A Hearse in the Wyoming Night

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I was 18 and I was in Berkeley California when I got the opportunity to travel halfway across the country in a hearse.

I was a new follower of The Grateful Dead and the hearse idea was symbolic and appropriate. What Deadhead wouldn’t jump on such an opportunity?

The hearse was old – a 1963 Cadillac Hearse – so she needed a mechanic. A good one. Someone who would always be there no matter what happened or where.

Steve hired Bob. Bob was a hardcore Punk Rocker, also from Berkeley, and he knew his way around carburetors, gaskets, filters and everything else required to keep an old car moving. While this seemed like an unlikely pairing it worked rather well. Bob was able to fix every problem that cropped up and, mostly, he had fun doing it.

Many years later I bumped into Bob at a party. He introduced me to a friend of his who kind of sneered and actually said something along the lines of – “You KNOW a hippie chick?!”

Bob was delighted and recounted the tale of the time he rode cross country as a hearse mechanic. His Punk Rocker friend was horrified!

“You did DEAD TOUR?!?! That’s SO lame.”

And I had the very memorable and enjoyable experience of listening in while this hard core Punk told his friend all the reasons why Dead Tour was not at all lame – in fact , it was about one of the coolest things. EVER.

“Dude! The parties! The drugs! The dancing! The CHICKS!”

I’m not so sure his friend was convinced but I loved hearing his perspectives and his glowing endorsement of the way we liked to do things.

Anyway.

It was very late one September night. I was asleep in the back of the hearse with 3 or 5 other hippies and Bob when they world started to sway. When I opened my eyes we were swerving all over the road as I tried to think who was driving – do they have control? What’s going on? The hearse rolled to a stop.

From the front seat – “Bob. Wake up man.”

Grumbles and growls as Bob crawled out from piles of blankets to assess the situation while the rest of us pulled the covers deeper over our heads.

We’d had a blowout and now we had a flat tire. This was Bob’s responsibility and we were all pleased it wasn’t our job as we snuggled down into the blanket warmth, grateful that we didn’t have to get up. It was obviously cold out there.

US night lghts

Mmmmm. Not my problem.

Ah but then. Bob told us we all had to get out while he changed the tire.

Guess we hadn’t thought of that.

It was 2 or 3 am and who knows where the hell we were. None too cheerful about having to crawl out into the cold, we tripped over each other and ourselves and fell into the night.

Shiver.

And look up.

HOLY SHIT!

Yeah, not very eloquent but I think we said it collectively.

We were somewhere in Wyoming along Interstate 80. And we were 50 miles from any town in any direction.

And the STARS!

The STARS!

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So close you could almost reach out and touch them.  Stretching from horizon to horizon and looking like you could take a short hike over to see where they’re standing.

Seriously. Have you ever seen that?

Have you ever seen the Milky Way?

Do you even know what it looks like?

There are not a lot of chances to see it on the East Coast. There’s just too much ground light.

Here, in Vail, AZ, I’m about 20 miles southeast of Tucson and it may well be the darkest sky I’ve seen in decades. The sky is so filled with stars here that Orion – who stands proud and alone in my Connecticut front yard – is almost lost among his celestial companions.

And you know what???

milky way faint

I can see the Milky Way!

I can SEE it!

That slash of brightness across the night sky.

It’s a bit faint here. and it has been so long since I’ve seen it that I had to ask to be sure – IS that the Milky Way?

It’s not the brightest it can be. It’s not what ancient peoples saw when they looked up. It’s still tainted by ground light somewhat.

But you know what – It’s THERE and I can see it!

And if you have never had the pleasure – I implore you – at some point in your life – and the sooner the better – get thine ass somewhere crazy-dark and look!

Seriously Look!

LOOK at the sky!!!!!!!

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(Most Milky Way images from Astronomy Picture of the Day.)

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Atlanta Whirlwind

I had these images of having plenty of time to write interesting, informative and pleasing blog posts about the things I’m doing.
Instead I find myself running ragged ever since I left CT – with no end in sight.
Yesterday in Atlanta I visited The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the historic home that Margaret Mitchell lived in while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind, and I ended the day visiting The High Museum of Art ( It was half price on Thursday nights!)
I really enjoyed The Carter Center. As a child my first awareness of politics was Watergate. (Wait. What? What’s a President? We have a President? And he lied?) So by the time Carter was being elected I totally wanted him to win. I had a teacher at the time who made us engage with the political process by choosing sides and visiting the local Party offices and volunteering.
I was so displeased by what I’d seen since becoming aware of politics that of course I chose to campaign for Carter.
Since leaving the Presidency the man has done many commendable things in this world and I enjoyed immersing myself in the facts of it all.
Plus it was kind of awesome to stare upon an actual Nobel Peace Prize.
A helpful museum guide named Tony broke the rules and took some pictures of me. He also gave me the Jeopardy-worthy little bit of trivia: There are only two cities in the world which house two Nobel Peace Prizes. One is Atlanta (I went and saw King’s today!) and the other is Soweto, where medals for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela reside.
Somehow I enjoyed that tenuous connection, what with the week’s news being filled with the goings on at the memorial ceremony to honor Mandela’s passing.

(More text below photos.)

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Here in Atlanta I’m staying with a nice older gentleman named Al. It’s a booking I made via Airbnb – a service born of the sharing economy whereby you rent out extra bedrooms in your house, or pay a cheap price to stay in someone else’s extra room. I’ve been renting out my extra room that way for a few years but this trip is my first chance to really utilize it for myself. (If you don’t know Airbnb yet, do check it out.)

Anyway, Al lives just on the outskirts of Little 5 Points. I spent a good amount of time here in the 80s when Vette (my lifelong best friend) lived here.
Today I started the day with a short walk to Little 5. Truly worthy coffeehouses and a collection of stores I wish I had access to on a daily basis. I spent a few hours wandering and browsing. Enjoyable day.

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A Facebook post, saying where I was, got me a message from a friend saying she had people not too far from here and that I should visit and deliver a hug and greeting.
So I did.
That introduced me to the Lake Claire Land Trust.
What a fantastic place! With land bought from Marta, they have created a meandering little city oasis with playgrounds, sweat lodges, a small amphitheater, performance spaces, and I met an emu named Lou!
That was a great detour and addition to my day!

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Then I jetted off to The King Center to pay my respects and learn a thing or two. The complex is rambling and covers many blocks. I got to see Atlanta’s second (or was it the first?) Nobel Peace Prize.
I was somehow humbled to stand near his tomb. The gravity of it all. A friendly pool cleaner named Lawrence took my photos for me.
I really like meeting real people to chat with.

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I was going to go back to the Lake Claire Land Trust tonight for a Friday night friendly jam but that’s not gonna happen.
I walked a couple blocks from Al’s for dinner at a place called Babette’s and, at 9pm, have landed next door at JavaVino – a coffeehouse wine bar combo and I’m downing more wine than would allow me to be comfortable driving back to the Land Trust.
Here I sit writing this bit on my iPhone in hopes that when I get back to the house I’ll upload some photos and make this a real blog post.

My original plan for this trip was to cruise along the northern reaches of these southern states as I head west but a Facebook post last week from a friend might be sending me north from here to Tennessee – to McMinnville – where there is a concert tomorrow known as Bluegrass Underground. Once a month they have concerts that (I think) are filmed for PBS and December’s is tomorrow and billed as “A Pirate’s Christmas.” So yeah. I think I’m changing my plans and going north tomorrow.

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Pre-Road Trip Chaos

I made the declaration to myself and others that I was leaving for my road trip (my journey, my walkabout, my adventure) on December 8th.

And since I’ve decide thus, I haven’t had enough time to think through every possible thing I need to do before I leave.

I’ve ordered a second pair of glasses because I just don’t think it’s wise to travel so far without backup glasses. They aren’t in yet and there are 4 full days till I leave. Trust.

I haven’t begun to pack yet.

On Saturday last, I organized a Celebration of Life for a beloved teacher who passed away a few months ago. Not that I had time to throw that into the mix but it was something I really wanted to do. I loved the man and he was influential to so many, I knew it was important for more than just me. Many people stepped up to help make the day a reality and it was successful and uplifting. Being so close to my departure date made it a little hectic, but so it goes, eh?

On Monday last I was pressed into speaking at the New Haven MoMondays event by my friend Rich DiGirolamo who runs the event. I’d told him my plans and he said – “How perfect! You must come speak! What you are doing is inspiring!” So I threw that into the mix too.

Tonight was the last meeting of my local Toastmasters group before I leave so I signed up to give a speech there too. It was important to me to let everyone know what I’m doing since I’m one of the officers and they’ll be without me for a few months.

There are dinners with friends I want to have. Some I’ve fit in already and some I can’t imagine how I’ll fit in in the remaining four dinners I have left in CT.

Tonight after the meeting I dropped my car at the shop to get the tires rotated, the oil and transmission fluid changed, the spark plugs and various air cleaners and filters replaced. I feel grateful that I have the money to do this before my excursion, but I barely have the time. I won’t have a car tomorrow, yet somehow I need to get to work for a few hours as I’m training my replacement.

Yesterday I trained said replacement all day then had to run off to another client’s house to help with the finalizing of a grant proposal that was due yesterday. That was a last minute call for help, but I could not say no. There is more official work that needs doing before I leave. When will I pack?

What goes where in the car? What will I have to admit at the last minute that I cannot fit?

My digital life is a mess and I’ve yet to download all the appropriate clients to all the necessary devices so that I can access what I need and have everything talk to each other. Hell, I haven’t yet decided exactly which cloud storage company to go with, let alone started uploading what I might need from my desktop computer. I’m gonna have to spend some time with lifehacker.com to make that decision.

The people who will be living in my house while I’m away will need to be told every little detail and quirk about winter in this house. We’ve yet to set up an exact time to do that. Four days left.

And if this post seems a little chaotic, imagine the reality…

I have a sign in my office that reads – “Start Before You Are Ready”

Start-Before

Goin’ Walkabout… or something like that.

This is the rough draft I wrote for a speech I gave the other night.

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Somehow I found my way to the very first MoMonday ever in New Haven. That was back in the spring.

Since then I have become friends with Rich DiGirolamo, who is the driving force behind MoMondays in CT.

My use of the term friend is quirky. I don’t call someone friend unless we actually do things together. Maybe we don’t always, or currently, but to get the friend title, we’ve got to spend some real time.

One of the things I love about Rich is that he makes it happen.

Actually. Makes. It. Happen.

When we met, and looked at each other and said “OMG, I love you! We could be friends!” Rich made the first call and said we had to do lunch. Truth be told, I’m not always so good at that. I meet folks I might love to be friends with but I don’t always find the time to pick up the phone. But he made the call, made the plans, made it happen. Just like he does here at MoMondays. He’s making all this happen with sheer will here in New Haven.

That kind of determination and relentless push to get things done inspires me.

You want something done – you gotta make it happen.  No amount of wishing is going to bring results like a couple of well placed actions will.

And I’ll tell you a little secret; If you move through life, always saying “I want X” or “I want Y” and then the chance for it comes along, you’d better jump on that chance. Otherwise your life is just wishes.

Me?

I’ve been walking around this earth for nearly a decade saying I want to get back out on the road. I want to see different scenery every day, eat different places, sleep different places, drive different roads, meet new people, make new friends, and have long conversations into the night with them if at all possible.

My chance to actually do it is now, so I’m taking it.

I’m packing up my car and driving off on December 8th. That’s just over a week from now.

It’s true I’m the script writer for this play I’m starring in, but I’ve often had trouble with the plot.

I’ve always envisioned my life as somewhat of a Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell says we all want to be the Hero.

The Hero has a decent life. Nothing to complain about. Even a life of happiness and contentment. Then he’s called, often without the desire for such, and  somehow given to see a bit of a different life, a different world. It may not be what he wants, but our Hero doesn’t quite say no. Not really. Because this is the way of it. This is the path of things. This is how it goes. Whether she wants it or not, the Hero heads into the new world.

There are challenges. There are ups and downs in this new world. There are pitfalls and beauty and fun.  Sometimes a dangling carrot brings great rewards. And sometimes it only nets a carrot. And always. Always. There are dragons to slay.

I wanted this story. The excitement. The adventure. But I couldn’t see how this plotline related to my life of late. So much of my life’s excitement, travel,  and adventure happened when I was younger. But it’s always been sort of a dream of mine to have this mythic life.

And then, last week, a close friend of mine with whom I was sharing all this, pointed out something very interesting. It’s all just a matter of flipping the story on its head.

I’ve always been aware that the key to happiness is to constantly readjust what you know, believe and feel, to suit both your reality and your story.

You are the author of your own life. This play is yours to construct.

If you don’t like your story, create a new story.

And if you saw me the last time I spoke here you know I wasn’t much liking my story. After traveling the country in a van for nearly a decade I came home for family reasons and to be with my mom during a rough time and I ended up starting a cafe. It was a very successful business for a while and I loved it for 13 or 15 years. But the sameness of my days began to wear on me until I felt like my life had been reduced to ordering large cups.

I was pretty unhappy deep down. I wasn’t living the Hero’s Journey I felt I needed and wanted.

And if you were here before, you know that I began to make the changes that would bring my life back in line with this blueprint I’d always had for myself. A life of excitement, adventure, new people and new scenery.

I got rid of the majority of my material possessions. I sold the Coffeehouse and stumbled blindly around doing little bits of things that helped other people free themselves from clutter and objects that add little value to their lives, because for the moment, that was something I could understand. Though for a few years now I’ve been unable to move myself past that stage.

And with a simple flick of the wrist, my friend last week, flipped my whole story around and I’ve seen it all in a new light that I find exciting and exhilarating.

I know now that this sojourn in Connecticut was my long dark night of the soul. Okay that sounds a bit dramatic, because truthfully it was fun and fulfilling for a damn long time. But it became tedious. A burden.

And there were dragons to slay.

I lost my mom, to cancer. I miss her every day. Selling the business I’d poured my heart and soul into for 17 years. Getting rid of my possessions. Selling, just recently, my childhood home. Dealing with releasing old loves that no longer suit me.

But I’ve done it.

I’ve killed those dragons.

I’ve completed all the quests and like a video game, I get to move on to a new level .

And like the Hero on her journey, I get to return home now.

I get to go back on the road.

My chance is here and I’ve said I wanted it for so long, that I have to take it.

I’d be full of horse hockey if I said I knew what the road holds for me now. I haven’t a clue.

I’m going alone, if you’re wondering.

And one of the things that pushed me over the edge into actually doing this…

I have a friend on facebook. We knew each other in grade school and I haven’t seen her in 35 years. Last month she took a solo trip to Italy for 3 weeks. I was so impressed. I asked her what prompted this and she said “Because I always promised myself I’d go to Italy before I turned 50, and since I’m turning 50 next year I decided to get on it.”

That echoed in my head for a couple of weeks and I knew I was about to get on it.

I’m terrified. Of course I am. This is HUGE.

But I’m also open. Completely open. And ready.

And I’m going back out on the road.

In ten days.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I’m tooting my own horn or like I think I’m better than anyone else – “Hey look at what I get to do.”

But it’s the people who get out there and get going on what they want, the one who get things done and make things happen who inspire me.

So I hope to inspire you.

To never give up on the dreams you have.

To always keep your eyes open for the opportunities.

To make a new story if you have to.

And to remain open to the world and all the beautiful souls who inhabit it.

And if you do all that, and if you’re really lucky…

You just might meet a new friend who’ll give you the opportunity to stand on the stage at MoMondays and tell your story.

Thanks Rich.

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P.S. Yes. I’ll be blogging about my journey here on this blog.

Totally Doable

Did you ever lay in bed late at night, thinking…

And find that you know exactly what to do.
The best course of action is obvious.
And this awareness, deep in your soul feels so fresh and true?
And it’s really not THAT hard.
Right?
Might take some hard work or some significant lifestyle change.
But instinctively you know it’s necessary to make the changes, or take the next step to where you know you want to be.
And-its totally doable-given your unique skill set and abilities.

Right?

Excellent. That’s settled then.

And then you get up the next day and do what needs doing – because it is, after all, what needs doing.
And ya don’t start on that hard work.
And ya don’t have that conversation – the one you know you should have – with your sister, or your lover, or your boss.
And ya don’t make that lifestyle adjustment because there’ll be time for that later.

How many times have you done this?

Act.