leading horses to pasture
A friend of mine once expressed to me his admiration of Google’s Street View feature and how amazing it was to be able to explore any city at the touch of a button. He’s right, that is amazing, but nothing beats walking the beat yourself. Smelling the baconey-smelling breeze as you walk on Alki beach on a Monday morning. Or that disgusting but familiar scent of urine in the alleyway as you hunt for new street art. If you’re doing it virtually, you miss out on those things.
Virtual reality can never replicate the five senses. You can’t touch anything. You can’t smell anything. You can’t feel anything. The burning in your legs as you climb a steep incline, the feeling of someone bumping into you on a bustling street. The man behind the computer screen, his legs don’t feel anything. They may even be asleep from lack of blood flow.
You miss the sounds of the street, happening in real time, not in pre-recorded Dolby surround sound, we’re talking the real deal here. The whining engine of the garbage truck, the screeching sound of brakes, the bongos off in the distance, the chatter of people talking, birds singing, waves crashing, planes flying overhead, people singing to themselves, sidewalk preachers shouting about eternal damnation, you miss it all.
The man in the bandanna with no shirt and cut off jean shorts that conjure up memories of Daisy Duke if she were a homeless Native American guy selling newspapers on the corner. He has a football in his hand. He’s trying to coax the businessmen and women into playing a game of catch with him, he makes a throwing gesture with his eyebrows raised in an inquisitive fashion to one of the suits, who instantly breaks into a passing pattern and catches a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder. The suit throws it back, and another suit joins in the fun and wraps our homeless QB in Daisy Duke’s up for a tackle, it surprises him. All three of them are smiling and laughing. You don’t get that in virtual reality, no matter how hard you try.
Another suit walks up to him and says something I can’t make out. The QB shouts at the smiling man as he walks away, “YEAH, YOU JUST LIKE TO HEAR YOURSELF TALK, THAT’S WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS!” and he starts his routine again, trying to get the movers and the shakers to take a break from the day to day routine and engage with him in a game of toss.
He’s a homeless guy, conducting a sociological experiment. I guess in a way, all homeless have the potential to conduct sociological research on the human condition. They have a worms-eye view of the human race living life, its beauty, its flaws, its serendipitous twists and turns. Google Street View doesn’t make you feel anything close to this. It’s a tool and nothing more. It isn’t a replacement for the real thing, the experience. It’s just pixels.
We are not rebelling against society, in fact it is exactly the opposite, we are trying to embrace it. I can tell you that I chased my daughter around every day of her life, carefully nudging her away from danger at every turn. I spent her entire infancy holding her hand on staircases, shooing her away from electrical outlets and discouraging her from climbing up tall bookcases or touching hot stoves. Ask anyone who actually knows me, and they would tell you that I am overly cautious with my daughter to a fault.
I have three kids. Penny is the first to have her pinky toe amputated, but not the first to suffer a painful accident. Accidents happen, that’s just life. It won’t discourage us from embarking on this road trip. The accident that occurred will only serve to make me more vigilant than I was before. I won’t shelter her to the point that she never gets to have any fun or take any calculated risks, we’ll just have a safety brief before we do things like this again.
Things like rollercoasters, skateboards, bumper cars, bicycles, petting dogs, catching spiders, climbing trees, climbing hills, crossing the street and all other inherently dangerous activities of which there are too many to list here. When this incident occurred, I was mortified. I was worried and scared for my daughter. All of the adults that were present and supervising her that day were. We all stayed cool under pressure, acted fast, removed her from any further danger and had emergency services there within minutes of it happening.
All of us shed tears, and spent the entire week trying to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. None of us enjoyed it. We just picked each other up and gave each other support and love. We grew closer as a family. This accident has nothing to do with our decision to travel. Anyone that takes the time to get to know us would know that we love our daughter and have provided her with a wonderful life filled with people who love and care for her. Our decision to take her out on the road wasn’t made lightly, it was carefully planned down to the last detail. That’s Maizy’s doing, she is an analytical Virgo accountant. She has a three-ring binder bursting at the seams, filled with itineraries, budgets, curriculum plans and much more.
We’re not stupid, we know what we were getting into when we started this, and we spent years getting ready. We started our life together in an upscale loft right behind Coors Field in downtown Denver, moved to a hundred year old craftsman home in the Highlands neighborhood and eventually ended up in a custom-built home on top of a mountain in Evergreen. We decided that we wanted to try a simpler lifestyle when we realized just how much money we were spending to live that life. When the public service bill was pushing $400, we decided we could do better. We made a conscious decision to downsize, moved back to the city in a small apartment just a couple of miles from her work, and started saving all that money we were spending. We sold our gas guzzling SUV and started the arduous task of downsizing. It took us two years to get rid of almost all of our trivial belongings.
As far as Penny’s education goes, it’s kindergarten. We can handle it. We may or may not home school her after the trip and she will have the final say. If she chooses to go to school we will enroll her in one. We aren’t planning on traveling forever, just as long as it takes us to get to every state. We want to make a truly educated decision on where we decide to set down roots. The assholes who pretend to know what we are doing don’t know that, because they never bothered to ask. Penny is one of the most social kids you will meet. She makes friends with everyone, and is constantly lamenting my shy demeanor. It makes her crazy when I tell her to give people their space. She gets upset and frustrated with me. Rolling her eyes and sighing heavily she says “Dad, it’s okay to talk to new people.”
While this accident was heartbreaking and hard to deal with, there is also a silver lining. She made friends with kids who are literally dying. A young girl with a lung disease just fell in love with her. That girl has been admitted to the hospital 47 times in her life, she is maybe twelve years old at the most, but she has one of the most genuine smiles you will ever see and it makes me feel guilty for ever thinking that my life sucks. Penny is already better off just for having known her. That is just one example. My daughter is going to learn more than she ever would spending a year commuting back and forth to a half a day of kindergarten five days a week. And I’m not knocking kindergarten or traditional schooling or people who live your basic normal everyday life.
Our family just understands how precious and fleeting life can be, and we want to enjoy it to the fullest, and show our daughter the possibilities. It isn’t for the rest of her life, and while it might not be for everybody, we are giving it a try. Anybody who doesn’t like that can just fuck off as far as I’m concerned. I’m tired of explaining my decision and trying to justify it. I’m tired of feeling bad for being different. From this point on, we don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about us. We are living life with no apologies from now on.
The Vanagon is loaded to the hilt. Our already slow moving vehicle is that much slower under the weight of everything we own that survived the purge. Our last few days in Colorado were soaked with rain. And now I sit in this parking lot waiting for Maizy one last time while she finishes saying her goodbyes. It’s all over but the crying.
With Maizy’s last day behind us we turned the key in the ignition and headed for the road. I rolled my window down and waved up to her co-workers I thought might be watching and gave them all a wave. Then, as if on cue, we hit the seven foot clearance bar of her parking lot with the box of stuff mounted on our luggage rack. BAM! I watched it swinging wildly in the rear view and just laughed as we drove off. No harm, no foul.
Driving with this load it feels like a slow bullet careening down the road. We push the speed limit down the hills and hope the momentum will carry us up the steeper grades. Once we reach our destination we will reinforce our ride, store our belongings, say our hellos and goodbyes to the family and begin our journey. It might take a couple weeks, but it will be time well spent. Driving down Interstate 70 heading east the clouds seemed so low that you could imagine yourself reaching up to touch them.
The sky was a mix of deep purples and light blues in a gradient line along the horizon. We left construction projects and road crews in the rear view, and as they disappeared we found ourselves surrounded by the familiar fields, farms and vast open spaces of eastern Colorado. Cell towers and a brick and mortar church stands alone in a giant field. We are among our fellow travelers now. The license plates on vehicles start getting more random. Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, all of them just passing through, heading off to unknown destinations.
We’re out in the sticks, east bound on a two lane highway, slowly marching forward. A hawk circles above in the dark sky, an occasional bird drops in front of the windshield flapping its wings madly, bouncing up and down flying along with us. A glance to the right reveals an old broken down trailer home with peeling white paint and a crooked antennae on the roof, it’s gone in an instant shrinking out of sight as we make our way further east.We’re on highway 36 now, one lane east one west. Headlights approach and disappear in a misty cloud.
Pouring rain pelts the van. Groves of trees with black trunks and yellow green leaves, the silouhette of branches, jagged and pointy, natures concertina wire. Tractor equipment and yellow signs marking intersecting side roads. The van had some trouble up one hill so we pulled over to give old Betty a rest. Then the hail came and we decided to keep moving. It was pitch dark, huge raindrops soaked the van and we were all a little nervous.
The sky was electric, lightning crackling, thunder rolling, and us sitting on those front ️wheels holding on tight and squinting through a foggy windshield. I said it was probably because we were all breathing so hard from fear. Whoever said driving through the plains is boring never drove through it in the driving rain. My adrenaline is pumping.
We just passed a muddy road to nowhere called Winview. We began to question our decision to take highway 36 when the van started acting like it was running out of gas twenty miles from the nearest service station. I told Maizy that if something breaks it might as well be now while we have the money to fix it. Mound City or bust. We almost ran out of gas on the first tank.
U.S. 36 is empty and desolate through Colorado. We stressed over whether or not we could make it, and the van struggled to get us there. After about twenty miles of sweating it out, barely able to keep moving we hit an old gas station in Alton, CO with old pumps sporting analog read outs. We feel there is a problem with the fuel delivery somehow but we learned as long as we don’t consume more than half a tank everything runs great. We decided at this point to get back to I-70 where the gas stations are plenty.
We passed through a town called Cope which looked abandoned. There was an old red phone booth, abandoned buildings and dead looking farms. There was no gas to be found. We traveled down Highway 59 for 26 miles and got back to the familiar territory of 70 east. We haven’t had any problems since the initial troubles just as long as we fill up about every 70 miles, a problem that we can hopefully fix during our time in Mound City.
The smell of manure hit us hard just past the Kansas Colorado border. There was a giant stockyard with thousands of heads of cattle. The conditions didn’t look good from my vantage point, and had me seriously contemplating becoming a vegan. I’m already lactose intolerant anyway, and after seeing and smelling that cow concentration camp the decision seems like a no-brainer.
The first 300 or so miles have been crazy. Sad goodbyes, stressful moments, ominous skies and the hypnotizing lines of the road pointing us toward our next destination.
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.
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