SIDE BY SIDE

USING TRAILER PARLANCE AS METAPHOR, we’ve been hitched for a few years now. Both of us, my Amazing-Missus and I, are from the Tulsa area—she, just from the south of Jenks; me, just north of Jenks. We met in Bixby.

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The insightful C.S. Lewis, as far as I know, never visited Jenks or Bixby, but he did have some keen wisdom on relationships:

“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” —C.S. Lewis. The Four Loves.

Let’s talk about some of the side-by-side stuff. Early in our marriage we discovered one of our favorite places to eat together was Coney-Islander, a little hot dog joint native to Tulsa. (By “little hot dog” I’m talking about the size of the establishment and also the size of their coneys. They are adorable.) It is still our favorite. It started in 1926, and in all these years, hasn’t changed much. I hope Coney-Islander doesn’t hire one of those new fangled UX specialists to “take the company to the next level”. Their level is just fine. At Coney-Islander, you sit on the same side of the booth, side-by-side. This is so you can work out the Weekly Scramble on the old blackboard on the wall. It’s a C-I tradition.

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We often spend weekends in Tulsa. We’ve found a great place in mid-town where we can park our Airstream. It’s close to some of our favorite side-by-side type places: the Circle Cinema, a throwback art-movie theatre; Tulsa University, a Coney-Islander, and a short drive to downtown where you’ll find the arts district, Glacier Chocolates, Guthrie Green, Antionette Baking Company, Spinster Records and Driller Stadium, all good places for side-by-side moments.

There is a mix of blessings to traveling in an Airstream: people want to talk about it and “take a quick peek inside.” Recently we were hitched up and leaving Tulsa for Shawnee, where we were to attend a very special event—a birthday party for a five year old. Often, as we leave Tulsa, our route is via Peoria Avenue, through the narrow streets of Brookside to a Coney-Islander, before getting on the highway out of town. As I pulled into the parking lot on this particular Saturday, I noticed a fancy Mercedes following closely. Before I could hardly get out of the truck, there was a woman who looked like she had just come from the Lululemon store up the street, or the hair extension store somewhere nearby. “Can I please droll over your Airstream!?” (Her actual words.)

Sure, I say. I’ll be inside drooling over “a couple of coneys with everything.” (That’s how you order them.) She’s holding her phone in the air and explains to us that she has her boyfriend on FaceTime so he can take the tour as well. My Amazing-Missus graciously hosted the tour while I went into the air-conditioned Coney-Islander to wait. As I watched her walk toward the diner from the Airstream after the tour, I saw it all as a tableau of sorts or an Edward Hopper painting (but far less forlorn)—that silver trailer, this little hotdog joint, and her; walking from one to the other. Not to over-romanticize it, but it was glimpse of a magical side-by-side life together. Our travels: together, our favorite things to do: together, our memories: together, and our future: together.

And then I thought, I hope that if Miss Yogapants and her FaceTime friend find themselves in an Airstream someday they will have great side-by-side adventures too. Like the old song says:

Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along, singin' a song
Side by side
Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road, sharin' our load
Side by side
Through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It doesn't matter at all
When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just travelin' along, singin' our song
Side by side


Here’s a Coney-Islander Weekly Scramble for you. Sorry I don’t have a coney for you to enjoy while you try to figure it out. If you just can’t quite work it out, email me and I’ll send you the answer. hey.pops.hey@gmail.com.

P.S.: No Googling for the answer. You’ll hate yourself in the morning if you do.

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Road Questions

ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT TRAVELING IN AN AIRSTREAM—people want to ask you about traveling in an Airstream. For people like My Amazing-Missus this is all fine and dandy. She genuinely enjoys visiting with others and they with her. Me too; on a case-by-case basis.

airstreaming in red rock canyon state park, hinton, oklahoma

airstreaming in red rock canyon state park, hinton, oklahoma

Recently we were camped in a beautiful park on a beautiful day. I looked outside and no one was around. So, I decided to lubricate the gaskets around the Airstream’s windows. A car pulled up and a gentleman got out. I’m guessing he was a bit older than me. He started with the most oft-asked questions of the Airstream-curious:

1.) Are they still making these?
2.) How long is this? (Remind me to tell you that joke I made up in the category of “does size matter?”)
3.) How much does something like this cost (if you don’t mind me asking)?

He looked familiar. Turns out we were acquaintances years ago. I had heard that his lovely wife had been diagnosed with dementia and is now in a nursing home.

He told me that years ago the two of them had dreamed of having an Airstream and seeing the country. That’s why he had stopped to take a look at ours—just to reminisce a bit.

He asked if we were traveling full-time. I told him not yet, that I was still working. He said, “Go to work Monday and tell them you’re retiring. Don’t delay. You never know what tomorrow holds.”

Is this a sign, I wondered. Is he a prophet of some kind?

It’s not like we’re just sitting around. We’re out there. Seeing the sights. Seeking adventure. I’ve taken the sage wisdom of Ferris Bueller to heart:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. (from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Remember that girl, the one from the Beatle’s song: “She was a day tripper, a Sunday driver yeah…”

For now we’re day trippers; long weekend trippers at best. But we’re moving, we’re going, so we can stop. and look around.

Remember that guy, the one from the Beatle’s song, the one they called the “nowhere man”? Funny thing. I used to see him as a sad, aimless, clueless, hopeless shell of a person. But now I feel like I sort of get him.

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
He's as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man, can you see me at all?

Maybe he is a bit like you and me.

Oh yeah, my joke. An old guy and his Amazing-Missus walk in to an Airstream dealer.
Walt (the rv sales guy): How can I be of assistance to you folks today?
Me: We’re thinking of buying an Airstream.
Walt: Great plan! How long do you want it?
Me: A long time. We’re planning on traveling across the country and back again.

It's not you; it's us

In a moment that was surprisingly emotional, I stood at Bambi’s side and admitted that we had been looking around, dreaming of another. We’ve been together for two years and she has been nothing but wonderful to us. But, it’s time to move on.

The words are hard to type, but here it is: our beloved Bambi is For sale. There. I’ve said it.

The only thing that makes this easier is that I know she will make some other people very, very happy.

To try to explain the WHY of this decision, only makes me seem more shallow and selfish. The fact is that we have enjoyed our Bambi adventures so much, that we’re ready for more. So we’re shopping for a larger Airstream. While Bambi is perfect for weekend getaways, as we just discovered on a ten-day, 2,000 mile road trip, we need a bit more room and capacity for the longer roads.

As people selling pets always say, she’s for sale to “A good home.” I mean that with all seriousness. I would sell her only to someone whom I was certain would take meticulous care of her.

In the spirit of full disclosure, in case you’re already dreaming of your first adventure with Bambi, let me warn you there is a downside to traveling with her (especially if you’re a confirmed introvert): you will seldom stop for gas, or at a roadside park for lunch, or at a campground that you won’t have someone who comes over to you to ask questions about this little, silvery wonder. They’ll want a “peek” inside, and usually they want to know how much she cost (yes people actually ask that). I’ll always tell them she cost far less than she is worth because she is a magnificent memory-making machine.

Relative to other travel trailers, Airstreams are expensive, and Bambi is no exception. She is very rare in that she has a lot of extra equipment you won’t find on other’s of her model. She doesn’t have a single scratch or ding and she has been wonderfully cared for. She just made a trip back to the factory where she was built in Jackson Center, Ohio, for a complete checkup. She is in tip-top shape.

So, if you’re ready to wander, or know someone who is, let me know: hey.pops.hey@gmail.com. As they say: “serious inquiries only”.

#LifeDownByTheRiver

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?

Mom: Yeah.

[ 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!

Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.
— ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

RIP brother Pirsig.