Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE SOLO TRAVELER

Being single isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, I like my independence. I am reminded of the upside as I check my Facebook messages and my friend Susan fires off yet another SOS. She’s traveling for five weeks in Europe with her husband and another friend. It’s the end of week three and it seems like the end of a marriage and the friendship. Following the Tour de France in an RV must have sounded better as an Internet research exercise.

Travel can bring out the worst in people. There’s no set schedule. The setting is unfamiliar. And expectations don’t always jive with reality. My stomach churns as I read her messages. No one likes conflict. I try to acknowledge her feelings and offer encouragement. Selfishly, I sigh in relief, glad that I am the stay-behind housesitter and not another body crammed into that RV nightmare.

My own weekend began with an edge to it. Seems telemarketers from the East Coast forget that 9 a.m. in New York is 6 a.m. in L.A. It’s been that way for, well, let’s go with forever. Subtract three, people. But then, I assume telemarketing applicants aren’t put through a grueling math test as part of the hiring process. Phone? Check. Voice? Check. You’re hired!

It’s always telemarketers on Susan’s landline. I’d have muted the rings with a pillow over my head, but the dogs I am also tending long ago decided the phone’s ring is a cue to howl loud enough to sound like a pack of thirty coyotes. They’re quite convincing. I must not look the neighbors in the eye today.

After showering and walking and feeding the innocent looking dogs, I decided to get in Susan’s ultra-hip station wagon and take in my own travel adventure. Why not head south to Orange County? Anaheim. Not for Disneyland—that’s not the sort of destination for a soloist—but I’d read about a cool writers’ café in some area referred to as a promenade. Such places are always charming, right?

This wasn’t entirely a spur-of-the-moment, hide-from-the-neighbors excursion. I’d Google Mapped the route after reading about the café and a raw vegan restaurant in Sunset magazine. (Aside: Even with the eternal health craze in Southern California, going solo is the only way to go raw vegan. Hard to convince anyone that cooking carrots is just cruel.) I figured a weekend morning would be the best time to check things out. Less traffic while the locals forewent freeways to fit in yoga classes and farmers’ markets. According to Google Maps, it would take me forty minutes, forty-five tops.

But what’s a travel adventure without a few directional challenges? My Google Map directions proved to be faulty. I lost faith in the route when it neglected to mention a freeway in between the I-105 and CA-91. Somehow I guessed right, veering south onto the 605, but when my 40-minute drive exceeded an hour and I still hadn’t come across the exit sign for W. Lincoln Avenue, I pulled over.

Travel setback. Gone too far. Thankfully, there was no one to sound an early alarm and tell me to pull over to ask for directions. No one to silently seethe for being ignored in the passenger seat. No one to ultimately snap at for saying, “I told you you should have pulled over.” I simply pulled into a McDonalds, accessed the free WiFi and switched to Mapquest. I’d gone nine miles astray. I also discovered there is no Lincoln Avenue exit from CA-91. Google Maps had left off another freeway. Easy to do with so many of them in these parts. Nonetheless, dear Google Maps, I’ve deleted you from my Bookmarks. That was the extent of my aggression. No marriage, friendship or other relationship to repair. I am sure Google Maps will do just fine without me.

After ninety minutes, I finally arrived at my precious café. When I first walked in, I was disappointed. The place seemed small. Surely, I would not be able to settle in and write. Had there been a companion, I would have been heard the negative mumblings.

We drove all that way for this?!

I thought it, sure, but I calmly told my inner voice to shut up and wait in the car. And it did! I ordered the cold brew Stumptown coffee, perched myself on a shiny black stool and opened my laptop. You will write. You will soak up the inspiration. You will create something brilliant. Even if it’s only a paragraph. Or a word.

But then something happened. I tasted the cold brew and loved it. Truly! No false, pumped-up deception. I don’t know all the particular descriptors for coffee aromas and subtle hints of flavoring—this is when my brilliant word would come in handy—but it was a memorable drink. As I sucked down the beverage, I soaked in the décor. Open books suspended from the ceiling. Typewriters lining the built-in shelving. A lending library parked out front (on that charming promenade) in, of all things, a silver Airstream trailer. Now this is how to use a recreational vehicle!

The writing flowed. I ordered another coffee, this time an equally satisfying hot brew, called the Hairbender—I’ll spare you the barista’s explanation; it’s not that interesting. I sat contentedly on that teensy stool for nearly two hours. There was no one to say, “Aren’t you done yet?” No one made me shudder with, “Did you see that massive Walmart on the way here? Can we check that out?” And no one tsk-tsked when I decided to reward my writing productivity with disappointing Thai spring rolls at the vegan joint. (No one but that inner voice that apparently got bored in the car and returned with a bang-on “told you so.”)

I
made it back to my temporary home perfectly content with my morning travels. The neighbors hadn’t egged the house and the dogs hadn’t chewed up the phone cord.

I am replenished and ready to show more empathy when Susan fires off her next SOS message. I own this vacation and it feels great.

3 comments:

Rick Modien said...

I'm a little confused, RG. So it's good to be a solo traveler, but it's not good to be a solo traveler to DL?

I disagree. Of the 21 separate times I've gone since 1976, three of those were with other people. I've enjoyed being there far more by myself than with family or friends. They don't get it. They don't understand why it's such an amazing place. And, while I'm there, I do only what I want to do.

Among those things is, I treat DL like a true park (which it is). I bring my journal (or, on my last trip, my iPad), I stop at various places, and I write. I take in what's going on around me, I daydream, I enjoy a treat from a shop on Main Street, and I get a few words down. I love doing that and look forward to it. One of the best reasons to go.

Rural Gay said...

Well, Rick, it looks like we view Disneyland differently. It is certainly a place for people watching and that is always good for writing. I still see it as a place for cramming in as many rides as possible, getting a picture with Goofy and being all-out silly. (It's good for me to let loose!) That's how I spend time there. If I rode Space Mountain on my own, it just wouldn't be as fun. And I'd get really bored standing in those lines by myself.

I think it is awesome that you can have a completely different experience there. Any place that leads to productive writing is a treasure. For me, that place in Anaheim just happens to be Ink & Bean.

Different strokes,...that's all.

Rick Modien said...

Agreed. :)