Is It Going To or Running From?

A friend—a woman who worked for me years ago and is largely responsible for our move to Hot Springs Village—is in town and will spend the next few days with us.  Her husband died a couple of months ago and she is in the midst of transition. She has left her apartment in a Houston suburb and is in the process of moving to Kansas City to be near family. In the interim, she is engaged in her long-held fantasy of spending time
“on the road,” visiting friends and family far and wide. Her fantasy included traveling with her dog, Cooper, but she decided that the realities of life on the road would make Cooper’s life a bit chaotic and unsettling, so she gave Cooper to a family who was delighted to give him a home. And now my friend  is relatively free to wander and spend time with friends.  My wife and I look forward to spending time with her and learning more about her plans for the future. And we’ll probably rib her about luring us to the Village, and then abandoning us. That’s not quite what happened, but what the hell. In fact, she and her husband had retired to the Village from New Hampshire several years before. They were visiting family in Dallas and called to invite us to join them for lunch. We hadn’t seen them in years and were eager to catch up. During lunch, we told them we were planning on selling our home in Dallas and retiring to…someplace as yet undecided. They invited us to visit them in Hot Springs Village and take a look around. “You’ll love it.” We did. And they were right. The natural beauty, peaceful setting, and extraordinarily low cost of housing (and low taxes) got us. We bought a house in the Village only a few months later.

The freedom to travel, to wander from place to place and stay as long as one wants appeals to me. It always has. I’ve never experienced such freedom, but I’ve dreamed and fantasized about it. Before we decided to move to Hot Springs Village, we talked about the possibility of buying a small RV and wandering the country. The cost of gas, the carbon footprint, the cost of RV sites, the cost of an RV, and the demands and complexities of RV ownership dissuaded us. And the idea of leading a lumbering RV, even a relatively agile small RV, in front of an increasingly angry line of drivers on a one-lane road up a steep incline sealed the deal. No RV. Home ownership, though, is as much of a anchor around one’s neck as dealing with an RV. Home ownership absorbs the money one might otherwise use on travel. And leaving a home for months on end requires expenses and logistical planning for mail delivery, turning water and power on and off, having someone check on the house and deal with problems. I’m not opposed to home ownership, but I wish it were simpler. It could be. I guess we just make it difficult to leave our homes and travel. Other people do it. Why can’t we? Indeed? What’s stopping us? Those questions merit serious conversations between my wife and me. I suppose one answer may be that she’s not nearly as in love with the idea of wandering from place to place as I.  After I retired, I hatched a plan to get a one-week-long job in each of the fifty states over a one-year period. The idea was to get exposed to a completely different industry/business/profession every week and write about it. At the end of the year, I’d finish my writing and have a book ready to sell. I called this idea the New Tricks Tour. You know, old dog, new tricks. Proof that someone around or over sixty can, indeed, learn something new and talk about it. It would have required considerable logistical planning, convincing prospective “employers” to let me work for them for a week (with full knowledge of my plan), getting housing in each location, etc.  But it sounded like great fun to me. Like so many other of my ideas, I ended up abandoning it. Other people had done similar things before me. My idea was not new. My enthusiasm waned. When I weighed the fun and new experiences against the logistical challenges and expenses, I tucked my tail between my legs and slunk away from the plot.

Later this summer, near the end of July, we may take a road trip to Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus was my childhood home from the time I was five until I left home just months before my nineteenth birthday to go to college. Those years of living in Corpus gave me the opportunity to submit a short story for publication in an anthology of pieces by Corpus Christi writers. The publisher asked me to consider submitting something, so I did. And, with only a few edits, he accepted the piece. The launch party will be held in Corpus in July and all contributors—thirty-five in all—were invited. I might be the only one who lives out of Corpus Christ. I don’t know who else is included, nor what sorts of things they submitted. But I’m anxious to learn about the book. My “payment” will be a copy of the book. And free (I assume) booze and hors d’oeuvre if I go to the launch party. Assuming we decide to make the trip. we’ll turn it into a driving vacation. I imagine we’ll drive to Padre Island, where we’ll be stunned and horrified to see what’s been done to the National Seashore by developers allowed to sully the beaches with condominiums and such (I’ll be delighted to be wrong). And we might skirt the coast as we head further south toward Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. If I hold enough sway, we’ll wander back northward through the Hill Country, where we’ll spend a few days eating Texas BBQ, especially brisket, a flavor I simply cannot get in Arkansas. And we’ll visit a niece and her husband in Houston and a brother in the hinterlands north of Houston. And maybe we’ll drive up to Dallas and visit friends there. We’ll see. The trip I envision would take at least three weeks if done “right” by my standards.

A few days ago, at a birthday party for a neighbor, I got into a conversation with one of the guests about international travel. She told me about some of the places she’s been (she and her husband have  traveled extensively), as far-flung as Chile and Croatia and Argentina and South Africa and Thailand and Vietnam and Russia and…on and on. From her comments, I could tell she is the sort of person who likes to dive into the culture of a place and live like the locals. Her husband follows her, but often is several blocks behind her as they walk because he wants to capture everyone on film. He told me he produces a photo catalog, many pages long, of every one of their trips. Ah,travel to those places is appealing, too, but that sort of travel also requires the freedom and money to go. And the handling of logistics while away at the ends of the earth.

I’ve read such diametrically opposed views of travel. On the one hand, some write, travel is simply an escape, a way to avoid facing problems one wishes would just go away; it is a poorly constructed crutch designed for avoidance. On the other, some describe travel as a marvelous way to expand one’s horizons, open one’s eyes, and educate oneself to the reality that humanity and nature both are far more beautiful and complex and interesting than the cocoon in which we sometimes allow ourselves to live. I lean heavily toward the latter view, but I’ll acknowledge that the former may have some validity.

It happened again. I let my thoughts leak out of the end of my fingers onto the keyboard and up on the screen. It’s time I stop and finish my cold cup of coffee and reflect on why I so frequently return to the themes that spilled into this post.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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