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.