I am the MacGyver of travel.
I have cobbled together the last 6 weeks from one spider-legged plane ticket, reinforced steel beams of friendship, and found-just-in-the-nick-of-time trust, all tied together with a string of selfless giving by amazing people.
I spent two weeks in Alexandria, Virginia and DC with some of my family, reconnecting with who I came from, appreciating with new eyes places that I long ago stopped actually seeing.
I stepped into my best friend’s life in Denver, Colorado as comfortably as though we hadn’t lived in different states for the past 11 years. She got married & graduated med school just over a year ago, and it was strange to see her all grown up with a husband and a house and a dog, as a doctor with life-and-death responsibilities. This is the same skinny girl I met at 13, the same girl I double-dated to prom with, the same girl who held my hair back at college parties; this is the girl that is just as oddball cheesy and silly as I am, still. She shopped apartments for me, hoping to convince me to move to Denver, and just to live close to her again makes that a very lucrative thought.
I dropped in on Boston, Massachusetts last-minute. A friend I don’t know very well came through for me; she got my Facebook message on her way home from work and detoured to meet me on the T, taking me to dinner and letting me stay at her house. Just the first of so many people that amazed me on this trip with their unexpected hospitality.
Portland, Oregon cleaned up all nice & pretty for me. Out of the four days I was there, three were uncharacteristically sunny and warm. It was gorgeous. Once again, someone I don’t know very well went above and beyond for me; a friend of a friend who I’d literally hung out with for about 3 hours a year ago, not only let me stay with her, but took me out and showed me her favorite spots. We got along like we’d known each other for years, convincing me that we were meant to be friends and will be, for a long time.
An LA friend and New York local went exuberantly out of his way to meet me in NYC and fill my 24 hours there with the entire island of Manhattan. As he played tourist in his own town, I got to try my first street dog, first NYC pizza & bagel, hail my first yellow cab, and scurry through my first NYC rain day. We went to the top of the Empire State Building and got lost in Central Park; we buzzed around Times Square, tipsy, and gazed at the Brooklyn Bridge lights like stars in the dark sky.
I slept in JFK airport one night, reeling and teary with exhausted frustration from cancelled and delayed flights. Not fun, but I survived, of course. Yet another affirmation that no matter how bad things seem at the time, they will always turn out OK and what is now a terrible experience will, very soon, simply be a good story.
Because of those delays, I spent less than a day with some college girl friends in Charlotte, North Carolina, drinking sweet tea and having a pajama pizza-making party. True to form in their constant good-natured acceptance and generosity, they picked me up from the airport, took me back to the airport, and in-between, blew up an air mattress in their living room to giggle at silly movies and drift into much-needed naps.
My best college guy friend showed me Houston, Texas nightlife, his musician’s schedule rendering me incapable of going to bed before 4am for the rest of the trip. We wandered museums and parks, enjoying our shared stupid sense of humor and the just-cooled-down lovely weather. I watched his show at the dueling piano bar he works at – the first time I’ve seen him play live in 7 years! – and he was just incredible.
He and I drove to Austin, Texas late one night after his show; we left at 3am, not knowing where we’d stay when we got there, crashing at his buddy’s house at 7am and sleeping till 2. We have the same by-the-seat-of-our-pants travel attitude. Austin’s natural beauty surprised me. We spent two absolutely perfect days outside; one in City Park practicing cartwheels and spinning till we were dizzy, laying in the grass people-watching, and the other kayaking the lake, swinging on found rope & tire swings, swimming out beyond tree roots like fingers in the water, and drifting with the current in the sun. I met up with a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in 11 years (!!) and enjoyed every drink with a live blues soundtrack.
My trip was bookended by two weddings, both in Raleigh, North Carolina and both beautiful examples of people who’ve found their match. Also both kick-ass parties. I drank, I danced, I cheered and I didn’t sleep much. Again, people were just so kind, offering rides and sharing food. When I was there for the second wedding, the couple from the first wedding let me stay with them two nights, even inviting me to dinner at their family’s house (which was SO fun – amiable family bickering and hula hoop competitions!) and driving me to the airport at 4:30am.
As I write this, I’m on the plane back to LA, not sure what’s next for me, returning to a new home, a borrowed bed and a temporary job. I feel a little disappointed, not only because this amazing adventure is now just a memory, but because I (subconsciously) was hoping for some realizations from this trip and none have really come. I keep expecting a lightning bolt – Bam! I know what I want to do & where I want to live! Bam! – to electrify me into action, but maybe this is just the stage of my life to trust and be patient. And enjoy.
One thing I have learned from this month and a half is how truly selfless and wonderful my friends and acquaintances are; I am such a lucky girl. I hope that I can be as giving to them as they have been to me. The more I experience this love, the more important I realize it is; I want to surround myself with it and give it out in fistfuls. I know the world is a pretty small place – when I can fly all these spots in a month and Skype with those I missed – but still, I hope that someday soon I can be simply a car ride from all the people I love the most.
Maybe that’s enough of a lesson to learn; maybe that IS the realization I needed.
I can’t even express to y’all how grateful I am for this experience. To all of you who gave me your time, love, friendship, and hospitality: thank you. Thank you bucketfuls. I hope to see you all again soon.
Ok, Los Angeles, I’m coming back to you refreshed and bolstered. Whatever you’ve got in store for me, I’m ready and I know I have the support I need to take it or leave it, and I have the strength and presence of mind to tell which is best for me. Bring it on.
*title is paraphrased from a MacGyver Season 1 quote (haha!): “The bag’s not for what I take, Colson, it’s for what I find along the way.”
[photo: me at Lake Travis, just outside Austin, TX]