Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Vacation

The idea had been to drive to St Augustine to meet my sister and brother in law and park the van in their hotel lot, sleep in it and visit the city taking care to eat outdoors and take the normal precautions against the coronavirus. I never thought much of this plan as I considered it highly risky with no certainty of Covid compliance in restaurants where we might end up sitting indoors. My in-laws are in their seventies and my wife has no immune system so I was of the mind that such a plan might end up leaving me as the sole survivor - possibly as coronavirus works in mysterious ways and my wife could easily outlive me...we live in weird times.
Happily the sisters saw sense long after the family eccentric wrote this plan off and they joined me on the sensible side of the coronavirus fence and called off contact for this holiday season. My sister in law sounded genuinely disappointed she wasn't going to see me which is an emotion that fills me with surprise. My unfortunate habit of speaking my mind and only later realizing what stupid shit I said makes me a difficult dinner table companion among polite company that doesn't know, or is not married to, my personality quirks. The van in the company of my ever patient wife and adoring dog is actually quite relaxing for a socially incompetent individual. Coronavirus justifies all sorts of behavior usually considered mildly to severely eccentric among the socially well adjusted. The virus has been great social cover for me at horrible expense to normal people.
Van Life Florida
I asked my wife, who is in constant contact with dozens of people across the country, if I was weird in that I write e-mails to a couple of friends (thank you Webb, thank you Bruce) and feel content. "A bit" she said finally which usually means "a lot." All I can say in my defense is I am harmless even if odd. I got a caller at work asking about Florida's concealed carry laws for out of state visiting hauling armories with them. I haven't a clue about these things so I did what I do and I laboriously opened Google and asked the oracle to tell the caller what to do about carrying guns in Florida. The caller babbled on about needing to drive the length of Florida and " never know." And here we are, unarmed and lost in the middle of the appalling home wild unpredictable violence, which has yet to materialize.
Van Life Central Florida
Our first night on the road we pulled off and slept behind the old Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction, a place I stopped and ate in decades ago when I lived in Tampa and explored Central Florida on my wy to see friends on the Eats Coast. Nowadays it is a wreck, supplanted by a modern dreary fast food truck stop a quarter of a mile closer to the Turnpike Exit. My wife who in some respects is as eccentric a traveler as am I thought it was a perfect stop, free and private, marred only by passing traffic largely muffled by our well insulated van. I walked Rusty and she made dinner, Instapot beans collards and sausage related in the microwave. 
Florida Road Trip
I dislike how fearful everyone seems to have to be, afraid of the dark, of each other, of rumors and of discomfort.  When people talk about my infamous motorcycle wreck, knocked down by the classic distracted driver, the focus always is on my recovery but only I see it through the lens of 48 years of hospital-free riding. I have taken with me memories of life on the road on two wheels that feed my old age and push me to not sit back in retirement but to make one last effort to get over the horizon. It should be clear by now if this results in death dismemberment or a wheelchair we are both fully aware. Rusty on the other hand may view this simply as a lucky break from a life already filled with trauma loneliness and despair so I guess he has nothing to lose already. 
I would never recommend change and travel and risk to anyone, certainly my three sisters have stayed literally down on the farm their entire lives and are among the crowd of onlookers who view me as living with at least one screw loose, but if you think there is a thing you want to do and can't do it that is an irrevocable loss, whatever that thing may be. And all too often the collective stomps our dreams into dust for some reason I can't quite fathom. Beauty is everywhere and if you have to drive with a gun under the seat to give you the courage to go find it, then I say get on with it, but keep the safety catch on. I rode a lot, but with a helmet on my head that in the end did save my life. Risk assessment is part of the analysis of a sensible risk take.
As we drove my wife and I discussed travel and we came to a conclusion that has always swirled around our heads: we are travelers. We traveled by sailboat when we were younger but as capable as we were we neither of us lived to live on the water. We sailed in the company of a man who lived to sail, and even though his wife reined him in, Bob would have been happy sailing in circles, through the eye of the worst storm he could imagine, at night, in the vicinity of a reef. He was happy pulling up the anchor, where I was happy putting it down and looking at the shore and wondering what we would discover beyond the Customs office of the new culture we had landed upon. Webb Chiles is the same way: he would be just as happy to never stop sailing as he would be to step ashore and see things or places he has already seen ( and he has seen far more than have I). He is a sailor, I am a traveler.
These aren't value judgements, not least because in my eccentricity I don't place value on choices people make. I see the beauty in staying home and the economic value of not moving around. People who stay put end up with more money and more assets than butterflies like me. Some people make money off their obsessions but I have never had much interest in being a businessman. I take photos to please me, to remind me of my past as I took not enough pictures when I was young. I also try to find beauty through the lens because in do doing I find myself looking more closely at the world around me. As my time starts to run out one of the benefits of aging is taking the time to observe more closely in the sure and certain knowledge all of it will end.
"If we weren't practicing for retirement I'm pretty sure this isn't how I'd spend my weekends," I said to my wife as we searched fruitlessly for a wild campground away from General Gun Season in the forest. Rusty knows gunfire and remembers farmers chasing him with homicidal intent in the Redlands of Homestead. He doesn't even much like cameras so I can safely say he is a dog with his own phobias. The restrictions imposed by the virus have cut us off from our preferred explorations, a wide ranging mixture of urban and woodland. We cannot stop to visit museums, we cannot get closer to a restaurant than pre-paid curbside which does work very well with a van to use as a private booth. Visiting the wilderness is no longer part of a balanced mix of destinations, it is the only one at the moment and is another reason I hope the vaccination program is swift and efficient.
That we ordered the van built for us by Custom Coach in DeLand before the virus was pure coincidence but that we have it now is a great good fortune. We are still working out the details, practicing driving on sand, figuring out how to boondock which means camp where we can and leave no trace, learning to move around a small space without treading on each other even as we watch Rusty create his own new routines for a new life.
I want more time in Key West doing what we like to do, music art culture restaurants, sunrises and sunsets and seascapes and heat and humidity and silence and mangroves. I want to travel with both eyes open to any possibility instead of counting masks, checking crowds, pondering the odds and inevitably rejecting them as not worth it. I want the last nine months of isolation and deadening routine to have been worth it. I want people whose jobs depend on interaction and trade and normal patterns of life to be back at work properly. Just like you I want it all, even if in my case I prefer to watch it from the sidelines instead of seeking total immersion.Juniper Prairie Wilderness

For now we have the van, no complaints as it suits us well, and we have limited destinations which remain better than none and we can manage to feel like we are traveling for a little while at a time even if we are not strictly exploring. I read about loneliness and despair and a drive to risky behavior to get past the pandemic and I feel lucky to be weird. I feel lucky my wife and dog indulge me and as we close the year with one last small trip I hope next year, my last full year in the Keys, will do better than this one.