Hastily arranged, that meeting. And over now. I just left my father standing in my paternal grandmother's driveway. Hastily, because we did not connect until yesterday. I couldn't reach him the day before. That day before was the day I stopped waiting for tax returns, the day I decided to leave the Winnebago behind, the day I began mapping out an itinerary of bus trips through Mexico.
I depart in forty-eight hours.
Sudden, yes. Surprised me. I hardly slept that night-- that night I gave myself to sleep on the idea. And the night after, again, little sleep--the unfixed itinerary fluxing through my thoughts. But yesterday I finalized the itinerary. And last night I slept. And today--my dad.
"So you're about to be a traveling man," he said. He said it actually three or four times. But really I am already amid my trip. And then wistfully, "I wish I could have two months to travel through Mexico." This he also repeated. "But he deserves it," he explained to my grandmother. "He's stayed away from all the commitments that keep most people from doing it." And clearly then before me I saw The Sandra Texts, scene one.
My father has always been supportive of my unorthodox pursuits. A conversation once in his own driveway probably made them possible. "Intelligent men learn from their own mistakes, John," he uttered then gravely. "But it's a brilliant man that learns from the mistakes of others." I had just told him I was to propose marriage to Sandra. He did not offer me congratulations. He offered me instead that aphorism. I delayed my proposal by a year because of that aphorism. The year of maturity that aphorism bought probably forestalled early marriage, divorce, and a sheaf of lucrative advertising copy. In return I was granted the fortune of a tragic romance, The Sandra Texts which will be born from it, and a freedom that allows me to idle myself in a cafe on this Super Bowl Sunday and scribble my thoughts.
Roebury's. A chain bookstore-cafe that is suddenly everywhere: Tucson. North county San Diego. Wichita. It's quiet. A subdued jazz clarinet plays through some sound apparati. Duke Ellington, I think. I came here hoping for an Americano. It wasn't on the menu but the counterguy knew of it and displaced me for a moment out of this state. Long hair, goatee, an uninstructed knowledge of my simple but unfamiliar drink and suddenly I stood in downtown California, Le Café Riche.
At every turn that you defy convention you invite fear. And so at every turn fear demands that you obey convention. But convention is a trampled path, a path trampled by a herd, a herd stampeding away from some innocuous shudder of thunder. And the thunder is innocuous. For the thunder means nothing. The stampeding calms not the fear anyway, only excites it. Fall in with the herd and you spend your life running from something you've been taught you should fear, something you've never seen, something you cannot even name, something that isn't there. There is nothing to fear. The most difficult step to take though is that first step, that step out of the herd. Once outside the herd you understand. Look! you say. Look! Nothing to fear! Once outside you see that you've been made a fool. You become canny. You never forget that your fears were unfounded. Forever after you see each fear as a liar and a thief. You become ever-ready to challenge fear, sometimes even belligerently so. Fear becomes to you a guide to where you should go and what you should do, not the contrary.
I described this principle to my mother as I explained to her surprised eyes my unexpected and imminent departure. Fear poisons the soul, I told her. "Isn't there any compromise?" she asked. And, "No," I answered. But I do not seek fear. Seeking it is unnecessary. I'm no daredevil. I simply define my objective, choose the best path toward it, and then proceed regardless the obstacles. Always, without exception, the most ominous of the obstacles dissipate before me. The armies prove to be herds of swine. The dragons prove to be windmills. Apparitions, they prove to be. Apparitions of fear.
Fear was my guide when I decided to drive the Winnebago through Mexico. There are hundreds of obstacles to such an adventure. Hundreds of apparitions to face. Bandits in the mountains of Veracruz and Puebla. Engine trouble and mercenary mechanics. Corrupt officials at northern checkpoints. All favorite apparitions. All false apparitions. Because of them I determined to drive the Winnebago. Then Thursday night came. As I sat in the Winnebago over the Dhammapada of the Buddha a wash of ideas coalesced in me, came into focus. The ideas triggered something, a thought. I realized something. I changed my mind.
I cannot visit southern Kansas without looking for Sandra. I do not consciously look for her. Quite unconsciously, I do. It's only when I realize that I'm looking for her that it becomes conscious. Like now. A maturing man in a blue blazer sits down with a younger woman. The younger woman wears long black hair. I look again. Sandra? But it isn't. Every time I see black hair cut to shoulder length I look again. And every time I think it is Sandra. But every time I am fortunately mistaken. For though I look, I look with trepidation. I do not want to see Sandra. I do not want to face Sandra. I cannot face that sudden quandary of whether to speak. Would I speak? What would speech bring? Would she speak? What might we say? I do not want to know.
Click. Click. Click. And the counterguy beats then at the espresso machine. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. A man in a cowboy hat waits devoutly.
I fell asleep that night to my soul flexing. I felt its edginess at, its eagerness for, its begging the challenge of the trip. This the fruit of my afternoon reading, or really the ideas that had interrupted my afternoon reading. In the park I reclined, Atlas Shrugged open before me, the ideas efflorescent: If one believes in an energy, as I do, in a law, in an order that undergirds everything. If one believes that there is something unexplainably in-concrete out of which all things concrete resolve, as I do. If one believes, as I do, there is an underlying explanation for the consistency, the concinnity, the harmony of things, why would one fear anything? I mean, to believe in a kind of all- pervading, all-undergirding, all-underlying energy seems to make everything else--evil, accident, natural disaster-- irrelevant. For if the energy truly undergirds everything then accident, too, comes from the energy, disaster, too, from the order, even evil. They all play a role. And so, as I examined my own belief, as I reclined there in the sun trying to come into consistency with my own belief, I decided that if I accepted the existence of this order, of this law, of this energy, I had to admit that there was nothing that could contradict it. Nothing. For everything plays a part in it. And my thoughtstream dammed there. And a supper of baked pork chops was consumed. And my readings stalled. The uncontradictable. The irrefragable. A bog. I found myself slumped in the motor home, not reading the teachings of the Buddha, stumped as to where to take the thought.
A beautiful girl, but dour. She in denim overwear and a blue workshirt. She just wandered through, attentive to the paintings hung. More people around now. Music new age now-- boneless. By accident I picked a great table, round. The lamplight falls just right. Gray day.
So accident, so natural disaster, so evil are not to be feared! If I really believe in the undergirding energy and order and law I have to believe that. And so, suddenly, I believed that. My fears evaporated. I relived suddenly my realization that the mystery of genius existed. I saw suddenly the trajectory of my life that had led me to that realization. And then I saw the trajectory of my life since that moment. This journey is the next obvious step. This mystery is a question I must engage. Seeing this made me fearless in a way I have never before felt fearless. With that fearlessness I could leave behind the Winnebago. For I had been terrified of whipping that lame horse through Mexico. That was why I was to whip it through Mexico--to overcome that terror. I was no longer terrified, you know. So I could leave the Winnebago behind. I could shelter it in some corral somewhere. I could find alternate means of travel. I could abandon my Rocinante.
These were my sudden thoughts over the Dhammapada. They came flushed with adrenaline, with eager strength, with decisiveness. A guide book I saw clearly in my mind then. An itinerary, I would plan. I would test the possibility of making the trip on the money I had. Sixty days. Yes. I would shorten the trip from ninety to sixty days. At twenty dollars a day I might manage that. But first--say nothing, nothing to anyone. Not to my mother. Not to my sister. Sleep on it. Decide in the morning.
But the decision was made. I slept fitfully that night. And the next. And the following morning I explained to my mother's surprised eyes my train of thoughts. Since then I've spent two days on a lengthy itinerary which plans my visit to twenty-three cities in fifty-six days at eleven- hundred dollars. I will take one large green travel bag, a thousand sheets of loose leaf paper, and Shakespeare, just Shakespeare. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Tomorrow I drive the Winnebago back to Junction City to park it in my grandmother's backyard. The next day I will leave for Ft. Worth to visit my sister and my nieces. From there, February first, I will leave for San Antonio. San Antonio is where this journey will begin. Or really, I guess I should say, it is where this journey continues.