Merman and I went camping on a small spit of moonscape beach nestled between a lazy bay and the open mouth of the Gulf of Mexico.
For miles and miles and miles there was nothing but a sliver of road crumbling into the sand and crabs scuttling across asphalt. Shore birds trilled their tiny feet on sand dunes, and a park ranger with an accent as slow and thick as candle wax told us about switching out his corporate tax job in Houston for a a park ranger gig on the panhandle.
“Traded ‘em out even-steven,” he said, checking our park pass.
But we almost didn't go to the beach.
I had two tight work deadlines on Friday, deadlines that may or may not have been possible to finish, that may or may not have required lugging my laptop home over the weekend to work.
And the house, oh the house, it was in need of work, was always in need of constant, tenacious up keep. Our lives from a busy week had exploded everywhere, clothes in piles in the bedroom, mail spread on dining room tables, dishes piled in a scuzzy sink.
On Thursday night, we took stock of our annihilated lives and wondered at the four hour drive on a patched-up tired in our forty-two year old VW bus. The mechanic on St. Claude said, “Drive ‘er slow and easy. Short distances.”
We considered staying home. A glass of wine on Friday, a lazy house-cleaning day on Saturday and football on Sunday.
But the problem with Friday night wine and Saturday house cleaning was this wasn’t life. There was nothing new in a clean-up on weekends, and wine at our much visited restaurant.
So we rallied ourselves to pack up.
I rushed to work on Friday and drank way-too much caffeine and powered through my presentations, all neatly wrapped up by and delivered by 3 PM. I scurried home and threw everything into the bus and off we went, driving into the humid sunset to the beach.
The bus behaved as much as it could: every stop we parked on a slight incline so I could push it downhill while Merman started it. Push to start, you know.
We heard Ranger William’s life story as cars piled up behind us waiting to check into the camp ground, not beeping their horns because southern people don’t beep when you’re enjoying a good chat mid-road.
We absorbed the sun into our skins and sand into our hair and took big gulps of seawater just to savor the brininess of the ocean, something we hadn’t tasted for months.
This was no far flung destination, this was the Florida, a place that I had road-tripped to since childhood with such fineries as tacky trinket stores and skyscraper condos. But it was removed from New Orleans and everything that came with it: the banal lapping of life at our shores, the erosion of newness.
It fits so awkwardly into America’s ten vacation days per year. There are a thousand reasons not to go hop-scotching into a tired Friday night with a desperate hope that Saturday can bring something new.
On Sunday, when I arrived back home, I was exhausted. But on Monday, my cheeks were flushed with no blush required, and sand was still raining down on my keyboard from my scalp refusing to give up the ocean.
Travel may be incompatible with our lives, but so is squeezing a master’s degree in after work or trying to be both a great parent and a CEO. Like oil and water, life and __________ you fill in the blank: work, children, travel, balance -- don’t blend with the ease of fairytales.
But perhaps travel is like oil-streaked puddles: the layer that we spread on top of our stormy lives, creating patterns that are intricate, complex and transfixing.
I want to be full of stories that leave the most jaded soul awestruck. I want to experience my life in the same way that children stare at those oil-slicked puddles with wide-eyed wonder at another - yet another! - extraordinary thing residing in the ordinary potholes of our lives.