On the Road Again

I am in Santa Maria tonight, a Central California town north of Santa Barbara, which I have driven through many times but don’t think I have ever stopped. Decades ago, it was a quiet little town on a four-lane highway connecting the southern and northern parts of the state. Now it has the same feel as so many places—grown too quickly to remain charming, with historic buildings scattered between malls and fast food chains, off a freeway that now lets you bypass the town entirely.

It is the halfway point between San Diego and Napa, where I make the first big stop of my trek northward, and I start meeting up with a number of friends from many chapters in my life, from high school through college, and including a author friend dear to me.  

Tonight, this hotel is just a random place to stop, plucked from a website offering cheap rates for last-minute rooms. It is the end of a marvellous day of beautiful scenery and chances for quiet reflection as I drove.  Once you’ve left the beachfront stretch of Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, there is nothing remotely pretty or charming about the drive through endless Greater LA, until you drop down from some hills and enter a beautiful coastal valley at Oxnard. Then it just gets better as you pass through Ventura to Santa Barbara, although I regret the newish freeway diverts you from the old road, so close to the ocean that, in rough weather, waves would douse the cars and you had no choice but to splash through. 

North of Santa Barbara today the landscape was truly spectacular, with blue sky, cobalt ocean, endless yellow fields of blooming wild mustard rising up to meet the dark green scrub and reddish orange rocks of the mountain range to the east.  No photos because I was driving, and no images online that did it justice, so I hope you can picture it. 

Now I am in the part of the state that is starting to look like the landscape of my childhood—rolling, muscular hills splashed with oaks. I formed my sense of well being and my ideas of beauty amid such scenery, and I suspect that I am not alone in preferring such touchstone landscapes from childhood throughout my life. 

Leaving San Diego with my second and last carload of possessions (mostly files, books, and the memorabilia I wasn’t ready to let go, plus a suitcase of cruise clothes that probably won’t fit), I was struck by how different it felt from when I left for Victoria nine months ago, in August 2020.  Then I had a great sense of leaving a huge chunk of my life behind and heading into an unknown. I remember the palpable excitement I felt from  the moment I hit I-5.  Within a mile or two, I was grinning ear to ear. 

This time I just felt stressed about being in an unfamiliar car and didn’t ponder the significance of leaving at all.  This is odd, because this time it really is for good. Except for a little trash in a wastebasket in my friend’s house, nothing of mine remains in San Diego.  I am out. Done.  Moved on.  I will be back, I am sure, to visit people I love, but a city I lived in for well over a half a century  is no longer mine.  I should have noticed this as I drove past the landmarks of my life, but I didn’t. I was too busy fretting about the car. 

Now, in manageable and fun daily chunks,  I am heading back to Victoria, which I now think of as home, though I haven’t quite figured out what “home” means when one doesn’t really live anywhere in a conventional sense. But for now I am not thinking about that. I am on the road headed for a daily new adventure, and reminding myself that home is simply wherever I am.  


Perpetual Vacation

A few days ago I left the place I was staying and settled in for one week on Vancouver island’s west coast, about ninety minutes north of Victoria, so I could explore this area without the need to make the trip back and forth from the city.

As I settled in on yet another sofa in yet another living room, my mind flashed on the years before I retired, when such an experience would mean I was at the start of a vacation.

Then, just as suddenly I realized, “I am on a perpetual vacation!”  Indeed I am.  I go from one place to another to mix up my routine, to keep my life fresh, to experience new things.

I love this chapter of my life.  Not since childhood have I experienced such a light burden of responsibility.  I am not charged with doing more in the places I live than keeping them tidy and undamaged and doing my best with Victoria’s ultra-complicated recycling.  Repairs, maintenance, all those kinds of things are not my problem.  The only thing I have to take full responsibility for is my car.

It is mind boggling to me that I really can go anywhere whenever I want—well, after travel restrictions are lifted, that is.  All I have to do is wait until whatever contract I have for lodging runs out, then go.  I have a storage locker where everything fits when all I need is a suitcase.  I have thought recently about leaving here for a while and going to Greece or the British Isles for a month or two.  Make that both Greece and the British Isles—why not?  Same trip or separate ones?  Either will do nicely.  Rent something there, or just drive from place to place? Either, or both. I have to pay to sleep somewhere.   Might as well be on the road, or tucked into some place I have really wanted to spend some time.

This life isn’t for everyone.  Maybe it’s not for most people. The one key difference between my life and vacation is that I have no place to return to. I think that might be too much for many, but for me my condo in San Diego had become more of a convenience than a genuine attachment, and since paying for it ate up all the money I have for my adventures, it had to go.

  I don’t tend to worry about (or even plan much for) the future, but rather revel in the possibilities.  Still, much as I have enjoyed so many of the chapters in my life, it has always worked out, sometimes by force and sometimes by choice, that I have needed to move on. Sometimes that is joyous, and sometimes it is very hard and very painful, but I have mastered a state of readiness for change that is serving me well now.

Knowing myself, I will probably at some point come to a screeching halt and say this lifestyle isn’t for me anymore.  Then what?  Buy entirely new furniture in my seventies?  Buy a place to live that I will mostly just pay the interest on for the rest of my life?  Sit still happily in one place?  I simply can’t imagine anything like that now, but that’s because I haven’t arrived there yet.  My only hope is that my next chapter will begin in as much joy as this one has.

And maybe I won’t have any such life-altering epiphany.  Maybe this will just keep working out fine, and I will remain healthy and competent until the day I evaporate into the universe from wherever I happen to be at the time.  It’s a great life, and I am in my element.  That’s all that matters now.