I’ve finally got caught up a wee bit since returning from my week up north and I can now take a little time and write some about the trip. The seven days I spent up there was the longest I did since the loss of a close family member. It wound up being a pretty good trip for a change, I got to see relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time, and touched base with an old friend whom I really should have stayed in touch with a lot more. I ate too much, but it was all good. Ran around the area some, drove something called an “automobile”, and watched some mind numbing contraption called a, “television”. It was even worse than I remembered. But as nice as it was to visit, I am awful glad I don’t live up there and I was most happy to be back home on the rock.
The weather up there is definitely not tropical. The first two days it was rainy and cold, getting down into the 30’s at night. The only time I want to feel 30 degrees is when I stick my hand in an ice chest. It was cold. It did clear up and get warmer for the rest of the trip but I had to wear long pants everyday. Very cumbersome.
Seems like the only time I ever drive anymore is when I go up there. The vehicle I got to motor around in was something called a Subaru Outback. I guess as cars go, it’s nice. It is comfortable and all but the goddam inside has more buttons, dials, levers, and displays than the planes I flew up in. When you back up a little television appears in the rearview mirror to show what’s behind you, because apparently, turning your head is too much work. It took me 5 minutes to figger out how to work the damn windshield wipers. While it’s roomy inside, and climate controlled, it is way too complicated for me. I’ll take a trusty old jeep anytime. Still, it got us around when needed.
Traffic where I was staying was pretty heavy. The place is right near the shopping district which attracts shoppers from 50 miles away in every direction. This place is a chain store wet dream with virtually every major retailer you can think of located there. There has to be at least 10 individual major shopping centers and who knows how many smaller ones. I mean everything from wallymart on is located there and we did our best to go to every one of them. One of my relatives comes in from another expensive resort town out west on this visit so she makes a point to shop for all her new clothes while she is there. It’s a lot cheaper than where she lives, so we shopped till we dropped.
I was a bit guilty too, although I didn’t spend much. I scored some new replacement duds as several stores up there also sell Columbia brand. I also got some new shoes for my tired little feet. In that respect the trip was worth it.
Did I mention we ate a lot? We ate. A lot. I’m not used to eating 3 meals a day but they do up there. And in between lots of goodies like homemade cookies, my beloved Middleswarth chips, and more. The dairy’s are pretty close by so the milk and ice cream is extremely fresh and good. We ate out several times but the home cooked meals were the best. Roast beasts with mashy taters, filling balls, and hotdogs on the grill for Memorial Day. I actually had to eat some antacids every night so I could sleep. I put on at least 5 pounds over the week and it was worth every ounce. It was some damn good eatin’.
But with all the good of the trip, I am so glad I no longer live there. It’s a totally different lifestyle from down here. There is a sameness to the year that never seems to change. Summers are spent cutting grass, tending gardens, going on the occasional trip to the lake or a picnic. End of July and early August you take your standard 2 weeks vacation. If you do anything it’s usually the typical week at Disney or at the seashore down in Delaware or Maryland. Maybe visit a distant relative, but not much else.
Come fall you are preparing for winter. Raking leaves, putting up storm windows, winter tires on the cars. Maybe watch some football or go hunting on the weekends. All your summer clothes have to be put away and winter clothes brought out. The farms are harvesting so you grab all the fresh food you can and start preserving or canning for the winter.
Winter itself up there doesn’t have a lot of snow. Mostly long ass days of gray skies, cold rain, and mud. There is some snow and when it does come down it quickly turns black from all the car exhaust. While the holidays do offer some brief and expensive respite, the rest of the winter is some of the most depressing time of the year.
Spring means lots of cleaning. Taking down the storm windows, doing the tire thing on the car again. Switching out the wardrobes, and planting a garden perhaps. Then the whole process starts over again.
This is a very old area, settled way back when the country was first started. My families on both sides were here before the revolution as were many others. The buildings are old and despite the intrusions of the interstate and all the shopping centers, little has changed up there. Life is very predictable. You go to school, maybe college or a trade school. Get a job for life, marry, buy a house, have kids, work until retirement, die. I was amazed when I found out how many people I went to school with never left the area. It’s like they had any dreams of adventure beaten out of them in school. When they got out, reality hit, and it was off to work and raise a family. No deviation.
It’s depressing as all hell compared to the way I live now. You can see it all around up there. The clothes people wear are heavy and drab. Most of one’s spare time is spent working on the house. Cleaning, trimming, cutting grass, raking, doing repairs. The home renovation stores are packed on Saturday mornings. People do have some toys. You’ll see the occasional boat or rv in the back yard, maybe a motorcycle here or there. I did notice a lot of kayaks being bought the weekend I was up there. There are several lakes nearby. But the summers are short, and weather iffy, so nothing gets used a whole lot. When it rains, and when it does it rains for days on end, people just seem to shamble around like zombies from place to place. There is no cheeriness, more of a sense of just getting on with life. Get it over with so we can die.
I sat and talked with a lot folks up there and regaled them with tales of some of the goings on down here. Fantasy Fest got a lot of raised eyebrows, as did the bed races, weiner dog parade, and all the other nonsense. For us down here in Key West, it’s a way of life. Everything has a touch of whimsy or silliness to it. One minute you are in a bar talking about doing a race across a short bridge, the next thing you know, 1000 people show up dressed like cows. It’s the Key West way. Up there, it’s all plain and serious. This is no joke, the amusement park we used to go to when I was a kid was called, Bland Park. True story. The few parades have little more than the high school band, a few fire trucks, and maybe a military vehicle. The idea of dressing up in silly costumes and pushing bedroom furniture down a street is not only stupid, it’s simply not done. Yeah, it’s a bit conservative. And there is no changing the lifestyle up there even if one were to try. Everyone is so entrenched into the lifestyle that does exist it would be next to impossible and in some cases probably illegal to have the sort of celebrations up there which we have down here.
I spent nearly 20 of my first 23 years of life living up there. I am not exaggerating when I say I hated every single minute of it. It was the most miserable time of my life and if anything, I regret that I didn’t leave sooner than I did. The depression and anxiety, the lack of ambition, it permeates everything up there. The desire to go and see new places and seek adventure? Yeah that was all drilled out of you by the time high school graduation rolled around. Got a dream? Forget it. Childhood is over. You are an adult now. Get the job, earn the paychecks, buy the house, marry, have kids. It’s your lot in life and there will be no changing it. Every time I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always talked about the ocean, scuba diving, Florida, the tropics, someplace warm, adventure, travel. And every time I did mention it, I would get a rolling of the eyes, a shaking of the head, a wagging of the finger, and a stern lecture about the realities of life.. Such nonsense was not for the likes of me nor anyone I knew. Life was not an adventure, it was to be gotten on with. Enjoyment was fleeting and unexpected. Be happy in your work and be glad you have a roof over your head and a job because out beyond those mountains is a big scary world with bad things that are beyond your understanding. It’s safe here. You have all you need. So grow up and quit spouting such drivel.
Yeah, you can tell how well I listened to that bullshit. And just for the record, I ain’t ever growing up.
Compared to up there I ain’t exactly successful. I have no home, no vehicles, no wife nor kids, (Whew!), and no real job. I have no retirement fund, I am barely making the rent, and if some emergency came up, I would probably be in deep shit. And I wouldn’t trade it for what’s up there ever. I may not have 40 years working in a factory to brag on. I may not have the grand kids over on the weekend, (again…Whew!). I may not have all the comforts that 10 shopping centers can provide. But I got a slew of cool memories and a lot of adventures yet to come. I’ve lived on a sailboat in Key West, scuba dived off the Bimini Wall, rode a motorcycle across the country, and annoyed more wimmen than should be legally allowed. I can still be awe struck by something as simple as a sunset, while up there, sunset barely gets noticed. At some point in the near future I’ll be staring at the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic. I’ll never cut grass again, nor rake leaves, nor shovel snow. The clothes I own I can wear year round. Nope, I would not trade out my life choices ever for what I left back there. In their eyes, I may be a failure, but their eyes don’t see beyond the mountains that cocoon them from the rest of the world. That is their loss, not mine.
I will go back of course, to visit. Given that most of my family up there is over 80 and 90 years of age, I will have to go back to take care of things now and then. But to live there permanently again? Never. Bring me the big scary world with the bad things. Show me the horizon where the next adventure awaits. This shit is just getting started.
You will never be too old to run away from home and be a pirate.