It has always been either one of my worst--or one of my best--characteristics, that throughout my life, every now and again I get a wild hair up my snout and decide to turn my world upside down. This was easier to accomplish when I was younger. In October of 1980, at twenty-two, all my worldly goods could fit into my beige '62 Beetle, Ophelia. Back then I could pack up and drive across the continental US from upstate New York to Berkeley via Phoenix with just a pair of finches in a bamboo cage, strapped into the passenger seat to keep me company.
I look at my travel diary from that trip and wonder if Bert and Louise Stegerman still run the Howard Hughes Motor Lodge in Greenfield, Indiana--but I suspect they don't--and wonder, also, if it is still as difficult to find ladies' sanitary items in the stores of Greenfield as it was on that apparently desperate afternoon nearly thirty-two years ago. I hope it is not.
I later moved to Tucson on a similar whim, started cosmetology school likewise, married a man I met through friends on the internet, started our own business, and, finally, went back to college at age fifty. Did I have a moment's trepidation before doing any of these things? A speck of time and a whiff of insight when I thought, Gee, what if this won't be as easy as I imagine? What if I hate the weather in Tucson, develop asthma because of my years of exposure to the chemicals used in cosmetology, which causes us to have to close our salon, and college in my fifties is rather stressful? (Note there are no doubts about the marriage or the husband.) Would I have done any of these things if I known?
I used to experience what I call Blinding Flashes of the Obvious: those moments when, like Wile E. Coyote, I understand I have stepped over the edge of the cliff, and I look into the camera with a thought bubble that reads, "Uh-oh!" I experienced this my first time snow skiing in high-school, when I realized: "Hey. Wait just one second. Here I am, whizzing down an icy hill with two boards strapped to my feet, and only these sticks with which to control my headlong, precipitous flight." This was just before I plowed face-first through the snow fence at the bottom of the hill, unstrapped and unbuckled myself, and told my friends, "I'll meet you in the lodge when you're finished."
Or the time a few years later, that last, green August before I left New York, when I was water skiing like a pro my first day out, enjoying the summer day, the sunshine, and the wonder of being me, before thinking, "Hey. Wait just one second. Here I am, standing on a board on the surface of a seemingly bottomless, black, cold lake (a lake probably fraught with long-necked reptilian monsters and the decaying bodies of other hapless water skiers of years past). I'm holding onto a rope, the other end of which is attached to a boat driven by an un-sober maniac, and flying across the lake at dangerous speeds." Needless to say, I don't rock-climb, sky-dive, travel by bus in third world countries, or eat ethnic foods.
I thought the sleepless nights and the zombie days of owning our own business had finally taught me not to leap into anything with thoughts of, "What the heck, other people do this all the time!" I thought I realized, at last, that I'm not like those people. I don't have the temperament or the intestinal fortitude to sleep three hours a night and run a Fortune 500 company brilliantly, or do brain surgery, or hold political office. My speed is slow, and usually couch-bound.
Yet here I've done it again. Here my husband and I are, about to set forth on another adventure of my devising. This fall, my penultimate semester in college, we plan to sell nearly everything we have, store the rest, and take off for Norwich, England, where I will do a semester abroad (wait until they see what their exchange has brought them. Do they send two twenty-seven year olds to take my place?) at the University of East Anglia. On the way we will stop in my hometown of Hyde Park, New York, so I can do research for my Honors thesis (oh, yeah, did I mention I thought I should take on an Honors program? Hmmm, I thought not).
Follow our adventures as we make our way east and north, to places where the overnight temperature dips below eighty degrees Fahrenheit, trees are more than overgrown shrubs, rain is not a spectator sport, and the architecture is more than ten years old. I have no clue what will happen. I suspect it won't always be as easy as I thought it would be. But I do know it's going to be an amazing ride.