The reality of “retirement life” is out there (as is everyone’s future reality). Because we tend to edit the memories of our past to make them sweeter somehow, the angst of my first coming-of-age pales in comparison to this second coming-of-age.
I’ve often wondered why the older members of church congregations loved to sing the hymns of transcendence: “In The Sweet By and By”, “Over in Beulah Land”, “The King is Coming”, and so on. Maybe there’s an escapism in there somewhere. If your birthday cake is suddenly incapable of holding all your candles, and everything that can ache does ache, and you’re tired of going to the funerals of your friends, you’re probably not nearly as concerned about the POTUS pissing off that pudgy little North Korean dude with the bad haircut and starting WW3, as you are if you’re 18 and buying a corsage for your prom date, even though that whole experience can be fraught with anxiety.
There’s a reason why the marketing slogan, “Calgon, take me away!” was so successful.
Don’t take me too seriously; ever. I’m not trying to get into some clinical, fight-or-flight, when-the-going-gets-tough analysis here. But, don’t you sometimes just want to get away? Isn’t it fun to imagine that chair on the beach? Not in a shirking of responsibility sense, or total escape way, but in a pack up the car, we’re going on an adventure way.
Going even further and farther, I’ll admit, the imagined life of a bohemian has always sounded very romantic to me.
“Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, literary or spiritual pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may or may not be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.” —Wikipedia
Of coure, I would want to have good food and clean restrooms on the journey. Back in the day, in the first coming-of-age, I had all the trappings of the lifestyle for a time: The VW Bus, the guitar, the bell-bottom jeans, the beads and the bongos. What I lacked was the funds. No doubt I could have subsisted on little, but when you’re bus won’t even start, well…
Note: I still can’t believe My-Amazing-Missus’ parents ever let me drive on to their expansive dairy farm south of Tulsa in that VW Bus and drive off with their daughter. But I’m glad they did.
Today, there is apparently a growing number of wandering bohemians in search of; well, it looks like what they are actually searching for is the right photo op, or as we knew them: “Kodak moments”, to get just the right shot to post to Instagram, to build a following, to get brand sponsors, to fund their idyllic lifestyle. The trend is trending to the point that it caught the attention of a reporter for the New Yorker magazine.
At times, the vanlife community seems full of millennials living out a leftover baby-boomer fantasy: the Volkswagens, the neo-hippie fashions, the retro gender dynamics. --New Yorker
“Leftover baby-boomer fantasy”? I can live with that.
The “movement” has been dubbed “vanlife” because one of the guys, Foster Huntington, noted for giving it traction used the hastag #vanlife to document his journey. I first discovered the guy a few years back because his book “Home Is Where You Park It” fueled my fascination with getting the Airstream and hitting the trail.
No discussion of the vanlife or the trailerlife or the AirstreamLife would be complete without remembering the amazing Saturday Night Live skit featuring Chris Farley as the motivational speaker, Matt Foley. Here’s an excerpt from the SNL script:
Mom: Your father and I came up with a brilliant idea to give you kids some direction - a motivational speaker.
Dad: Yeah. One of those guys who speaks to big groups at high schools and churches.
Stacy: You mean, to come to the house?
[ the kids get up to leave ]
Dad: Hey, come on, you guys. This set me back a few bucks. Okay, his name is Matt Foley. Now, he's been down in the basement drinking coffee for about the last four hours, and he should be all ready to go. I'll call him up. [ opens the basement door ] Matt, we're ready for you! [ turns to the kids ] His speech is called "Go For It!" Now, he's used to big groups, so make him feel like there's a crowd here. [ calls down the basement again ] Matt! Come on up, buddy!
Matt Foley: [ runs up the stairs, bouncing back and forth as he talks ] Alright, how's everybody? Good! Good! Good! Now, as your father probably told you, my name is Matt Foley, and I am a Motivational Speaker! Now, let's get started by me giving you a little bit of a scenario of what my life is all about! First off, I am 35 years old.. I am divorced.. and I live in a van down by the river! Now, you kids are probably saying to yourself, "Now, I'm gonna go out, and I'm gonna get the world by the tail, and wrap it around and put it in my pocket!!" Well, I'm here to tell you that you're probably gonna find out, as you go out there, that you're not gonna amount to Jack Squat!!" You're gonna end up eating a steady diet of government cheese, and living in a van down by the river! Now, young man, what do you want to do with your life?
Brian: [ nervous ] I.. actually, Matt.. I kinda wanna be a writer..
Matt Foley: We-e-e-elll.. la-de-freakin'-da! We've got ourselves a writer here! [ jumps across the room ] Hey, Dad, I can't see real good.. [ lifts his glasses off and on his face ] ..is that Bill Shakespeare over there?
Dad: Well, actually, Matt.. Ellen and I have encouraged Brian in his writing.
Matt Foley: Dad, I wish you could just shut your big yapper! [ stumbles back across the room ] Now, I wonder.. Brian, from what I've heard, you're using your paper, not for writing, but for rolling doobies!! You're gonna be doing a lot of doobie-rolling when you're living in a van down by the river! [ turns to Stacy ] Young lady, what do you want to do with your life?!
Stacy: [ sarcastic ] I want to live in a van down by the river.
So what does it take to make the leap into life on the road? Maybe some courage, a bit of desperation, a chorus or two of Que Sera Sera… Whatever it is, I don’t have it yet. Props though to my Bro-In-Law and Cousin/Sis-In-Law for taking the plunge. Happy trails!
RIP brother Pirsig.