Once again, I’m writing from a train. This time if feels good to be heading home; to Sabrina, my bed, my pillows, my guitars. We’ve just left Edinburgh for London, where I catch my flight back to Singapore this evening. I’ve been gone about four weeks and I’m especially looking forward to brewing my own Peets coffee again.
I come from provincial people. My Grandma Mac (Gertrude Cappuro) was born on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and never left the state of California. My mom left California for the first time when she was 80 years old. I don’t remember my dad or his mom ever leaving California either. We traveled by car from L.A. to San Francisco every summer. That was as far from home as we ever got.
I used to think that this was because my Dad had served in Okinawa in WWII. I figured that cured him of wanting to go anywhere. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that my parents lived from paycheck to paycheck. I’m certain now that they never really had the means to take us anywhere but up north to visit the grandparents. This serves as an ever-present reminder to me, what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to get out and see the world a little bit.
It wasn’t until I started high school that I became aware of wanting to travel. The Let’s Go Europe, backpacking-on-a-shoestring thing was in full swing. I read about it and talked to people who had been, and started saving for it. My first trip out of state was to Colorado, my second trip landed me in Paris (1976). Despite camping in the Bois de Boulogne for 4 weeks, I found that I was burning through my nest egg way too quickly, so I headed east toward cheaper adventures. I traveled overland through Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to India. When I reached Varanasi I hunkered down and stayed for 6 months (leaving once to go to Nepal to renew my visa). I stayed in India until I ran out of money. My parent’s had a yard sale in L.A. to help pay my ticket home. Altogether, I was gone for about 9 months. It was enough to feel bit by the travel bug for life.
Meanwhile, around the time I was off on this overland jaunt, Sabrina was having travel adventures of her own. When we met she had recently wrapped up working on a NOAA ship for two years, taking core samples in the icy waters between Seattle and Alaska. So she had this wanderlust thing too, and it was one of the things we immediately connected about when we met. We’ve been ready to go at the drop of a hat ever since. Our current life in Singapore is the result of always wanting to live overseas for a time.
But we are also people who enjoy putting down roots. We so look forward to returning to our home and family in California. And we realize that this addiction for planes, trains and automobiles is not everyone’s cup of tea. I have some dear friends who have little to no desire to leave home, despite having the means to do so. And I don’t chalk this up to living in the Golden State (a great place to never leave, IMHO.) Though I don’t entirely understand this way of thinking, I do respect it. I especially enjoy those local village characters who know everybody, are seen often, and really have no desire to be anywhere else.
Which brings me to this song, Driftwood Way. It’s about a guy whose roots keep him from going anyplace else. He loves his home. He could never leave. And he’s mostly okay with that, though it’s clearly a mixed bag as he sits by the fire. This tune has kind of a retro-folk sound to my ears. It sounds a little to me like it could have come out of Greenwich Village in the 60s. But it’s another one recorded with Tom Prasada Rao in Texas, (in this present century.)
To wrap up I want to circle back around to what a privilege it is to have these travel opportunities. It’s something that I’m constantly aware of, but some things really drive it home. Sabrina’s work in Singapore has her traveling home to California about 4 times a year. We can’t really afford to fly Cabana Boy home that often, so I go twice a year. When I get left behind in Singapore, sometimes I go on a shorter, cheaper, jaunt in Asia. About a year ago I was able to return to Varanasi to reconnect with that first exotic trip abroad in my youth.
On this recent trip, I met a young man by the river and we chatted often over the 10 days I was there. He was what’s often referred to as a “tout”; someone who makes his living hitting on tourists to act as a guide and take them to various shops where he makes a commission. He came from a small village about 40 kilometers away. His would go home once every couple of weeks to visit his family and share his earnings. His family didn’t really approve of his lifestyle, and a lot of burned out tourists treated him poorly, but he enjoyed the hustle and was just trying to make an honest buck on his own terms.
But what I remember most about him was his curiosity about my travel experience. He had never been on an airplane, and had only trained out of the state of Uttar Pradesh a couple of times in his life. He asked about what they fed me on the plane. (I didn’t have the heart to call it crap) if I drank alcohol on the plane (a resounding YES, which delighted him), and how BIG was the plane? (about from here to that cow way over there.) It was clearly not his Driftwood Way-like roots that prevented him from flying. So we both wished he’d get to go on a plane one day. We’re probably both gonna wish that for a long, long time. That conversation really stuck with me. I try to never take it for granted.