Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Vacation: Chapter 1

I was riding my bicycle home from the grocery store when I crossed the intersection of Priest Drive and Auto Mall Parkway. I was riding in the crosswalk, with the light, when a lady in a SUV speed up to the light and into the crosswalk. I saw her at the last moment; she was trying to the adjust the rear-view mirror, which is probably why she didn’t see me. I locked my brakes and swerved, but I knew that if she didn’t brake, I’d be hit.
Fortunately, she saw me just in time and came to a skidding stop just inches from impact.
She rolled down her window and began to apologize profusely. I smiled, held up my hand and assured her it was OK. “Truth is, even if you had run me over it wouldn’t have mattered much,’’ I said.
As you might imagine, the lady didn’t have an answer for that.
“I’m sorry,’’ she said as I pedaled away.
When a bicycle is your primary mode of transportation, you sort of get used to close calls and you learn not to take it personally. When I first lost my license and began to ride a bike, I would get pretty miffed if someone pulled out in front of me or cut me off. Now, it hardly elicits a response.
But what did disturb me is my reaction to almost getting run over.
“It wouldn’t matter much…”
What kind of outlook on life is that?
I’d be less than honest if I said that life is good for me at this point. It's been a long time since I was genuinely happy, to be honest. The prospects don’t seem any brighter, either. I try to tell myself that things will get better, although there is little to confirmeven that feeble optimism. These days, coping is a triumph of hope over experience, to borrow a phrase from old Samuel Johnson.
Truth is, most days I spend looking into the abyss and deciding to take a step back instead of a step forward. Every day, I take the right step, or at least I have to this point. Tomorrow, who knows?
So that’s what I was thinking about as I rode away from my near collision. Then, I had another thought:
“Man, I need a vacation.’’
So that’s exactly what I did. I took a vacation.
And it wasn’t just a few days of car rides and sleeping at a Best Western, either. No, this was a real vacation - the kind wealthy people or celebrities take; a trip from the East Coast, stops in Chicago and the Twin Cities, though the Canadian Rockies, down the Pacific Coast, hitting all the top destinations - Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Carmel, Santa Barbara, two weeks in L.A., followed by a Pacific Ocean cruise through the Panama Canal with a stop in Havana en route to New York. As for the accommodations, well, I stayed at some hotels that you just can’t get in to.
The vacation lasted 46 days and covered close to 10,000 miles.
Now, that’s a vacation.
Oh, I did not travel alone, either. What fun would that be?
My traveling companions were a doctor, his wife, Sarah, and their young, beautiful daughter, Margaret. Funny, though I spent the entire 46 days as their constant companion, I didn’t even get their last name. In fact, you might appalled at how little I actually know about them. Some reporter I am, huh?
At first, I thought I should get to know them, to hear their stories, find out about their background, their hopes, their dreams.
But I made the decision early on to actively avoid discovering even the most basic facts about them. It is better that way, I think, for it allows me to the freedom to invent the facts and circumstances of their lives.
I like it better this way because, when you get right down to it, I’d rather be a writer than a reporter.
Those familiar with my circumstance will be quick to dismiss this vacation as a fantasy. I am, after all, virtually penniless and perilously close to being homeless. Remember, too, that the abyss still yawns before me each day.
Yet this trip is real. It really did happen. I have an account of it, written in Sarah’s own hand, as well as indisputable photographic evidence, to vouch for it.
So join me on the trip of a lifetime.
It begins in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 7...

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