the public pay phone
an unfamiliar concept
in this techno age
Even though we are stuck in Denver till May 8th, we are transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle. We say goodbye to my hometown, and head to Maizy’s place of childhood, St. Joseph, Missouri. Then we’ll head out into the great wide open in search of everything. My daughter celebrated her fifth birthday today, and this is her the day before helping us pick out school supplies for the road. Let the Road Kindergarten commence.
We have seven days. Seven days left of our run-of-the-mill existence. The first night we sleep in the van will be strange for me. To think of everywhere I have been and all of the places I have slept, a Vanagon isn’t the worst of them, nor is it the best.
I’ve slept on hard racks with thin mattresses, both in jail and in the military. I’ve slept in a-frames in the desert, on the ground, and on cots. I passed out in a bush once. I’ve slept on both of my sister’s couches, crashed in dingy hotels next to drunk strangers, and in the back of an amphibious assault vehicle, in the U.S.A. as well as Africa. On March 31, my family and I will begin our tour of the 48 contiguous states. Alaska and Hawaii will have to wait. We’re going to do it in an ‘82 VW Camper.
If it sounds crazy to you, it feels just as crazy to me. But I like that feeling. Final preperations are in full swing. The van is receiving all of our attention. The apartment is being frequented by Craig’s Listers looking for sweet deals. A guy named Frank gave us ten dollars more than we asked for our bed, just because we didn’t have change. Then a lady named Jen came over and bought our dresser. She talked us down $50. No one felt threatened, although we did have to meet Frank at a nearby Starbucks with the bed on account of all the nervousness surrounding Craig’s List these days. There have been some homicides in the news, it’s understandable.
All of the beds are torn down, we are sleeping on our mattresses pushed together in the back bedroom. And honestly, it isn’t that big of a change, Penny has always slept with us. Pretty much since birth. She won’t miss her bed because she rarely slept in it. She was happy to help us take it apart.
I’m down to my ration of clothes for the trip. The rest of them have been donated to the goodwill. If you wanted to know more about me as a person, you might be able to glean quite a lot from shopping at the Goodwill in Denver on Monaco and Hampden. Most of my old possesions now reside there on the dingy shelves and dusty floors among all the other props from other people’s universes. Bill Cosby books on family values, Tom Clancy novels, and stretched-out sweat-stained golf shirts that are always the brightest, gaudiest color you can think of, bright orange with horizontal stripes, corporate logos on the sleeves. Anything I didn’t sell or give away to people I know went to the Goodwill. Someone else is actually going to get to walk a mile in my shoes, literally.
We are running out of time, so these final big pieces of furniture need to go. Timing is critical here. I imagine in a couple of days I might be writing from the front seat of the van as the couch and the table and chairs will be gone. We’ve prepared. We have everything we think we need, which is probably too much. But we are starting with the benefit of the knowledge of those that have gone before us. For inspiration we didn’t need to look farther than GoWesty’s list of blogger’s living the van life. I count ten blogs, each of them documenting the amazing journey’s and lives of people out there doing it right now. The family at Bodeswell has been on the road for more than 5 years in a 1971 bay window bus. Seeing other’s doing it, these enterprising spirits, these people with the courage and the smarts to survive life on the road. It’s empowering. I feel like we can do it because there are others out there proving it’s possible.
Ever since Maizy told me she was pregnant with Penny almost 5 years ago, my life has been nothing but constant change. I refer to March 31 as the “jumping off point” but really I think I jumped off five years ago. That’s when I quit drinking alcohol and stopped smoking cigarettes. I quit my job to raise my daughter. I enrolled in college and fell in love with photography. I got this crazy idea that I wanted to be a journalist, and Maizy supported that. And now Maizy is ready to jump off too, and that’s really what’s happening here.
We are leaving this apartment, Maizy is leaving her job. We are leaving this city behind. We are doing all this to be together. We will tour the U.S. as a family, and search for the place we all agree is home. We don’t know where that is yet. There is more to this trip than I am letting on, but this is the broad view.
For me it’s a search for home as much as it is a search for human connection and a challenge to overcome my social weakness. I hope to beat it out of my system by forcing myself on society. I will step out of my shell and be more present in the real world. Maizy gets to be with Penny every day, and the road is her kindergarten. She’ll be five years old in less than a month, just old enough to go along with this willingly.
It’s a family bond strengthening, self-sufficiency training, photography dream pursuing, road-schooling, rubber-tramping tour of the United States, at a medium pace to cure our wanderlust. We’ll see where it leads.
The mother of my child and love of my life has eluded death at least three times. Twice she survived breast cancer. She once fainted in a movie theater lobby from a pulmonary embolism, due to complications with a stent in her arm relating to the cancer.
The disease took her ovaries and her breasts. Cancer made her voluntarily poison herself with chemotherapy.
She even survived a roll over crash on the highway before cancer was even a part of the equation. It decimates everything. The body. The spirit. The bank account.
Despite all that, she still smiles and cares for others more than she does herself. She encourages us and provides the roof over our head and the food on our table. She is kind, loving, responsible and strong. She makes our world go ’round. Together we see these close calls and consider them a sign. The sign says: “Live you’re life and don’t hold back.”
We had a child together after many conversations of what our future as a couple dealing with the repercussions of breast cancer would be like. We had Penny and then Maizy decided to let them take her ovaries to avoid the very real possibility of cancer developing there. Then she decided to let them take her last remaining breast. Total mastectomy. I still think she’s the sexiest woman on the planet. Survivors are hot. She sacrificed her body to have a chance to live a longer life.
Maizy is amazing. For almost dying several times, the life in her bursts out and infects me. She gave me an amazing daughter and encourages me to follow my dreams. I’m glad she’s in my life and I’m grateful to her for fighting to live as hard as she does and choosing to spend that life with a bum like me. I’m The luckiest guy in the world.
What would you do if you almost died? Wouldn’t you want to live your life to the fullest and not regret an existence of apathy? Experience things you never have? Go places you’ve never been? Enjoy YOUR life. Don’t wait for a life threatening disease to give you a wake up call. Do everything. Find what you love to do and follow your dreams. That’s what I’m going to do anyway. You can do whatever you want. It’s your life.
We want to travel. There are many reasons, but a big one for me is getting Penny out there to see the world. Cancer runs in the family. Maizy’s mom had it, and there is a decent chance Penny could have the BRCA gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are harmful genes inherited from the mother or father.
A child of a parent with the gene has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. I hope it isn’t true but I’m ready to deal with it if it is. I want to try to instill that appreciation for life in Penny, not that she doesn’t already have it. The girl is a firecracker.
Extremely emotional just like her dad. Intelligent and strong like her mom. A 50/50 chance that she could have to deal with ovarian or breast cancer? That’s tough to deal with. We are going to teach her to live life. What better way to do that than by example?
The fact is: any of us can die anytime. That’s news to nobody. We already know this. So why do we spend so much of our time doing things we don’t enjoy? I’m not talking about doing the dishes or the laundry. I’m talking about careers and life choices and doing things we wouldn’t normally do. Taking chances, trying new things, searching for fulfillment.
We live in a world where a majority of people think it’s crazy to follow your dreams. We think those people are crazy. Maizy and I have served our time on the hamster wheel and we are jumping off.
This is not a van. This is a bus. A Volkswagen bus with a Westfalia camper conversion. “The Pig” was there when Penny was born. Maizy and I took her camping in it when she was 2 months old. From that point on we toured as much of the Rocky Mountains as we could before the engine finally blew up. We beat up this already beaten bus. We rode it hard and conquered some of the highest mountain passes in the United States. I took her to 14,000 feet at Mt. Evans and got some epic pictures for my refrigerator in the process. This bus even made a Go Westy calendar a few years ago. I never did get a copy of that calendar.
We loved this bus. When the engine blew and we made the decision to give it up a little piece of me died with it. It was an impulse decision and a bad purchase all the way around. I paid too much. It was too rusty. It had very little in the way of heat. I once drove it in a blizzard with bald tires. We passed several cars and trucks that were overturned or stuck in ditches along I-70, barely able to see, hands freezing, inching forward ever so slowly. I think our top speed was 14 miles per hour on that stretch.
There was just something about this bus. We have a “new” 1982 Vanagon Westfalia now. Everything that was wrong with the pig is what is right with the new van. We plan to travel the country as slowly as possible in it. It has a stove and a sink, it has two beds, it will have a good heating system. We just have to keep it running which may or may not be a challenge. It’s all a part of the adventure now.
The laptop is in the shop and the iMac has a full hard drive. So I had to dig into the archives until I get my ThinkPad back. I took this photo about 3 years ago with an old Nikon DSLR that I borrowed from my oldest son. It was the first DSLR I ever used.
After spending four years with Penny as a stay-at-home dad my college career has reached a point where I must attend classes during the day in order to continue on toward my degree. Today was her first full day of preschool. I think she quickly realized how relaxed the rules are here at the house.
When I asked her how her first day went, she sighed and said “They have A LOT of special rules.” I instantly felt guilty for not preparing her better. Penny and I had a good thing going, we get each other. I suppose some outside structure will do her some good. The best part is, she only has to go Tuesday and Thursday. I told her from here on out every Wednesday is “No Rules Wednesday.” She seems to like the idea.
The classes are huge, and I don’t really feel entirely comfortable leaving her there. Luckily I am on the same campus so I am only minutes away if she needs me. I like the real world experience she gets from it. Riding the packed trains in the morning, seeing all the diversity.
She sees everything I see, the guy smoking the funny smelling stick walking down the street. A homeless person passed out drunk in the middle of the park. Occupy protesters. Business people. People who use the word fuck a lot, like in between every word they say. I guess you can’t shelter your kids forever, but I’m sticking close by. Call me paranoid.
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