Waffles, Juice, and a Disappointed Old Man (2/?)

I forced myself from awake from the cozy confines of my bed in San Bernardino, and stumbled down to the continental breakfast room.  The continental breakfast room.  That disconcertingly impersonal institution of travel.  The entirety of my experiences with continental breakfast rooms would have been made only slightly palatable due to the largely superficial, if not inevitable, differences between them, had it not been for the occasional opportunity to converse with, attempt to converse with, or simply eavesdrop on, other travelers.  I recalled specifically my run in with Santa Claus in Dothan, AL, and the look of fear I inspired on an unsuspecting French woman in Page, AZ as I forced myself to remain out of a conversation between two little league umpires in San Bernardino that morning.  Both fellas were old, although only the elder was older than dirt.  The other was maybe as old as mud.  Dryish mud.

Anyhow, the conversation started innocently enough, with the guys discussing the unfortunate state of little league umpiring, and what it would undoubtedly mean for the regional tournament that was unfolding in San Bernardino that weekend.  The guys were both clearly dedicated to this thing, umpiring for little league baseball, and both cared deeply for it.  Both voiced what appeared to be heartfelt concerns over the state of the profession, and had clearly invested significantly in their involvement with umpiring.  I’m not sure who it was harder for, then, when the younger one finally implied that perhaps the older one has seen his days of adequacy at umpiring pass him by.  Almost as if in passing, the older guy was reminded by the younger of an important call he recently blew, and heard it suggested that he doesn’t have the eye that he used to.  I sort of zoned out here – it was like witnessing a break-up in public, but far more soul-crushing.  This wasn’t young people realizing they aren’t right for each other.  This was the painful recognition by a proud old man that his comrades knew about him what he also knew about himself, but was simply too proud to admit.

People watching, that tired old hobby of anyone who’s been bored in public, is more than anything an exercise in imagination.  Even if you’re lucky enough to be within earshot of a conversation, chances are good that you lack anything resembling the context necessary to put anything meaningful together.  These guys were old, were little league umpires, and one brought up a blown call by the other.  Anything else I can relay now would be conjecture, based on at best sideways glances at expressions, reflections on tones picked up through the din of the room, and mannerisms, and at worst on pure imagination.  All that being said, I left with the distinct feeling that the younger guy was in the power position in the relationship, and that the older guy was the recipient of some very disappointing news.  Call it a hunch, but the entire conversation seemed staged by the younger guy for the benefit of the organization.  Is that really something that should be taking place in a Days Inn in San Bernardino?

(An aside on terrifying a French woman in Page, AZ: She was the only person around with whom I could share my disgust after seeing a local broadcast highlight the fact that some locals did not want their children to see the President speak at their high school later that day.  You know, because he’s a terrorist and stuff.  Anyhow – I launched right into “doesn’t this make you sick?” as I gestured to the television.  Her initial, voiceless, response implied that perhaps she hadn’t seen the news story, so I gestured again to the television and repeated “doesn’t this make you sick?”  She glanced quickly at the screen, then back at me, and decided this was the time to let me know that she didn’t speak the best English.  If you’ll recall, I was suffering mightily through New Mexico withdrawal, and was in the pits of Arizona syndrome at the time.  I needed some positive human interaction to reinforce my belief that we humans aren’t all that bad, and this middle aged French woman was my only hope, so I did the best I could to explain what I was talking about.  Gesticulating mildly and speaking slowly, and aided greatly by his likeness on the television, I was able to confirm that she knew the president of the United States was Barack Obama.  My attempt, however, to convey that he was speaking locally, and that some crazy people didn’t want their children to witness this, was a complete failure.  Maybe it was the “cuckoo” finger circling the temple motion coupled with my clearly irritated tone, but she just backed away slowly, likely thinking that she was talking to some crazy American who hated the President, doubted his citizenship, and certainly didn’t care for the French.  Well, she was wrong.  Too bad I didn’t study any French.  I guess maybe I am uncivilized, after all?)

So my time in Southern California had begun with waffles, juice, and a disappointed old man, and I was ready for sunnier skies in San Diego.  I was meeting my buddy for lunch in Poway at 12:30, and had a 3:10 tee time at Torrey Pines.  A brief analysis of the maps told me I was going to be doing some pretty decent hustling, and backtracking, if I were to see downtown San Diego.  Too many people, however, had extolled the virtues of the city, and I decided that the time spent in the car would be worth it to see at least a slice of the city.  I hopped in my VW and sauntered on down Mexico way.

The VW was running on fumes, and I would need to procure some fuel before arriving to downtown.  Prior to this expedition, I had no problems finding diesel anywhere on the trip.  Of all the myths and pseudo-myths out there surrounding diesel fuel, the lack of its availability is one of the most easily countered; the yellowish-greenish gunk is everywhere.  Everywhere except San Diego, I began to think, as I took exit after exit from the interstate, only to be shockingly disappointed in the lack of diesel fuel in the stations.  Surely all these tractor trailers ran on diesel, no?  I was beginning to think that I had time traveled to a magical land where trucks were motivated down the roadway using smiles and rainbows instead of dead dinosaurs, when I made my exit onto Mira Misa Boulevard – a seemingly main thoroughfare in the northern part of San Diego, and one which should certainly have several locations to get some diesel.

A few miles down the road, however, and I still hadn’t come across the nectar of the efficiency gods despite my having passed a dozen fuel stations.  I guess it was time to break down and ask someone where I could get diesel.  I was stopped at a red light just about the time I had come to this finality, and to my delight, a “get two birds stoned at once” opportunity presented itself under my nose.  A San Diego police officer was harassing a homeless man who had settled at the base of a telephone pole on the northwestern corner of the intersection.  Brilliant!  Ask the cop where to get some diesel, and in the confused back and forth of a northeasterner and the local cop, the homeless guy would certainly have time to make a speedy and undetected getaway!  Everything appeared to be coming up Milhouse!  I pulled over, rolled down the passenger side window and hollered out at the cop “Hey – where can I get some diesel?”  As if his role was something other than to serve or protect, he angrily, condescendingly, and ignorantly blurted out “I don’t know!  Don’t you have a phone?  Find it on there!” and went back to haranguing the poor dude who fell through the cracks of a society held together by the likes of himself.  Don’t municipalities alert their officers to such basics as the profound lack of locations at which diesel fuel may be purchased?  I guess not.  This is one of 3 run-ins I have had with police in a major American city (Chicago and Washington, D.C.), and while I would love to do the comparo-contrasto now, I’ve already been far too pedantic and tangential in this entry as it were.  Some other time.  I drove a few more miles, finally found some diesel, and was back on my way to downtown, my best efforts at helping a brother out thwarted.

I made it to the Gaslamp District, put half my savings in a meter, donned my Flyers knit beanie (complete with an orange and black fuzzy ball on top), grabbed my lap top, and set out in search of the most bohemian coffee shop I could find.  My decision to take the beanie on the trip was a pretty easy one – the hat is simply dope.  Just so happened that it was a brisk morning in the low 60′s, and the hat’s dopeness could also be matched by practicality on this morning, so on it went.  Anyhow, I’d obviously never been to San Diego or the Gaslamp District before.  Hopes of finding anything bohemian there were perhaps not entirely misplaced, but for a first timer with just a few hours to spend, my definition of bohemian quickly deteriorated into simply somewhere with Wi-Fi…

 

 

While I initially felt guilty at not keeping up with the blog while on the trip, the last few entries have put those feelings to rest.  As the stresses on my time and body while on the trip accumulated, it was inevitable that details and reflection would be passed over for mere pragmatism in the entries.  That’s not what I envisioned in the blog, and I’m glad I never let it get entirely to that point.  There is, of course, value in the “I played here, drove there, ate here and took a shit there,” but I obviously find there to be more value in the small delights of travel, and of being alone out there in the great big world.  California is going to take me tens of thousands of words to get through – and that’s okay.  Enjoy…

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Pseudo-Vagrancy in the California Republic (1/?)

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This is the McDonald’s by the Interstate in Barstow, California.  It was somewhere in the vicinity of 10:00 in the evening, and I was, more than anything, comforted, as I saw those golden arches on the horizon as I rolled into town.  Sure, I was exhausted (I had woken up in Las Vegas, played 18 in Boulder City, driven to and checked out the Hoover Dam, driven to Oatman, had a few pints with the locals and meandered West – a busy day), and tired (All of this nonsense began at 8ish? in the AM, and the thought of a nap at this point on the trip was but a dream.  A wishful dream.), but more than anything, I was comforted.  As I already intellectually knew, but now came to value through cold, hard experience, McDonald’s exists as far more than a restaurant, vis a vis the weary traveler.  A haven for the vagabond, the rest stops in themselves are littered across our fair nation, and indeed the world, as deteriorated Big Mac boxes are littered across the parking lot across from Wrigley Field, and they really offer the traveler anything they might need beyond a place to sleep (although I suspect that sleeping in your car in the parking lot would be quite feasible at any given McDonald’s).  A cheap bite to eat and a quick and cheap cup of coffee, tea or soda are likely the first things that come to mind.  However, the value of hunting down a McDonald’s goes deeper than mere sustenance.  Clean, public restrooms are in every store, and I am thoroughly convinced it is a policy of corporate for employees to simply look the other way when someone is clearly stepping foot in the restaurant merely to take a shit.  Fast, accessible internet is also available in nearly every restaurant as well, and although I always bought a cup of coffee or a tea when I was planning to sit down and write for 2 hours, I’m not entirely sure it would be overly taboo to plop down in a corner and suck up that bandwidth.  Yes, the faux-vagabond of the 21st century can do far, far worse than bouncing from McDonald’s to McDonald’s, and as my stops under the golden arches accumulated, I slowly started feeling all warm and fuzzy inside when I finally saw them again – I was nearly always in need of some of the amenities offered within.

On this evening however, it wasn’t food, drink, the bathroom or the internet that I sought, but merely a trip outside of the car, to stretch the old legs and plot out exactly what I was going to do for the rest of the evening.  Upon entering the old re-purposed train station, my feeling of having been comforted quickly deteriorated into an overwhelming drowsiness.  I stumbled through the store as in a stupor, and decided that I should get something to keep me up for the remainder of however long my evening would be.  Historically, I had opted for a sweet tea – filled with sugar and caffeine, and plenty of ice to gnaw on once I sucked down the sweet nectar.  In my zombie like trance however, I decided it was as good a time as any to use my monopoly game piece on a free McFlurry!  ICE CREAM AT NIGHT WHEN YOU ARE TIRED!

I slumped over on an old waiting bench near the old boarding platform, and dug out my phone to determine what the next step was going to be.  I was meeting a friend the next day for lunch in San Diego, from which I was a 3 hours’ drive north.  I didn’t like the prospect of waking up only to drive for 3 more hours before meeting my buddy – I would surely not see any more of San Diego than the restaurant where we’d be going had I stopped for the night in Barstow… I was going to plod onward.  My cup of ice cream was ready, and I was back to the road, no more awake, nor with the ammunition to become so, than I was before I entered.

I was on the road no more than ten minutes  (about 8 of which were spent eating ice cream) before I recognized that I was simply not going to make it all the way to San Diego – I was just too tired.  As I rolled through Victorville, I envisioned a heroic path all the way down to Temecula, or perhaps even Escondido.  Hell, I would basically be in San Diego at that point!  If you question my choice of the word “heroic” in the sentence two prior, I get you.  I really do.  My defense is simply that your goals change vastly when you have been on the road for four weeks, are still on the road, and are delusionally tired – getting to an impossibly far away destination seems like the struggle of a lifetime, and each minute is spent counting down the tenths of a mile until you can tick one off and exclaim to yourself “only 83 more to go!”  Having given up on San Diego, Temecula or Escondido seemed brilliant – get there, and enjoy essentially the entire morning in San Diego.

I was still entertaining these thoughts of grandeur when I, as if on autopilot, took the first exit listing a Days Inn in San Bernardino.  What was I doing?  San Bernardino!  I was still two hours north of San Diego!  My brain fought valiantly against my body, attempting in vain to compel my arms to turn the VW around and trudge on south, but by this point my muscles had coordinated a structured and powerful mutiny against my brain.  “Rest!”  They screamed.

So there I was, in San Bernardino, still north of even Los Angeles, and I was stopping for the night.  I groggily checked in, and took only my travel box to my room – no computer, no extra clothing.  Just a box with some toiletries I wouldn’t use in the morning.  Just a box that had drawn the laughter of many, and had stood with me as a pillar of stability during my travels.

For all that my dreams had promised me of California, here I was – miles from the coast, and miles from the sunny tranquility of what I had hoped would be the locale of my first evening in the Republic.  “Sometimes,” I reasoned, “you’re the pseudo-vagrant, and sometimes, as tonight, Alex, you really are the 21st century vagabond.”  I don’t even remember hitting the bed.

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A Bogey

At a fork in my round, on a brisk Autumn’s Eve

I had a driver in my hands, and thought “this one’s better from the trees”

I pulled the club back, and gave it a whack – 280 down the left hand side

A chunked wedge, two chips and an 8 foot putt – I had made a god-damned five

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Tires Squealing, Smoke Rising! The Clutch Has Grabbed And We Are Off!

Bring yourself up to speed!  I had golfed through the Southwest and had just driven from Vegas to Oatman, AZ via the Hoover Dam, and I was finally getting to the destination, if there was one, for my trip: The Golden State.  I had already played golf in 31 States and DC by this point, and 26 days had passed; my trip was more than half over by any definition.  Nevertheless, I still felt as if I was “on the way up” the mountain, if that’s a metaphor you’re comfortable with; I had not yet reached the coast.

California has always held a special place in my mind and heart, as I suspect it has for many eastern kids.  Much like New York on the East coast, California catches a lot of grief from a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons.  Wide varieties of people with wide varieties of things to complain about have to have a flip side, right?  Of course they do, and the obvious allure of California, beyond the childish dreams of an adulthood based more in imagination than reality, is the wild diversity of all things the Bear Republic has to offer.  I trust I don’t have to spell out any specifics here (I will be, of course, writing about my 5 days in California over the next few days, and the specifics will be abundantly clear within the details). 

As it were, however, while I could have stumbled across this more intellectual justification for my excitement if prodded as I was traveling west through the Mojave late at night, my excitement was of a decidedly visceral sort.  San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.  I was going to see all of these places.  The Pacific Coast Highway awaited my tires.  I had a friend to meet in San Diego, a friend to meet in Orange County, and a friend to meet up in Monterey.  I had plenty of things to look forward to, and was simply jubilant at what surely awaited me. 

Had this been it’s own independent vacation, I would have been nearly as excited.  The fact that my stay in California served also as a respite from the exhausting golf/drive/write schedule I was adhering to was also powerfully alluring.  Get into the state, take a rest… you know, play a round of golf, meet up with friends, and relax for five days.  Brilliant planning, Alex.  Absolutely brilliant.

As I crossed the border from Arizona to California, the sun had not yet set over the horizon, and while I was still hundreds of miles from the Ocean, the feeling of “having arrived” was overwhelming.

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I have arrived!  I posted my entry photo for each state at or shortly after the time I made my way into each new territory.  None of these photos engenders in me a feeling or memory so pure as the one you see above.  Remember, I had just come from the charming Oatman, Arizona, and was only days removed from my unexpectedly memorable adventure through the Land of Enchantment.  Already feeling pretty good about what I had seen and done, I had the California of my dreams ahead of me.  As I chased the sun to the west, I was as carefree as I ever have been or likely will be.  It was a beautiful moment.  While I certainly couldn’t help but believe I was actually in California (the evidence for this belief was, indeed, overwhelming), I came dangerously close to thinking to myself “I can’t believe I am here.”  Numerous of my favorite musicians hailed from various corners of Cali, and the last thing I needed to do to squeeze out the last endorphin was to get the sound track right.  I put Op Ivy on, and cruised on towards Barstow.

My friends in Oatman had recommended Barstow as a good stopping point for the night, should I run out of the energy necessary to get all the way down to San Diego, and a quick review of the map confirmed that Barstow was indeed the way to head.  It lies at the western terminus of I-40, and on I-15.  Were it still appreciably light out, I certainly would have done at least a little adventuring in the Mojave, but alas it was not, and the clock was ticking later as each second passed.  The interstates were for me on this evening, and I quickly made my way to Barstow by around 9:30.  My journey into California had begun…

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You Feel That? The Clutch is Starting to Grab!

As I had mentioned in You Only Live Forever When You’re Young, my short life of learning yielded me the personal knowledge that I feel most free when on either the golf course or the road.  Of course, both the round of golf and the road trip are pleasingly altered by the presence of friends or family, or even of a stranger, and for many people such undertakings would be unthinkable to complete without a companion or companions.  I have a friend who struggled mightily to golf this summer in the absence of myself and in consideration of the unavailability due to an approaching wedding for his other steady golf buddy.  He played a few solo rounds, but by the time of my return had failed to play for nearly 2 months.  He’s playing it off as a lack of interest in the game (I’m calling his bluff – of all the regulars I’ve ever played with, he has been the most reliable, enthusiastic golfer… played with him last Saturday and saw the spark of enjoyment striking flint…), but I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason for his lack of rounds played this summer had more to do with the fact that his two most frequent golfing buddies weren’t around or available to play with.  For him, I suspect, golf is most rewarding when undertaken socially.

As for myself, I have found that both golf and road-tripping, the two things most freeing to me, are most rewarding when undertaken alone.  Let me be clear: I cherish and appreciate any opportunity I have to golf with other people, particularly family and close friends, and will continue to look to play with friends and family as often as practical until I am unable to do so.  Golf as a social activity is spectacular.  It’s a place to relax and enjoy time with people you like.

However, it is when I am golfing alone that I feel freest, most purely alert and able to enjoy all that the game has to offer.  I will always need to get out and play by myself at least a few times a summer.  The same goes for driving – a journey can be pleasant with passengers, but it is an activity properly undertaken by my lonesome.

I had a hunch about these things prior to leaving for my trip, and if the aim of a “life-altering” trip, as my journey has been referred to, is to… well… alter your life in some way, then I consider my trip a tremendous success.  You see, I learned that I am an introvert.  I sort of always knew this about myself, but struggled with it.  This ain’t an introvert’s world, and I rallied against what I, at times, perceived to be the complex social landscape around me.  I always seemed to rub off well enough on most people, and never had any serious issues making friends or engaging in social past times; I suspect that my pronouncement that I am an introvert may come as a surprise to some of you, given my gregarious nature when in groups of people.  The introvert isn’t necessarily a wallflower or a loner.  Simply, an introvert is someone who’s “energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.”  (Credit where it’s due – Laurie Helgoe via Wikipedia)

Driving across this country, golfing, largely by myself offered me hours of reflection, and mentally energized me.  It was somewhere in eastern North Dakota, hurtling towards Fargo well after it had become dark, that I unleashed a rush of endorphins on myself when I finally realized that it’s okay to prefer solitude.  There is nothing wrong with me.  Social interaction has tremendous value, and is an integral part of my life, but I find that time alone is most rewarding for me.  When I am alone, I am purely and fully myself, able to be creative and articulate.  Fully able to concentrate on what it is I find worthy of my energy.  No wonder I was able to write so frequently, lucidly, and entertainingly while on my trip.

I have lost the link as I read the article days (maybe weeks?) ago, but another view of the introvert in a social world that I found extremely helpful was that the social introvert can be viewed as a kind of “battery,” (my analogy, not theirs) in that an introvert can be completely capable of any of the varieties of social interaction which are available in our world, but will need time alone to “recharge” before further engaging in social engagements (this is not my idea, only the “battery” analogy was).  If the introvert doesn’t get this recharging before going forward with more interaction, you can forget mental energy and sharpness, creativity and productivity.  This resonates so very acutely with me.  I need my time alone, and once I’ve had it, I only have so much energy to go ’round.

In addition to golfing and driving, writing is an arena in which I feel free.  I feel increasingly free when writing.  Writing is a challenge, yet also therapeutic.  It is challenging to put thoughts together with at least some semblance of consistency; with some indication that the mind responsible for the thoughts is sane and logical.  The therapy comes in the exploration writing allows me.  This entry is a prime example – self-exploratory and open.  Writing allows me to confront my vulnerabilities, to revel in my strengths and to stand in awe of the chasm between them.  It also allows me to explore the world outside of myself in the way I feel most comfortable: alone.  Writing, for me, is not a collaborative effort.  This is me, myself and I looking at the world, and myself, with open eyes.  Consider yourselves blessed that I’m letting you in.

To have the mental energy to write with the frequency and at the quality I expect of myself, my “introvert battery” needs to be fully charged.  Upon my return to Pennsylvania, I hadn’t really had much of an opportunity to charge up, if you will.  Their only son returning home meant that my parents wanted to spend time with me.  A lot of time.  And I was happy to oblige – I love my parents and get to see them a few times a year.  We ate nearly every meal together, watched television as a family, went for walks…. just did stuff, together, for nearly two weeks.  We went to Philadelphia, New Jersey and DC, together.  It was a pretty decent two weeks.  But I had very little time alone.  I couldn’t recharge my battery.  It wasn’t very conducive to good writing.

Now I’m back in Buffalo, and I’ve been for a few weeks.  I needed a few good weeks to fully charge up.  I also needed to get my bed into my closet of a room, and to get the apartment I was hardly moved into when I left in July into some sort of livable shape.  All that’s pretty much done now.

I’ve got a place to rest comfortably.  My batteries are fully charged.  It’s time to write.

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$1,467.87 – Amazing.

Donation

The withdrawals from GoFundMe and PayPal have posted to my bank account, and everything has been donated to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  The donation was designated to provide treatment for those in need, and will do great things to help many people struggling with anxiety and depression.  To everyone who donated – thank you so very much.  YOU gave the money to this organization which is important to me, and your generosity continues to inspire awe in me.  Much love, everyone.

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You Only Live Forever When You’re Young…

The following will be printed, hopefully in this exact form, in the upcoming issue of Inside Lebanon Magazine.  I didn’t deal very well with the word count.  :/    Enjoy.

 

This is going to have something for everyone.  Golfers will be envious.  Travelers will be impressed.  Old people can live vicariously through me.  Free spirits will be proud of me.  Straight laced, beige suburbanites may even be disgusted with me.  Like I said, there’s something for everybody; you will find something to discuss at your next dinner party, lunch with co-workers, or binge drinking session with the guys or gals. 

Above all though, the people who stand to benefit most mightily from reading this article through to the end are the people who remind me of myself ten years ago.  I’m talking to you, Central Pennsylvanian high school student with all the smarts you’ll ever need and just enough motivation to breeze through school, but who also struggles daily with the ominous clouds of the future and of boundless choice, and what you will make of them.  At this point, I feel it my duty to ask that you kindly have your parents read this article themselves to determine if they want you reading any further.  Not every parent will want their ace student hearing these radical, subversive, far out ideas.

The world moves faster now than ever before (and the acceleration of all things is likely to only increase), and the opportunities to learn about any myriad of things abound.  Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by the world – it’s the natural reaction.  Just know that “you only live forever when you’re young.”  It’s a forgotten lyric from a forgotten album by a never discovered bay area punk band called Fifteen, and it is poignantly and frighteningly accurate.  The crux of the meaning failed to dawn on me for years; I truly was living as if I was going to live forever, and that is no way to live.

Allow me to briefly explain.  I coasted through high school, graduating well within the top 10% of my class (CCHS ’04).  I coasted through college, graduating with a 3.98 GPA (Shippensburg ’08).  I thought I was finally ready for a challenge, so I moved to Buffalo, New York to go graduate school.  I quickly learned that professional academia wasn’t my path, and by January of 2009, I was unemployed and living in Buffalo.  Buffalo, where nothing comes easy.  The Bills are terrible, it snows daily from November through March, and the only thing blue collar about the city any more is the legacy.  It is also a city with a vibrant arts scene, a wide selection of great dining, and a fantastic parks system.  I liked it, and my girlfriend at the time, enough to stay.  I quickly got a job at the local branch of a large national insurance company.  Five years and several promotions later, I was living a dream.  Someone else’s dream.  I was living as if I was going to live forever.

While the details may differ in the minutiae, the basic sad structure of my life mirrored that of millions of young people: high school > college > stable, well-paying white collar job.  Some people love their banal white collar jobs, but most don’t, and a great many actually despise them.  Some people need their banal white collar jobs (those with children), but most don’t.  What was, unfortunately, missing from my life, and I fear is missing from those lives of many of my contemporaries may lack a simple one word description.  Call it a blend of agency, spontaneity, creativity, desire; the will to live, rather than to merely exist.  I was living as if I was going to live forever.  I was living as if all of those things would eventually just come together to make the life I wanted, rather than the one that I had pinballed through.  If I lived forever, they very well may have.  I have but one life, however, and at 27, I had stayed essentially on the straight and narrow.  High school > college > stable, well-paying white collar job.  If that’s your dream, more power to you, and I wish you well.  It wasn’t for me though, and I’m sure it’s not for a great many of you.  The world, its people and its available experiences were too diverse and titillating for me to sit at a desk and argue with the same old Providence, Rhode Island attorneys every day.

So I quit my job.  I didn’t have anything lined up, other than the desire to get on the road, to see the country, and to play some golf.  Throughout my short life, I learned just a few things about myself, and chief among them was figuring out where I felt most free: the golf course and the highway.  The idea sort of built itself around my quest for my own sort of freedom.  I set out to play 49 rounds of golf in 49 days this summer, in the lower 48 and DC.  And that is exactly what I did.

Setting out from my humble Buffalo apartment on July 14, my VW packed with my clubs, some clothes and a few other knick-knacks for the road, I began a 7 week, 12,287 mile journey across our great United States.  Our great United States, flawed and imperfect as they are, are full of beautiful scenery, interesting people and great golf.  All of the places I wanted to go, to see, that I never had the impetus to visit, I was now going to see: from charming small towns in New England to the bucolic splendor of the inland South; from the gulf coast to the heart of Texas, from New Orleans and Las Vegas to Los Angeles and San Francisco; from the Midwestern fields of Iowa to the center of the world, Lebanon, Pennsylvania itself; I was going to see it all.  A narrative could, and hopefully will, fill a book, and this is but a magazine.  Here then, are a few memorable moments from the trip:

- My very first night on the trip was spent at the home of Tom and Lynn Bedell, in Brattleboro, Vermont.  Tom, who makes a living by writing about beer and golf, had reached out to me after hearing about my trip on Reddit.  Upon my arrival, I was served a feast fitting for a prince: ribs, corn on the cob and a wide variety of tasty salads.  Following dinner, we sat on their porch, nestled in the mountains of Southern Vermont, and enjoyed fine beers, wines and liquors over the sweet aroma of cigars and the stimulation of fine conversation.  Most memorably though, was Tom’s powerful reminder to me that “not everything you write will be a masterpiece.”

- August 6, 2013.  Page, Arizona.  The date and location of my adoption as a Native Grandson.  I had just teed off on the majestic 15th hole – one of those beautiful par 3’s with a very elevated tee, affording you an awe-inspiring view of the desert valley below, when I crossed paths with an elderly Native American woman, who had just trudged up the 150 foot hill I was about to drive down on my golf cart.  I asked her how she was doing, and upon her retort of “not so good, honey.  Not so good,”  I decided to dig deeper, and asked her why she wasn’t doing well.  She responded that she had some pins in her hip, and would very much like a walking stick of some sort.  I jokingly told her that I’d give her one of my clubs if I could deal without them.  Seconds later, she was rooting around in my bag, looking for her stick of choice.  I stopped her from pilfering my club, and instead offered her a ride to wherever she needed to go.  Five minutes later, we were as close to the post office as we were going to be able to get.  As she got off the cart, she said “Thank you, Grandson.  Oh thank you, Grandson.”

- By August 20, I had dropped my handicap from 10.9 at the beginning of the trip to 8.5.  I had made my first eagle of the trip the day prior, but after the front 9 of my 2nd of 3 rounds on the 20th, I was dejected.  I had duffed my way to a 44 on the front, and was getting close to the point where I’d be playing just to finish the round.  Hole 10 at Two Rivers Golf Course in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, was a short par 5, and after I blasted my drive, I was left with just 190 yards to the pin.  My only shot at the pin though was to hit a fade, the opposite of my natural draw, around some trees, and still high enough to carry the bunker guarding the pin, which was tucked in the back right corner of the green.   I pulled out my 6 iron, opened the face, and let her rip.  I faded it right around the trees, just high enough to carry the bunker.  Stuck it to 5 feet.  Dropped the putt.  It was the finest shot I have yet hit in my life.

I will shamelessly direct you to my web blog, golfing49in49.wordpress.com, should you wish to indulge in my voluminous recollections of my trip; replete with stories from the golf course and from the road, and with musings on not only what these things mean to me, but also on a wide variety of other topics.

If you’ve had your fill of my stories though, that’s fine, I get it.  A thrilling cross country, international (I did play a round in Windsor, Ontario, too!) barnstorming golf tour isn’t everyone’s idea of a freedom quest.  But it was my idea of a freedom quest.  The lone thing I’d beg you to take away is the actual profundity, rather than the fleeting trendiness, of the now common saying “You only live once.”  You’ve got one shot at life; get out there and find your cross country golf journey.  If you don’t, you may end up as a 27 year old claims adjuster for the rest of your life.

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