Friday, August 27, 2010

An American Exile: Hitting the Road

So, I began the trek, this “exile” with a mathematical problem…how do you load yourself, your spouse, three dogs and everything we would need for our three weeks on the road into the minivan without a fight. The solution…you don’t. The negotiations were fierce and traumatic–just as any situation where you are forced to give up precious commodities–but we did manage to get down to a minimum and hit the road.

Off we went! The plan is to head up through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as we swing our way out west towards Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Our first stint was a short one due to a late start but we did manage to make it to Fayette where we were told of some amazing remnants of the iron industry. Driving from the Lower Peninsula into the Upper Peninsula is kind of like a time warp…almost like driving back into the 1960’s…but it is beautiful!

Everyone survived this first leg despite feeling a bit homeless and a bit restless. We parked in a rest area the first night and slept in the van. This was not the most comfortable of situations, especially with three fidgety corgis, but we made due and were able to head out rather quickly in the morning.

When we got going, we immediately made our way down the small neck of land towards Fayette and visited the historic town there that was built around the iron furnaces. The weather was beautiful and it was a great place to waste away the morning looking at the restored buildings and iron works. It’s amazing to think about all the people who lived and worked there up until the iron production shut down in 1906. I keep thinking about the phrase “eke out a living” and can’t help but wish that I was doing that right now rather than wandering the country. But, seeing this iron town, and especially the schoolhouse, reminded me of how much the “American Dream” has changed.

When I was in fourth grade, we had a social studies book entitled “The American Dream” and, for some reason, this title has stuck with me all of this time. Perhaps it was because my parents both were shining examples of how things worked in America. My dad was a self-employed roofer with no more than an eighth grade education. He had worked with the carpet company his family had come to the U.S. with before serving in World War II, he worked hard, made his living and helped to take care of his family in a kind and gentle manner. My mother, in comparison, held a master’s degree and was a female corporate executive for a pharmaceutical company. She was a tough woman who aspired to run her family in much the same way she had to survive in the corporate world…through aggressive management and intimidation. Despite their divergent backgrounds however, my folks fell in love, got married and raised a family. They both worked hard and my sister and I were provided with a solid upper middle-class upbringing. Now, as I stand and look at the re-creation of the old schoolhouse, I can’t help but feel sad at how bad things have gotten in this country and how the American dream I grew up with has been scrambled into a waking nightmare.

As we continued west past Fayette, I kept thinking about the idea of scratching out a living. Here we were, driving through some very remote communities and I wondered about who lived there, what they did for a living, how they paid their bills. I was feeling encouraged in a way, started to feel a little better. After all we were in some beautiful country and the scenery in itself was incredibly uplifting but then we stumbled across something quite poignant…and old crumbling school in the middle of nowhere. We stopped because of the site of this large decaying building and I was enjoying taking pictures until I noticed the desks through a broken out window. The symbolism of finding this remnant at this time in my travels was powerful. Was it a reminder of my decaying American dream or a metaphor for my own disenfranchisement from my career in education? Regardless, it made me feel a little unsettled again and I was anxious to keep moving west.
As time ran out on our daylight, we turned into a campsite on the shores of Lake Gogebic just as the moon was coming up over the horizon. At least for now, we could settle in and not feel so homeless. It’s surprising how the wonders of hot food, flush toilets and a shower can change your perspective. Hopefully tomorrow, we can get the hell out of Michigan and push westward.

An American Exile: Prelude

How one deals with the gravity of life’s situations can say a lot about the character of that person. This one has been struggling with all that has been happening over the past several months. Sometimes, the struggle has been to stay optimistic while, at other times, the struggle has been my own apathy. I want to be pissed-off, angry…I want to be upset, to cry…I want to feel my dignity again. The trouble is that I have not been able to feel anything with any sort of intensity. Nothing so intense, anyway as to give me a signal that I’m alive. It’s as if I am a spectator of my own life. Pathetic!

By all accounts the summer has been fun. Hanging out with friends, going to baseball games, the beach, the drive-in, wine tasting…all suitable distractions to the inevitable fact that I am out of work, have no health insurance and am almost out of money. My nights have been filled with “working” dreams and my days have been filled with “what if” dreams. I relish going back to work and feeling as though I have something to contribute to the world but the longer that takes the more plausible the life of an outlaw is becoming. I just keep moving forward one day at a time from one distraction to another.

As summer begins to wane, circumstances have dictated time away from my temporary shelter, forcing me to consider options. At first I was a little unsettled to have to pick up from a situation that can best be described as a state of limbo but then considered that this could be a great personal opportunity for me. Besides being weighted down by my own problems, I seemed to also be embracing everything else that was happening in the world…the BP oil spill, an incredible economic crisis, masses of people losing their jobs and their homes, asshole politicians playing their usual games, fear mongers spreading their lies. After celebrating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by replaying the insanity of events that took place over and over on cable programming, I was beginning to really feel the culture of misery that has overtaken this country. No wonder why people go out and just start shooting the place up.

Having not fully developed my own plan of outlaw heraldry and not really feeling the whole gun thing (I still think guns are for pussies), I decided to go west. Why…because that was the opposite direction of the familiar. It was the direction of my own American exile. I would head off into the countryside, avoiding the interstates and really try to see what really makes America great…the land contained within it borders. My goal will not only be distraction but a journey of my own feelings and emotions to see if I can find some vibrancy and return to my former intensity.