When I lived abroad people often commented about how glamorous it all sounded. The truth was that it was an ordinary life in very extraordinary places. I still had to do laundry, go grocery shopping, go to the dentist and do other routine things. For the past three and a half-months, I have been traveling across the United States in a Dodge Ram RV. I am seeing things that I had heard of, and also things that I had no idea existed. I am wondering, and pondering, who lives in these places that seem so remote.
I grew up in a two-family house in a working class neighborhood. After college I lived in several apartments in Boston.. I was quite happy to have a life in cities where I could walk out my door and go to a restaurant, a movie, food shopping, and visit friends–all without a car. Steve and I bought our first house in 1982, in rural Maine, on 10 acres of land bordering another 100 acres. It was remote, and although at first it seemed romantic, it got old really fast for me. When my mother, who had never lived in a single-family home or in a place without public transportation, came to visit, she was shocked at how remote the house was. She asked me the same question I had asked the realtor. “Where is the doorbell?” He looked at me as if I was from Mars, and said, “A doorbell? You would hear anyone who was approaching long before they got to your door.” That’s what I told my mother. She also wanted to know how we could raise kids in the middle of nowhere with no public transportation. A real example of frame of reference.
So, as we travel across the country and visit places that seem so desolate and out of the way, I comment to Steve at least once a day, “Who the hell lives here?” We ate in places that look like something out of the 50’s. “Peggy Sue’s Diner” in Yermo, California, for example, was a hoot , complete with Elvis memorabilia everywhere and music from the 1950’s The food was fantastic. There was Winslow, Arizona, looking very much like a cowboy town, with a restaurant in a hotel on a railroad stop, still in use for two Amtrak trains a day. We ate in a Michelin star restaurant in Bodega Bay, California, right next to our campground. Everywhere we went people were friendly. My provincial northeast urban life has me assuming that all these people are Republicans and worse Trump supporters, though I have no data to support these assumptions.
For the past 6-weeks we’ve been in Portland, Oregon visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. I’m not wondering who lives here, at least in our neighborhood. All the issues near and dear to the left are visible everywhere. Nearly everyone is wearing a mask, and you need to show documentation that you’re vaccinated to eat indoors. It is the other coast after all. One thing that is startling in Portland is the number of houseless people. I learned that the term homeless doesn’t work, because people living in tents and on the streets consider Portland home…they just don’t have a house. I do wonder who these people are and how they ended up on the streets. I know that mental illness accounts for many of them. Their politics are unimportant. These are hard times for so many of us; houseless or not, compound that with mental illness, job losses and the myriad of things that could have happened.
Living in a van as we travel across the country is not in any way a hardship. We have a beautiful home on an island in Maine to go back to. We can stay in a hotel any night that seems too cold to sleep in the van. We are safe and secure. We have chosen this life and it is temporary. I am humbled by the houselessness here and everywhere in the United States. I know that it could happen to anyone.
I am learning so much on this journey. Life is short and meant to be celebrated. Every experience brings a new awareness about my life and who the hell I am–no matter where I am.