when I arrived in California a few weeks ago: in some ways, I really don’t want this trip to end.

It has been a wonderful experience, it has been transformational. I will never regret this time spent on the road – alone, but communing with more individuals than during any other period of my life.

As I return to Merced, I know that I am now a person with whom others enjoy spending time. I am an entertaining and engaging companion at the dinner table. I am able to speak to groups of people and capture their attention and interest.

Though most of my character flaws remain intact, I believe I’ve become more adept in avoiding pitfalls and – while not sacrificing my principles – I am able to engage in friendly interaction that is not competitive or confrontational.

When I land in Merced, I will immediately begin my next adventure – a physical transformation into a more healthy and fit state. Having just completed an extended journey will, I believe, improve my chances of success. I intend to make steady progress over an extended period – probably about two years.

And, at the end of this new trip, I hope to “arrive” at a different kind of destination: I hope to become comfortable inside my own skin and to rediscover a high level of endurance, mobility and strength. It’s an exciting prospect and I am motivated.

Tomorrow, then will mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

I may not be making many more entries in this Wandering Dave blog. I hope to write one or more articles for publication elsewhere and will likely focus my creative energies in that direction.

Ev'ry stop is neatly planned
for a poet and a one-man band.
Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound,
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

        -- Paul Simon, 1965

Saturday, February 02, 2008

And I was there

“It was amazing,” the college student cum journalist was emoting about a road trip he and a few buddies had taken out into the desert. “I never knew there were that many stars.”

Young journalists who write columns or “thought pieces” often fall into a syndrome I call “…and I was there.” They report incidents that occur for the first time in their lives but which tend not to be particularly amazing to older folks.

The novelty of such events is quickly lost as years go by and I suspect most readers experience ho-hum reactions to wide-eyed descriptions of firsts that aren’t news to them.

“There was no traffic. Like, I mean absolutely NO TRAFFIC. We parked the car and I lay on my back, right … in the MIDDLE … of the road! It was awesome to discover that there are roads where practically no cars go by late at night.”

Listening to a travel report on public radio this morning, it occurred to me that such accounts lend themselves to the same kind of naïveté – an innocent, inexperienced sort of response that’s at least 80 percent amazement.

By gilding the lilies, travel writers sometimes tend to eliminate mosquitoes or other negatives. The beauty of desert landscapes described without mention of heat, blowing sand and a level of discomfort that is literally life threatening without artificial shelter (have you considered that it’s called Death Valley for a reason?)

The idea of writing some sort of traditional travelogue about my trip never felt like a good one. I tend to be more interested in ideas and events than in places or vistas. Maybe the requirement that one overlook some negatives in order to present positives more –well, more positively – keeps me from embracing this genre.

In any event, I probably haven’t shared enough of the sense of awe that I’ve actually experienced along the way when encountering natural beauty. I can’t imagine anyone driving 18,000 miles of American highways without gaining an appreciation for the vastness and majesty of the land.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the 3.5 million square miles is that, even in the 21st century, one can still lie on their back in the middle of most of the 4 million miles of streets, roads and highways late at night without being disturbed by traffic.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rolling on the river

I've been to town,
I've walked the highways
and in the suburbs too.

I've done some things
I never thought I'd ever do.

Now as I stand here
looking down at you,
you ask me why it is I frown.

I guess it's 'cause I've been to town.

I've been to town
beyond the boulevard
and down the beach,

I've learned some things
that only time can teach,

For instance,
love is more than just a speech,

It's got to find a common ground,

I know 'cause I've been to town.

Don't tell me any more,
I can't waste any more years,

I've seen my image in your eyes,

Dissolve in disappointed tears.

I've been to town,
you ask me do I know the Milky Way,

I do, and furthermore I'd like to say

It isn't milky white, it's dingy gray,

Especially when your world breaks down,

I know because I've been to town.

        -- Rod McKuen, 1969
At the end of just about any endeavor, there’s a tendency toward waxing philosophical. One doesn’t want an enterprise that has consumed time and other resources to have been insignificant.

And yet, after all of the sound, fury and scurrying from place to place, so many episodes in my life – including the current road trip which is ending in about a week – seem to signify little, perhaps nothing.

Sitting within reach of the finish line (I could abort the final week’s itinerary and be home in five or six hours), I’m wondering when the trip will really end. Will it be over when I shut off the engine in Merced? Will it take longer – days, weeks, perhaps months – to reach “closure? ”

Perhaps, since my thoughts have turned more and more toward what comes next, the trip has already ended.

One of my favorite stories is from the time I worked at a small-town radio station. The station manager and sports guy decided to broadcast a downtown parade from inside the radio car. My duty was to manage the broadcast from the studio.

It was only after the entries began moving that our broadcast team realized that – from their vantage point in the middle of the line of march – they couldn’t actually see the parade. They ended up reporting on the parade route, describing the crowd and the buildings along the way.

Needless to say, it was an entertaining narrative – I was rolling on the studio floor.

Speaking of parades, some 2600 years earlier (before Socrates), a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus is reported to have noted that it is impossible to step into the same river twice. Asserting the opposite – that no river can pass through the same place twice – seems axiomatic.

Does being the river (or the parade) – and moving through time and space in a somewhat deliberate fashion – offer an improvement over staying in place alongside the river and dealing with the flotsam and jetsam that drift past?

Being on the road certainly provides the illusion of having control over things. Wanderers are in charge of their speed and direction; but much remains out of their control. Those who remain in place can insulate themselves from much of what courses past – but there is no protection from some impacts.

Good grief!

How did I ever get to the point where my quotes and catchy phrases are coming from Heraclitus? 500 B.C., For crying out loud.

It’s a good thing that I’m almost home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lights out!

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;

They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -

We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,

And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;

So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,

For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,

And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;

And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,

There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;

It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;

It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,

For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;

There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.

And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,

No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;

Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.

Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,

Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,

And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.

Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-

"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,

Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.

"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;

And it’s likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;

He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;

He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;

But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;

But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.

They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,

And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;

He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,

And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

        -- Ernest Lawrence Thayer, 1888

Destiny seemed to have kicked in. By pure happenstance, I drew closer and closer to my home town of San Diego as the home-town Chargers fought their way through tough competitors in a series of “must win” games toward the Division Championship.

Lo, and behold, at the end of my westward trek I found the Golden State basking in the sunshine and preparing for a post-season that held out the possibility of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in history – and winning.

In their path were the undefeated and untied New England Patriots. But the Chargers had faced this team earlier and done well. In a fan frenzy, it seemed that local residents were united in not merely a hope, but the expectation that their gridders .

The San Diego skies were blue, blue, blue – emulating shades used on Charger uniforms over the years and it definitely appeared as if everything might be coming up roses (or what ever flower goes with the Super Bowl…) The Patriots had forgotten it was possible to lose a game and were definitely looking past the Chargers – and the Chargers seemed primed line few teams have ever been primed.

Victory was within reach.

And the game was close – one single good break could well have made the difference. But the stars failed to shine and the Patriots were just a little too much for the stalwarts (who deserve more credit, as is true for almost all of those who toil in the line and on special teams) to manage without a few breakaway touchdowns (they scored NO touchdowns) and interceptions run back for 6 points (they scored NO touchdowns) and punts or kickoffs returned to the opposite end zone (did I mention that the Chargers scored NO touchdowns yesterday?).

This morning, the skies are overcast and a gloom has settled on the city. Tens of thousands of Charger jerseys have been tossed into the laundry bin, later to be folded and put away until…in case…the team gets back in contention next year.

The fate of the franchise – which has been in town since I was a boy – is uncertain as a power struggle is underway regarding construction of a new, new stadium. There’s a chance the Chargers could relocate before long – it’s even possible that they might even end up in the hated and dread Los Angeles area.

I’ll probably be living up there, but I’d take no joy (and be a far less enthusiastic fan) in having to root for the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s a moniker that sounded wrong even when I learned that the team actually began in L.A. and was originally called the LAC. There’s definitely something LACing in that handle…

The gloom as only increased as the morning has proceeded. Now, it looks as if it’s going to rain, today. Lonely, lonely.

without you,

Oh, I need you; I can't go on

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore

The moon ain't gonna rise in the sky

Tears are always clouding your eyes

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore

Lonely without you

        -- Walker Brothers, 1965

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No place like home

Lord, I'm one, Lord, I'm two,
Lord, I'm three, Lord, I'm four,
Lord, I'm five hundred miles a way from home.

Away from home, away from home,
away from home, away from home,
Lord, I'm five hundred miles away from home.

Not a shirt on my back,
not a penny to my name.
Lord, I can't go back home this-a way

        -- Hedy West, 1963

In his book of the same title, Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.”

It’s a sad conclusion; particularly considering the fact that most of his writing was autobiographical and celebrated his boyhood home in North Carolina.

Of course, Wolfe died before reaching age 38, even before his book was printed; so he had limited opportunities for attempting to go home and no opportunity to engage in discussions and reflections on a theory he might have changed had he lived longer.

For me, “home” can mean only one place: the house on Middlesex Drive in San Diego where I lived between 1957 and 1967 – plus, on a temporary basis, for a few intervals thereafter. Forty years later I believe I can clearly remember all kinds of details and, in my mind’s eye, can bring the building and grounds into crystal clarity. This is not true for any other home I’ve occupied – though it is true, interestingly, for a few workplaces.

I’d have to say that everywhere I’ve lived since leaving Middlesex has felt like – and has proved to be – a temporary arrangement. In a sense, it’s fair to say that I’ve really had only one “home” in all my life.

Well, up until last week, I would have agreed with Wolfe. Simple economics make it unlikely that I could afford to move back to San Diego. Since my mother sold the Middlesex property ten or so years ago, I’ve pretty much given up any thoughts of becoming a homeowner back in San Diego.

Until a few days ago, my plan was to return to central California and then make a leisurely move back to the Los Angeles area where I would either rent or purchase a condo. I have a couple of fallback plans, including extending my stay in the Valley; but the housing market down south seems amenable to buyers and I planned to strike while the iron was hot (and then hope for an upturn to justify my speculative purchase).

Suddenly, the situation changed. After leaving our family home behind, my mother joined another family and moved into THEIR home. This house has a strong “home” aura – having been the happy abode of nice folks. Better yet, it’s in a neighborhood I’ve lusted after since I was a teen – the beach!

The house is actually a bit more than a mile from the shore, but what a shore! Pacific Beach is probably second only to my old haunt, Mission Beach as an inviting venue. Living minutes away from that broad swath of sand – and back in the general environs where I came of age – is an inviting prospect.

And the house will be sold … to someone … soon.

The current buyer’s market means the price will be depressed a bit – hopefully temporarily. And my folks desire to get moved with the least possible amount of hassle relating to getting the place ready to show and moving everything out before closing makes me an inviting potential buyer from whom they might take a somewhat lower offer in return for making their transition fairly painless and for allowing them to store possessions at the house indefinitely.

And so, when I drive into San Diego County tomorrow, it may be the first stage of going home again. There are plenty of potential slips between the Pacific and my bare feet in the sand; but the prospect is rather exciting – and that’s adding a new dimension to my trip and my outlook.

To be honest, the odds are against this working out. San Diego real estate prices tend to be unreal. But, it’s been fun to consider – if just for a few days – that Thomas Wolfe might just be wrong and I can go home again…

A chair is still a chair
Even when there’s no one sitting there
But a chair is not a house
And a house is not a home
When there's no one there to hold you tight,
And no one there you can kiss good night.

A room is still a room
Even when there's nothing there but gloom;
But a room is not a house,
And a house is not a home
When the two of us are far apart
And one of us has a broken heart.

        -- Burt Bacharach, 1964

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm no Shakespeare

Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I've gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won't give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am

That far-away prize, a world of success
Is waiting for me if I heed the call
I won't settle down, won't settle for less
As long as there's a chance that I can have it all

I'll go it alone, that's how it must be
I can't be right for somebody else
If I'm not right for me
I gotta be free, I've gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I've gotta be me

I'll go it alone, that's how it must be
I can't be right for somebody else
If I'm not right for me
I gotta be free, I just gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I gotta be me

        -- Sammy Davis, Jr., 1968

January 15, clear, sunny skies and 69 degrees at 4:30. I’m back in shorts and T-shirt, enjoying the comfort and freedom that provides, and thankful that weather has been no problem during the past eleven months on the road.

And the elements aren’t all that has cooperated. My little Saturn has performed magnificently. I’m a terrible owner – failing miserably to perform routine maintenance and allowing all forms of detritus to accumulate on the interior and exterior of the vehicle – but the car has not let me down; not once.

My body – also having been subjected to both neglect and abuse – has been equally dependable. It’s survived two bouts of the flu and a few upset stomachs; but no injuries or other failures that could easily have sidelined me or shortened the trip. I’ve been lucky and am grateful to whatever powers that may have contributed to that good fortune.

Modern technology has not let me down on this trip. I’ve characteristically ventured forth without consulting a map – confident that my GPS navigator would direct me to the chosen destination. And it did. My first unit served me well, but failed at about the halfway point. I sought repairs to no avail and decided to just invest in a new unit. That proved to be a wise decision as I’ve not been confused about my whereabouts at all during this adventure – and that’s a wonderful change from previous experience.

The facilities I’ve occupied – operated by the Holiday Retirement Corporation – have been simply wonderful. I’ve been a bit cramped in a few of the guest rooms, but (as I am doing right now) have always been able to utilize spacious common areas. I’m currently seated in the third-floor game room beside an open window where I enjoy a nice afternoon breeze.

The people who run these facilities have been willing to bend over backwards to make my stay pleasant. And the residents… Well, if I do write a book I’ll still be unable to communicate what it has been like to spend time in conversation with hundreds and hundreds of members of my parents’ generation.

When I cut south, a few hours ago, leaving Interstate 10 enroute to I-8 and Yuma, I passed a sign that told me I was close enough to home that I could almost certainly have made it there before midnight. A week ago, I was eager for the trip to end; but I’m beginning to wish I were still heading into unfamiliar territory.

The road has been just about everything to me for nearly a year. Soon, I’ll have to turn my attention to other matters. Income taxes, dental appointments, updating of all kinds of things I’ve neglected for so long, re-establishing customs, traditions, standard procedures and all of the humdrum, everyday, routine, predictable, largely meaningless, time-consuming, life-draining, uninspiring behaviors that always seem to end with a question:

“Where did the time go?”

Thirty-five states and six Canadian provinces. About 18,000 miles and nearly a year. More than 1,500 breakfast, lunch and dinner partners. Seventy-five temporary homes. Hundreds of new friends whose names I never really learned and whom I’ll never see again.

I’m glad to be ending this trip as Spring approaches. Though I used to favor Summer, I’m now a fan of lengthening days, new birth and growth, warming temperatures and a sense that it’s always possible to start again – even, perhaps, to be born again and start over.

Oh, man!

It takes a lot of nerve to NOT delete a lot of this and never let it see the light of day. Maybe there is something of significance in there, though, so I’ll cover my eyes and post this sappy blog (and pity those who may take time to read it).

As the sun slowly sets west of Yuma…