Saturday, December 27, 2008

End of the Road

Nothing lasts. Not a sunset. Not a party. Not a road trip. It is the way of the world, of course, for one generation to supplant the next, for history to repeat itself, and for all things to end. This is the meaning of life.

And so, at long last, Diane and I find ourselves home again. Talk about a trade-up in square-footage!

As expected, the rooms in our house are exactly where we left them. The lawn still beckons for a mow. The neighbors continue to perform their daily routines without deviation. And after almost a year on the road, now back again among the excruciatingly familiar, I feel nothing but gratitude.

We have safely traveled 28,620 miles in our good old bus and between home and home again, we have had the great fortune to behold the Redwood Forest…

… and to take pause in fields of poppy…

… to tour America’s cities, both great…

… and small.

We have crested the backbone of our great land…

… and descended to follow the crooked back roads and the good weather… savor the sweet breath of spring...

… to bask in the gentle breeze that stirs the gulf stream waters.

We have stepped into the presence of the things that makes America great…

… and we have lingered in the company of otherwise-lost family and friends.

Indeed, our American Road Trip is unique in that it can never be repeated exactly. This is a good thing. We wouldn’t have it any other way. For, without doubt, our road trip is merely a replication of a previous road trip, and a trip before that, and so on back through the generations…

We take great comfort in our place within this vast continuity, for we have discovered that ours is a world of grand vistas and tiny miracles…

… of shop keepers and rebels…

… of today’s sunworshipers and yesterday’s utopianists…

…and of proud artisans and their creations.

Perhaps I got it all wrong when I said that nothing lasts and all things end. Thinking back on our travels, it occurs to me that ours is also a world where everything is new and nothing ever really ends; and the living memory of our road trip is just another way to describe the meaning of life.

So now it is your turn. All you have to do is say Yes. Say Yes to committing to traveling this great land of ours. Say Yes to retiring any debts you may have. Say Yes to putting money in the bank. Say Yes to guide books and regional dishes and local color. Say Yes to blue highways that lead to no place in particular, except perhaps the warm hearths and homes of friends and family. Say Yes to standing on the hallowed ground of our forefathers, for no matter the breadth of paths they blazed or the depth and dazzle of their star power, they were created of the same materials as you and I, equally.

Their time was then, yours is now, and we are travelers all.

Just say Yes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Giving of Thanks

Some places and events are so right and true that they are spared the ravages wrought by time. Fourteen years ago, Diane gently took me by the hand and led me to Palo Cedro, CA, and into the warm embrace of her family's annual Thanksgiving festival. As it was then, so it has been every year thereafter.

As for this year, from Eugene we rolled south into northern California for an all-too brief stop over at my brother's place. My brother and his family now live in Arcata, CA in the March Commons Cohousing development--a housing concept that Diane's brother and sister-in-law, Chuck & Katie, brought to the United States! It's a small world after all, and family is family, no matter its contrivances. From Arcata, we drove boldly through Bigfoot Cuntry and arrived at Mike & Sally's place in Palo Cedro, CA. Whatever the magic the mechanics in Eugene had performed on the bus was working strong and true.

The Durrett Family Thanksgiving festival is like their family tree--a tall and stout and deep-rooted thing of many branches.

It is a celebration of bounty...

... and part costume party.

It is a gathering that champions gamesmanship...

... and fellowship.

For these few days it is a place where all can live in the moment, where want and need are intertwined. For these few days it is a place were life is lived simply but not primitively. These few days are the closest thing to paradise that I know.

And though some members of the Durrett family are no longer with us, we are blessed to have known them, we are blessed to remember them, and we give thanks to break bread with all who step through that front door.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Get in the Bus

Hola amigos. What's going down up in your neck of the woods? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but we've been driving in the fast lane, running on empty, and looking for an off-ramp. First off, we drove back up to Eugene, Oregon after the family wedding in Sacramento, CA and the big Election Day party in Nevada City, CA.

Next day, we were on the road early eating up the miles and blasting some tasty tunes. Sure, we were going back to Eugene. Sure we'd seen all these roads before. But after a year of seeing nothing but unfamiliar places, driving familiar roads was sort of nice. The nice didn't last long, though. No sooner did we pull into town when the bus went all haywire.

The other morning we got in the bus to do some errands. The sun was bright and warm. The sky was blue, not a single cloud in the sky. The bus started just fine and we drove all around town doing our thing. That is until our last stop. When I went to start the bus, I discovered that I couldn't twist the ignition key. With a lot of jiggling and a little sleight of hand I got it to work. But then we got home and I shut it off. And here, amigos, is where our troubles began.

Now old Van Man here ain't an expert mechanic or anything but he does know his way around a monkey wrench, and he does know when something is wrong. If you can't turn the ignition key you can't turn on your bus. And if you can't start your bus you aren't going anywhere. So I pulled out my trusty VW bus manual and read through the chapter dealing with ignition stuff. Then I got online and found even more info. And then I got to work and called an expert. In this case, the expert was a friend of a friend who rides around town on his bicycle with a tow-trailer making housecalls on sick old VWs. Welcome to Eugene.

After some fussing and sussing and power tool rustling, my traveling mechanic had the lock guts out. I could start the bus, hotwire style, no key needed. Now, this old bus of ours may be a highly-modified contraption. It has its eccentricities. But it is also a thing of elegant utility. So I did the right thing and drove to a full-serivce VW mechanic and had a keyed ignition reinstalled.

At this point, the Van Man is feeling pretty good about himself. We've been all over America in our bus. We've driven over 25,000 miles so far. Sure, we've had a few problems--but if you want a '71 VW microbus to treat you good, you got to treat it good. We might have been knocked down, but hadn't been knocked out.

Then came the famous rains of the Pacific Northwest. And with the rains came a flat tire. For the record this is the third flat we've had this trip. We were in a giant parking lot, so we didn't have to deal with dodging traffic or panic stopping or any of that. I calmly busted out the jack and swapped out the spare. No problemo. But when I went around town, looking for a fix, I spied this giant rainbow-colored trail following behind me wherever I went. Normally, a rainbow following a microbus around Eugene, Oregon is no big deal. But this kind of rainbow--the oily kind, all spewing and spattering; the kind that's so big and dirty that everyone shoots you dirty looks--was some serious trouble.

Back at the mechanic's garage I got the bad news--blown gaskets and seals. Sometimes a problem is as simple as that. And sometimes you got to figure things happen for a reason. Here we were, in our home town--a town where there's a microbus parked on almost every corner; the only town in America where I know these mechanics and they know me and this bus. If it hadn't been for the rains I might never have known the size of the oil leaks until it was too late. A few days later, those old nagging oil leaks were fixed.

I've got to be honest with you. I took one look at the repair bill and almost fainted. Then I remembered driving through the wild wastelands of the desert southwest--Indian country at that--totally alone. Nothing but sand and rocks and sun and a never-ending ribbon of road ahead of us and behind us. Then, I imagined the oil pressure light starting to blink... And I paid right up.

But the problems didn't end there. I was driving around the next day and discovered that I had a hard time shifing gears. It quickly went from hard to horrible. It got so bad that I had to shut off the engine--using my new ignition key--at stoplights to shift into first. I tell you, it's hard to treat your bus good when it's treating you bad. I managed to nurse the bus home and I immedately called Big R., the only mechianc I really trust (besides Miles at the No Name Garage, that is). Like Rasputin to the Romanovs, he diagnosed the problem by wire and told me the clutch was burning out. I didn't want to believe him, but the very next time Diane and I got back in the bus and my clutch foot shot down to the floor and nothing happened, I believed.

Stuck in second gear and driving without a clutch, Diane and I somehow managed to beeline it back to the garage without stopping.

And there it sits. Big R. was right, the clutch indeed had burned out.

It's tough to write a travel blog when you can't travel anywhere. After a new clutch disk and pressure plate, that'll change. And just because we don't have our trusty yellow microbus to push us around right now doesn't mean our style's been cramped in any way. We've been getting around just fine. All we had to do was get into another sort of bus.

And we'll drink to that...

... because we know there's nothing else that can possibly go wrong with our bus now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Family Wedding Party

A wedding party is an act of love. It takes the bounty of two families and mixes it with the groom’s heart and bride’s soul. What’s more, throwing this sort of party and inviting family members and friends to participate is a simple pleasure that all can enjoy. And what about the fancy clothes? They are functional (given the circumstances), and they make this old road-weary microbus-truckin’ man feel ... special. Plus I can carry my wallet in a jacket pocket. Classy.

I’d like to thank and congratulate Jamie and Joaquin Rodriguez. Jamie is one of Diane’s nieces; and now "Keen" is her newest nephew. We made plans to attend Jamie and Keen’s wedding about the time we hit the road way back in March. But that was the extent of our planning. We just had to be in Sacramento, CA on November, 1, 2008, dressed and ready. And so we were. From Eugene, OR it was a straight shot down trusty I-5. It's not much of a drive, and it's not fast: 8 hours in a modern vehicle, 10 hours by microbus. But we managed to get to town the day before the wedding--just in time for a costume drama of an entirely different color...

Halloween! Oh, the horror!

Ironman, a.k.a., Kyle and Transformer Bumblebee, a.k.a. Ryan are the sons of Skeletor, a.k.a. Carl. I'm proud to say that both Ironman and Bumblebee call us Aunt Diane and Uncle Mike.

But these weren't the only members of Diane's family we saw before the Big Event. I could write about each of these families separately, but this is a family gathering. Diane's family is family to me. They are distinct individuals all but, just as importantly, are all together, too. So allow me to introduce the family:

Jack and Donna

Carl and Margo

Chuck and Katie

Yours and Yours Truly

The Meyers family -- Haley, Eric, Jonna *
*Missing in action are Mike and Alex... they were braving the rain to fetch the family car.

... and now, Jamie and Keen.
And what about the Big Event itself? First off, it was big...

... and the families hosted an event that was as fun and as generous as they are.

We loved it!

Thank you Jamie and Keen for a wonderful evening. We were so glad you invited us to share it with you. Diane and I would also like to thank Jack and Donna for their warm hospitality and their big guest bedroom. Thanks also to Carl and Margo for the giant cowboy breakfast the next morning (and for the many nights we've stayed over in years' past).

And, finally, we must also thank Chuck and Katie and Jessie for so generously opening up their home to us, long after the party was over.

Yes we can.