It’s a rainy day here in New Orleans. As much as I feel I ought to be soaking up (so to speak) everything this city has to offer, I am also grateful for the excuse to sit comfortably in my friend’s apartment, take some time to collect my thoughts, and reflect on the first few weeks of the journey I’ve undertaken.
I’ve never blogged before, so please forgive me if there are moments of uninteresting storytelling or rambling prose. If I keep this up I suspect I’ll get better at it. And if I don’t, then I hope whatever posts I do make are at least marginally entertaining for you to read.
If you’re looking for a polished travel blog to inspire your next holiday, you will be well served to continue your search. In the meantime, I’ve been on the road for about three weeks now, and with some downtime I thought I’d fill you all in on what I’ve been up to, and maybe share some things I’m learning, too.
I can’t really talk about the beginning of my journey without talking about the end of my grandfather’s. I visited my Grandpa Steve at his memory care facility with my dad and my Grandma Gerry on March 26, my grandparents’ 69th wedding anniversary. Steve’s breathing was heavy and labored, and he never quite woke up, but my grandmother held his hand and kissed his forehead, and we sat with him for the afternoon. It wasn’t much of a party, to be honest, but we were together. And there was cake. Still, though I had planned to push off from San Diego the next day, I decided that afternoon to stay in San Diego, at least through the weekend. Steve died early the next morning.
My grandfather lived 97 happy, mostly healthy, and, as he would often say, “lucky” years. Over the last 8 months or so, his age finally caught up to his body and his mind. He died in his sleep in Rancho Bernardo, CA, near the house where he and my Grandma Gerry lived for nearly 30 years. Gerry now lives in an apartment at a senior community nearby. To say that I’m grateful to have grown up with them so close to me in San Diego and to still have both of my incredible grandmothers in my life doesn’t begin to cover it. I have been deeply blessed in the grandparents department.
After Steve died, I stayed in San Diego for his funeral and to observe shiva, the first seven days of Jewish ritual mourning. As sad as I was, and still am, I can’t help but take the timing of my grandfather’s death as a gift. Changed though my plans were, the chance to be with family and grieve together, as well as make some final preparations and breathe deeply before my trip were most welcome. I learned a lot about my grandfather that week, and I wonder whether there’s more of him in me than I realized.
For instance, my grandpa loved to drive, and seemed to relish the challenge of reaching far-flung destinations. I heard the story of the time he drove my dad and uncle, as children, from New York to visit family in Alabama, and then after about a day announced that he was ready to head back home. He and my grandmother drove from New York to Alaska (maybe twice), and from New York to Costa Rica, leaving their car there during the spring, summer, and autum, and returning to it every winter for many years. At 95 years old, my grandfather drove with my grandma from San Diego to Seattle and back, and from San Diego to Denver and back to see their grandchildren.
Steve also loved to be at and tend to his home. My dad and uncle described him as a “country lawyer,” who never got to work before 9am, ate lunch at home every day, and never left work after 5pm. He was happiest working on a home improvement project or tinkering in his wood shop or the garden. I don’t know if he had any training, but he was quite handy.
By the time Steve was my age, he had fought in and been a prisoner of war, gotten married, and had a child. Our lives’ journeys and achievements will seem, on paper, quite different from one another’s by the end of my life. And yet, I feel him with me, driving over long stretches of road, in the mobile home that I built for myself. I regret not finishing my van even two months earlier, so that I might have shown it to him. But I think he would have loved it, and I know he would’ve liked the idea of taking a trip like mine, of setting out to achieve something, even if just for the sake of doing it.
I am proud of my Grandpa Steve for the life that he lived, for the person he was, for carving out his own slice of happiness and contentment and for holding onto it as long as he could. I wish no less for myself, and for all of you. Rest in love, Grandpa Steve. We carry you with us.
Eventually, I did push off from San Diego, and headed east as planned. Ostensibly I am “on tour,” and I do have work lined up around the country, making music as usual. But that’s not why I’m on the road. I could tell you that I want to visit every state before I die, which I do, or that I have plans to complete my quest to see a baseball game in every major league ballpark by the end of the year, which I (hopefully) will. But I don’t think that’s why I’m on this trip either.
Maybe I’m running away from the master’s thesis that’s been a monkey on my back for 5 years and which I’m not entirely sure I’ll return to working on at all. Maybe always leaving town is a way to keep myself from getting too attached to people, or to keep them from getting too attached to me. Or maybe some people just feel called to wander. Even before grad school frustrated me, I felt drawn to a more nomadic life. “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,” or so the song goes. Here’s where I’ve rambled over the last few weeks:
I left San Diego on Friday, April 5, to spend Shabbat in Julian, CA, working at a synagogue retreat and setting myself up for a little seed money come payday. I then spent nights in Tucson, AZ; El Paso, TX; Carlsbad, NM; San Angelo, TX; Houston, TX; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Texarkana, TX/AR; Shreveport, LA; and Jackson, MS.
After 2500 miles, lots of disc golf (more on that to come, I’d guess), a couple of baseball games (definitely more on that to come), and a performance at the Mississippi Freedom Seder, I arrived in Mobile, AL, looking forward to a week celebrating Passover and catching up with family.
The story goes on from there, but with your permission I’ll pick it up next time. Now, I’m off to explore what New Orleans is all about. I send you love, wherever you are, from the Gulf Coast. And I’d love to hear from you with comments, questions, or suggestions for anything you’d like to read about.
Peace be the journey,