Monday, May 28, 2007

4. For the Love of John Prine

If you are heading out on the highway, don't leave home without some John Prine songs as counterpoint to the rhythm of the road beneath your wheels. And if you are stuck at home for now, download some Prine into your iPod, attach the earbuds, close your eyes and hit play; your mind can be behind the wheel even if your body isn't.

John is a master of the poignant melody, of the lyric whose words don't quite make sense but whose feeling is unescapable.

I was listening to "Hello in There," which will make you think of old friends. So, like looking up an old friend, I looked up John Prine on iTunes, found a CD he made in '05, and discovered the song "Clay Pigeons," which will make you want to look up old friends.

In seemingly unrelated news, a wildfire on Catalina Island was beaten back by heroic firefighters, before it could engulf the almost-magical town of Avalon. Stay tuned, though -- nothing is unrelated.

In 1976, my very best friend was Bob. For the life of me, I can't remember how we met our how we got to be such good friends. We were 2/3 of a trio, along with Dave (who died in '78 or so when his jeep overturned).

Spring break of '76 (well, I think that's when it was), Bob & I had an adventure. We had saved up some money and decided to spend the week on Catalina Island. We got our reservations at the hotel, got our tickets for the ferry, and headed out. When we were checking in to the hotel, and they asked for ID, we were informed that it was illegal for anyone under 18 to spend the night on Catalina island without an accompanying adult. I believe Bob was 17 and I was 15 at the time. The last ferry had already left for the mainland. The hotel guy politely told us we couldn't stay there.

Bob completely freaked out. I had never seen anyone completely freak out before; it was interesting. I just figured somehow God would take care of us. Asking the hotel guy what to do, he suggested we could try a bed and breakfast a mile or so away; perhaps they would be more likely to overlook the rules. We went over to the B&B, and surprisinly enough (it was spring break after all), they had a room to spare and they didn't ask us for ID. We had a great time hanging out in Avalon, playing old nickel pinball machines, meeting other Jesus Freaks on the beach, singing, praying, watching a baptism ceremony in Avalon Harbor. The kind of week you never forget, the kind you write about.

Bob moved to Brentwood, then to Ohio for college. We wrote letters back and forth regularly, then slowly lost touch. I think he came to visit me once in Santa Cruz, my memory is fuzzy on this. It was one of those awkward things where we'd both changed in different directions and couldn't find the way to reconnect. I completely lost touch after that, and spent years never thinking once about the man.

Friendships like the one Bob and I had are a rare thing in life -- a friend so close you plan your vacations together, you write letters and travel miles and miles to make sure you stay connected. Most of my life, I haven't had a friend that close. It seems so unthinkable, that as short as life is, we still have time to forget about the people who meant the most to us.

When I was visiting Bob in Brentwood in '77 or '78 he introduced me to the music of John Prine. John is not a household name, and his music isn't played much on the radio. Most likely if not for Bob I would never have heard of the man.

But John Prine's songs will make you think of old friends. So I googled Bob, and maybe I found him. Someone with his name, a professional musician who lives in LA and went to college in Ohio. It looks like the right guy; the one picture where I can see his right hand, it looks like the ends of two fingers are missing (the definitive sign that it's my Bob). I sent him an email yesterday. I haven't heard back yet. If it is him, and if he responds, what will we have to say to each other after all these years?

For one thing, I want to thank him for introducing me to John Prine.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

3. Worse than Gone Forever

Remember that these posts show up latest first, so start at the bottom!

I know what you want to say to me.

Glenn, your problem is that you moved to often. For your whole life, you've never spent ten years living in the same city. If you had stayed put, you wouldn't feel so untethered now. Home would be home.

Except that you are wrong. It doesn't matter if you are moving or if you are staying put. The planet moves faster than you do.

For years, I assumed I would spend my whole life in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was home (more so than anyplace else before or since). But Santa Cruz -- the Santa Cruz that was my home -- is gone. It doesn't exist anymore. The Santa Cruz that was my home is the Santa Cruz where I would spend time with Scott and Daniel and Marty and Michael and Randy and Rich and Katie and Gayle and Ann and Phred and Melissa and Ricky. Look all you want, they aren't there. Before I left Santa Cruz, it left me.

But it's worse than gone. Because I can go to the place where it used to be, and what I will find there is this creepy doppelgänger of the place that was my home. It looks almost the same, but the loneliness is palpable. My chest tightens up any time I go there. If I hadn't left Santa Cruz, I would wake up with that haunted feeling every single day.

That is why it is best to keep moving. Stay a step ahead of the ghosts that are trying to haunt you until you get to your real home at last.

2. The Problem of Home

My home is not the road.

I mean, I know the ultimate answer. But knowing the ultimate answer does me no good right now. Maybe in forty years. Maybe tomorrow. Not now.

My home is eternal communion with my Lord and with my brothers and sisters. When a place and time on earth feels like home, I know that the feeling is a shadow, a foretaste, of real home. We never find our way home in this life. And we never stop looking.

I know that.

I have lived in places that felt like home and I have lived in places that did not. Wander back through my memories with me. The first place I can remember feeling at home in was 1244 College Avenue, Claremont, CA. I lived there in 1967. I've driven past the bungalow recently; it still looks the same.

We lived in two different houses in Rialto when I was a kid. Neither of them felt like home. The closest I felt to home in Rialto was in my tree house, in the eucalyptus in the back yard.

In 1979 I worked at Disneyland. Just for the summer. I knew all the ins and outs. Where the break areas are. Employees-only shortcuts from Adventureland to Frontierland. The restaurants that no one knows about. Where the barbershop is. When I was working at Disneyland, I was living with Dan and Steve in an APT upstairs from a chiropracters office in Ontario, CA. It does not make any sense, but Disneyland felt like home. The APT never quite did.

The next place that felt like home was a cabin in the woods on the banks of a river in Felton, CA. I lived there with Marty, who is really home now.

Actually, my home in those days was quite large, for it encompassed all of Santa Cruz from the Aptos Twin to Farrell's Donuts. That era lasted from 1980 until 1985. That was the last place that felt like home.

No, that was the last place I lived that felt like home. I've never lived in Minnesota. I have visted several times. I remember being surprised by the feeling the moment the plane touched down at MSP on my first trip in 1990. This is home. The feeling has wafted over me on each trip since.

For five and a half years I have lived in Tucson, Arizona. I like it here; I'm happy here. For twelve years before that I lived in Silicon Valley. I was happy there also. Neither place ever felt like home.

1. The Distant Music of Revving Engines

My home is the road.

Usually I begin to catch the scent of an upcoming road trip, a month or two up the line. At some point, sitting in my office, I am distracted by the distant music of revving engines.

My traveling journals began in 1982 with a trip to Toronto from my home in California. I have four books scribbled with handwriting I used to think only I could read. The entries mostly concern being somewhere else than here. Now I am a blogger, of sorts anyhow. So I'll share the journal and share the journey.

The road trip is still seven weeks away. The details aren't figured out yet. I don't know the route. The destination is familar, though. I found myself there in 1990, 1999, and 2000, a few days each time. You'll find it midway between a giant wooden lumberjack and a giant fiberglass walleye. It is a peaceful place called Bay Lake, and it is as much like home as any other place I've been.

My mind keeps getting ahead of my body. My body will spend the next seven weeks trapped in Tucson. My mind will wander through all the alternative routes that lead from Arizona to Minnesota, roads familiar and strange.