Friday, June 02, 2006

A fresh start

In his second-most-famous road book, John Steinbeck wrote:

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has a personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.

Somehow, as my former college roommate, Bryan, and I planned a weeklong road trip through the Rockies and the high plains and Big Sky Country of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, we did so at just the right time. The wanderlust hit me about a week before the trip, and at least once each day on the journey, I thought to myself, "This is just what I needed."

Though my travels were with a peer, in both age and species, our trip contained a little bit of the flavor of two of my favorite road books, Steinbeck's Travels with Charley and William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. We set out with a firm starting and ending point in Denver and had a rough outline of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, but we didn't hold ourselves to any particular timeframe or destination, other than a mid-trip, two-night stay in Jackson, Wyoming, to allow us to see Yellowstone National Park.

Steinbeck also wrote, "Again, it might have been the American tendency to travel. One goes, not so much to see, but to tell afterward." As much as I relished exploring new states and cruising down two-lane state highways through hills, mountains and rangelands, I thought of how I'd remember it and how I'd describe it to my wife and family when I got home. Bryan and I are perfect travel companions, having taken at least a half-dozen trips together during college and in the eight years since, but I often found myself thinking of towns or parks that Casey or Dave or my parents might like. For now, pictures and words will have to suffice, but if they ever want to see for themselves and would like me to join them, I won't hesitate to accept.

At the moment, the travelogue is still a work in progress. Sections were completed en route, but the final few days remain solely in my memory. Hundreds of photographs exist, too, with about half of them already installed in an online album. Once those two projects are completed, they'll be submitted here.

This seems as good a time as any to start fresh with a new blog, the way one might crack open a new leather-bound journal in those not-so-long-gone days before we called our diaries weblogs. I turn 30 three months from today, and I see my life in a different light than I did five-and-a-half years ago, when I first searched Yahoo! for a website that might let me write and post my thoughts for free. As you might when you feel you've outgrown your blue-paged, spiral-bound journal, I sensed a change was needed, a more streamlined, minimalist look was I wanted. So here I am.

Exit 109 is where I'm from. It's the Garden State Parkway interchange for Red Bank, which takes you to my hometown, a place I lived for 25 years, minus the eight semesters spent in South Bend, Indiana, for secondary educational purposes. In New Jersey parlance, I'd now have to call myself an 18E-er, a B.E.N.N.Y., a denizen of Bergen County (rather than Essex County, the city of Newark or New York) who enjoys summer day-trips to the Shore. It's not a term of endearment, but a derrogatory term used from a Shore-dweller's perspective, and I use it in tongue-in-cheek fashion. I'll never be a true B.E.N.N.Y. as long as I have family near the beach, and even after that is no longer the connection, my roots remain there, and I can't see the day I'll truly consider myself as being from North Jersey. I'll live here, but I'm not from here. That's not out of shame or embarrassment or a desire to disassociate myself with New Jersey's north; it's more a reflection of who I am and where my comfort level lies. It's no different from a New Yorker who moves to Miami and still calls himself a New Yorker or a Bostonian who relocates to Los Angeles yet still sees herself as a New Englander, first and foremost.

It's cooler today and more overcast than it was yesterday, when I experienced my first terribly hot and humid day of the year. It's a good day for a new beginning.

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