My mid-life crisis has been subsidized. More on that later…
As a teenager growing up in Massachusetts, I would watch the VW busses drive by with envy and admiration. During my college years, the Vanagon Westfalia camper was my dream car. I would get excited whenever I saw one drive by. (In rural Massachusetts, this wasn’t that often.)
VW campers were a symbol of all that was adventurous. I knew that if I had one of these wonderful busses, I could get onto the nearest road and see all of America. On the road, you really see the country. Get off the interstate (where every Chevron and Burger King looks the same, corporate, sanitized for your comfort…) Drive down the thinnest dirt road on the map, and see what’s there. Don’t aim for the dot at the end, but rather your destination should be every point on that thin line. Stop at a creek and listen to the bugs. Walk around the inside of an abandoned old house. Fall in love.
Growing up on a farm in Massachusetts, a confused, insecure gay kid, I was a mess. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I wanted out. (Does every farm boy want out? Seems like it sometimes.) It’s not that the farm is a horrible place. It’s wonderful. We used to build forts in the bales of hay, chase the turkeys (dumb bastards), and wade in the brook getting leaches. If I was given a second chance, I’d go back there and do it again.
I picked the right school. UMass/Amherst is a old aggie school, and is surrounded by farmland. Rows of tobacco and drying barns have a comfortable beauty that almost makes up for the millions that the final product will kill. UMass was also a big school, full of people from all over. I swear to god, I met my first asian, black, and jewish friends at UMass. My people, the Rhode Island cajuns, just keep to themselves. Until recently, church services were still held in french.
Last year, at the age of 34, I bought my camper. A white 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon GL Westfalia Camper. Since then, it has become my sanctuary. I’ll be driving, with Ben Lee wailing on the CD player, and the engine humming oh-so-smoothly way back behind me, and I’ll feel totally at peace with the world. I’ll start singing along Ben, and my entire body will relax. A few runs to the corner store like that and I’m totally skinnerized. My bus makes me happy. Just thinking about being in my bus feels good.
So I lost my job, got a big severance check, bought a bus, and started a company with four totally excellent hacker friends. It’s July of 1995. We’re doing our Chaco stuff, and I’m checking out the Vanagon mailing list, when I see a note from Tobin:
David’s GNATT took him through the western US as far as the Mississippi River. Christa and I are planning an adventure that will take us a little farther afield…
As my japanese friends say, ‘Pin Pon!’ This was something that called to me. Tobin’s note gently suggested “Perhaps you ought to get off your fat hacker ass and make your dreams happen!“
So I spoke with Tobin, set up a mailing list, and started assembling the bones of a web page. A year later, here you are. I hope you’re having a good time.
One of the first thoughts I had when I decided that I had to go on this trip was that it would occur almost immediately after I turned 35. Running off to the arctic ocean seemed like the perfect age-defying midlife-crisis type of thing to do. I’m very big on symbols, and I plan on making the most of this trip. I even went to far as to tell my coworkers that I was taking a ‘sabatical’. (I’ve always wanted to be able to say that!)
Volkswagen nicely offered to give the busses leaving Vancouver oil changes and filters, and they’ll be loaning me a Winnebago EuroVan to drive along on the trip. (I asked, they said “Sure!”. Nice folks. Polite, too.)
I’m making this trip to figure out what the heck I want to do with my life. In Chaco, I’ve been heads-down working without any time for philosophy. Despite enjoying my company, I feel like singing “Is that all there is…?”
One of my dreams is to write and photograph, and I’ll be doing that on this trip. Having written that, I’ve upped the ante. You know my motivations, and I know you’ll be judging me. Go ahead. I’ll give you lots of material over the next few weeks.