Both Confucius and Buckaroo Banazi said, “ No matter where you go, there you are.” I logged 1,582 miles in two weeks on the road in California: from San Diego, to San Jose, Yountville in Napa, Philo in Anderson Valley, Elk, Mendocino, back to San Jose and then on to Santa Barbara. By my pictures it looks like I was having an amazing vacation. It was amazing, but vacation is not the word that I would use here. Journey yes, absolutely it was a journey, a walkabout even, but no vacation. We know pictures tell you how things look, not how they are. Being there, being in it, whatever it was was the landscape of transition, grief, adventure and beauty… crazy, wild, chaotic, painful beauty.
The trip was planned over hours and hours of poring over websites for Northern California in mid-to-late April. I culled some fabulous information from a woman who writes travel websites and went to her bargain recommendations for fancy bed and breakfasts and hotels on the cheap. I booked 3 or 4 of them in a lazy string in places I had never been. This was my longest and most adventurous trip in terms of discovery in about 5 years, since I went to Berlin. I was excited come end of April to finish the semester and hit the road for a proper vacation. Then May came and though it was a good end to the semester regarding grading etc. everything else hit the skids and went pear-shaped. My past came biking up and bit me in the ass or more accurately eviscerated me. If disembowelment does not scream “who’s ready for a fun filled vacation!” I don’t know what does.
I processed the world, my role in it and those who came and went in the weeks leading up to my trip. I packed everything but a planter with germaniums and hit the road. The beauty of driving is you ask yourself why would you bother paring down what to bring? Hell, I have a Subaru, and just one of my suitcases is large enough to hold a good-sized body. Not that dumping a body was at the top of my “To Do” list but it did snake though my thoughts early in May. The first leg of my trip landed me at Hallmark Lane in San Jose: A home filled with exotic birds, cats, orchids and two men whom I love more than not only my luggage but my luggage wrapped in bacon. One of these men I still consider to be my first husband and my best choice yet. I am sure his current husband thinks the same thing and he would be correct.
There is nothing as perfect in the world as someone who knows you and gets you. You don’t have to edit, look good or even be clean; you just have to be. When I look back at the two weeks on the road, with some chagrin the first and best moment of the trip that popped in my head was wandering around town shopping with Tony and especially our tour of Ikea. There was an ongoing editorializing of everything we saw, liked, did not like, and could not understand why it was on the planet as well as how it related to science, literature, pop culture and us. Our patter was so unconscious, hilarious, thoughtful, bizarre and I believe incredibly insightful as the lore, the lure and love of all things Swedish. There are very few people on the planet I can really riff with when it comes to this type of thing where we float on a similar frequency and there is a twin-speak, if you will. People we love and who love the entirety of us, despite our quirks, our bad habits and arrogance, are few and far between. The three of us played, ate in great restaurant after great restaurant like Naschmarkt, discovered “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” together, and just putzed around. These two men were just the first gift of my trip and by far one of the best.
I went solo for the next week and then returned to them on my leg home. I started in Yountville in a beautiful French château bed and breakfast right in town. Yountville is in Napa County and there were tasting rooms not only close to my digs but also within walking distance, were Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurants the French Laundry and Bouchon and Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, just to name a few. I actually ate at the latter two. The B&B and the restaurants were amazing as was my first tasting of the next day at Domaine Carneros, a fabulous bubble house not too far away. This is when and where my trip starts to get like a bad fun house mirror. Lucky for me no clowns; I hate clowns, the soul-sucking face painted plenipotentiaries’ of doom — but crazy is as crazy does, so in came the circus.
My trip was primarily places I had never been, yet I found as my day unfolded all the places around me were tied to the past, not mine but an alternate version. This past I saw was not only the road not traveled but not even offered. I didn’t understand my discomfort at first until winery landmarks and memories started to pop as these were wines I had drank and knew well through my past relationship. As Andrew McMahon says in his song Swim, “Memories like bullets, they fired at me from a gun.” Those memories colored all that I did in a slick gritty film as did my sweat as the temperature jumped to over 100 degrees. I would rather endure cold weather than hot: it is due to my pasty pale lineage in places where they ate potatoes, cabbage, reindeer meat and smoked smelts. Besides when it’s cold you can put lots of clothes on, but when it’s hot you can only take so many off before the cops show up. I am just saying…
Though I am long of leg and ample of well… ok, everything else, I am also a delicate flower who has cleaned up what I eat and drink. So this type of debauchery in food and adult beverage combined with the heat was starting to not wear well. Now add to that unhealthy potpourri of bad juju my emotional whiplash and my winding up situated in a place that was pretty as a Peachville USA: The view was stunning but my insides were kind of rotty, snotty and raw. How is that for a travel log? Come for the extraordinary wine and fine dining all while enjoying stunning views and a Tum- fueled Sybil remake. I was flipping around in my head, heart and gut and there were more than my regular cast of characters appearing with internal dialogues. It now seemed I had the traveling company of the Real Housewives of Anywhere too.
Despite my turmoil, I did meet many lovely people who were all very kind, sweet and helpful: from Jenny at Bouchon, who was a beacon of light to a nice couple in the B&B who were full of great information. This generosity of spirit tipped the scales over and over again to enjoyment, gratitude, and happiness. It helped balance the swings back to angry, sad and bewildered, which I know to be normal cycles of grief and grieving. Anyone who has walked through them knows it feels more crazy-making than normal.
After Napa came the town of Elk on the coast, back to Anderson Valley and lastly Mendocino tripping around, drinking wine, walking cliffs and beaches. The wild turbulent coast was, as one would expect, a perfect mirror for what I was walking through: It was beautiful, treacherous, violent and breathtaking: all things life hands us in transitions, in fear and in love. My back tweaked so hard during this part of the trip that I looked like a question mark and spent about 12 hours one night in bed because movement was excruciating.
I cleaned up my food, drink, and thoughts. I got a massage at the hotel and detoxed as best I could on the move. I also had a run-in with an incredible woman who owned a shop in Fort Bragg who studied the Mayan traditions of Shamanic Healing and energy work, who all but had to wrestle me on her massage table at the back of the shop to work on me. She worked on me for maybe 6-8 minutes tops and left me to percolate. I have to say I felt a world better getting back up. It was an unexpected, intense and amazing gift. When I would pull my head out and let them help me, people over and over were there to mitigate my pain and discomfort at every turn. It was wonderful. I didn’t always register these opportunities; my lesson was to recognize the gift the first time it was offered. Many had to offer multiple times in order for me, the kid on the short bus who licks the windows, to catch on. Friends on the road, from home, and the ether gave love and support via social media, grounded me while I stumbled about with a camera just being in it.
“Being in it” meant wonderful interludes with charming people who made me think, laugh and step back. One night while eating dinner at the bar in the Mendocino Hotel—yes Virginia you can eat at the bar and drink club soda— I was drawn into an engaging conversation. It was Happy Hour and those around me, as you would expect, were imbibing, and a few men I noticed had gotten Manhattans sans cherries, a lovely cocktail right up there with a proper martini, no saccharin- laced foo-foo stuff, just classics. I am all for foo-foo drinks in their place, but who does not like a classic monkey gland along with warm bar nuts? But I digress. The last fellow who ordered a Manhattan was happily sipping when the gentleman of an elderly couple situated between him and me asked, “why no cherry?” The fellow said he did not really like cherries and quoted a New York Times editor who stated that, “people who take cherries in their Manhattans are of questionable character.” I burst out laughing at this statement and was given entre to the conversation, where we debated about accessories verses integral ingredients of a fine cocktail. He followed the cherry logic with martinis and olives. I had to disagree vigorously saying an olive was pivotal in a martini. He made a point saying he did not enjoy the fishing trip to retrieve the olives. I countered with the trinity. One cannot disregard the holiness of a trinity: three olives on a plastic sword are divine. He acquiesced seeing the logic in the sword, the importance of any trinity from my examples of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and frankly the latter trinity of Moe, Larry and Curley had him regretting his original stance. I believe my logic was flawless.
In 1,582 miles, everywhere I went, there I was. I was in it, a part of it. I thought traveling would give me a different perspective to life. It did, but not too different. What was internal, what I was crunching through, feeling and thinking was always mirrored in my environment. I had no illusions from the start that this was a getaway trip as I know that we are the road, the vehicle, and the fuel as we travel. To consider myself separate and apart by location was absurd. What I didn’t understand at the start of this journey was that our relationship to ourselves is so literally mirrored to our relationship to others and our environment. I knew that, but I had not felt or experienced this on such a deep level before.
The opportunities in the freedom of the road pushed me out of safe places, made me much more vulnerable, and set me up to have to trust myself, friends, strangers and the Universe in far more substantial ways. In Santa Barbara I got food-poisoning symptoms on waking one morning with an empty stomach that left me lying on the bathroom floor with cold sweats and waiting for the strength to crawl back to bed, where I slept for the next 24 hours. It brought me back to a memory of a Valentine’s Day incident mirroring this current event where I was equally sick; the memory was chilling.
During this trip, over and over I was forced to a place of vulnerability and pain. The recent event in being deeply hurt and heartbroken were pushing up against these travel episodes of vulnerability and started loosening those muscles around my heart hardened and stiff with the mission of protecting the recent wound. What I believe is that sometimes, as we stretch and open up wider to beauty and love, the initial pain of pushing past fear and knocking down those walls is like a Tsunami. It feels like we will drown in it. By pushing to stay open and vulnerable, to feel the pain and be in the crazy and to try to trust, turned out to allow me to kind of ride that wild, crazy, beautiful wave. I don’t think surfing is in my future per se, but at least now I know I can swim.