When I decided to leave Chicago, I was broke, cold, and lonely. I headed back home to Orlando to regroup and regain my footing in the world. Orlando had been my home for 25 years, my place of birth, my zone of comfort. However my plan wasn't to stay and stagnate there, but to take a short respite from the rigors of life and then set off on a new adventure. After all, just six months earlier I had finally broken out of my home town, that place of nurturing complacency, and was not ready to fall back into its wide, warm arms so soon. I knew upon coming back I would be tempted to stay there and revel in the familiarity, as I had grad school looming in just nine months. So many of my friends speak often of the lethargy imposed by The City Beautiful on people our age. I often wonder just what it is about that area makes its youth not venture forth and search for America, search for themselves. But I could not let myself succumb to the temptation to stay.
I suppose if you asked die-hard Orlandoians they would refute these claims of complacency. After all, Orlando has a burgeoning scene of punk, rockabilly, and new-age metal. The disciples of these scenes have claimed the four square blocks of downtown Orlando for their own, filling the bars and tattoo parlors with droves of youthful headbangers. (To them, this description must be entirely inadequate. I'm out of the loop, have no tattoos, and I hardly ever wear black.). Also, the beach is just an hours drive in either direction and the water is warm enough for swimming nine months out of the year, enticing for surfers and tanners. Plus the parents there are willing to support their children, "Just until they catch their break." I, on the other hand, petition my mom's support from thousands of miles away. Works just the same.
For me, Orlando presents a different set of hurdles of comfort. I found myself, immediately upon coming back in January 2010, working at the same lucrative restaurant, serving the same customers and their kids, playing the same golf courses, eating at the same places, frequenting the same bars and seeing the same people there every time. Every morning I woke up with the same hangover in the same bedroom of the same house I had lived in for the same six years since high school. This is special life in Orlando, a beautiful life, one that took me 25 years to build, one of ease and familiarity. And I don't want to sound like I took it all for granted, because I will always treasure those friendships, those golf courses, that job, that house, my family, all those things that have shaped and molded my life.Plus my cat was elated to be back in the house and yard where he was raised. These warm and inviting patterns comprised the trappings of my temptation. It's not that I wanted to reject Orlando, but that I needed to embrace something different.
I came very close to staying in Orlando. For two months I committed to the old routine before deciding it was my time to go. In those two months I was bringing in enough money to pay off my car, was working on my student loans, my credit card, and the money I owed my mother. I even began formulating a plan to play competitive golf over the summer. However, after one particularly frustrating day of work replete with all the old frustrations--those frustrations become intolerable once you have moved beyond and above them--that nebulous idea of California became concrete and necessary. It was time to go.
My mother, who lives in Orlando, took the news rather hard when I told her that in two week's time I would be leaving. She was so behind me paying off my debts before grad school that she felt it a personal affront upon hearing the news. But soon she changed her outlook and gave me her best wishes. And my brother even flashed some anger at the news, for what, I don't know. It seems each time I leave a place for good I make some people angry. I wonder if they are truly upset at my departure, concerned with my physical and financial well-being, or if something inside of them wishes for the courage to pack up and leave. At times, I think, the fear of not moving fuels my moving on as much as the love of something new. But I made peace with my family and my friends, and my best friend George who worked at the same restaurant took a week's paid vacation to drive me across the country and bought a ticket to fly home from San Francisco. I had no way of anticipating the special adventures we would have in those 10 days of newness.
The one farewell that stands out to me the most is the one I had with my father. I went to his apartment to say goodbye and found him disabled by a bum knee, weakened by medication, and pale from lack of sunlight. In spite of all this we had a short but cheery conversation about my trip and the route I would be taking. I was originally planning to go through New Orleans, a place my father knew very well, but had changed that plan to spend an extra night in Vegas. "Well, I'm glad you're not going to New Orleans," he said. I smiled and said goodbye, looking at him one last time before I left. There was something morbid and skeletal about his profile. I closed the door and stood there for a moment in the bright, crisp, March afternoon. My eyes watered as I donned my sunglasses. A lump grew in my throat, and I felt overwhelmed with a sense that I might never see him again.
The next morning George, Watson and I set off for California. Watson is my cat, now five years old and becoming a very good traveler. Even so, driving across the country with your cat and your best friend on a mission to see some of the best sites and party towns of America is a stressful and daunting task. One must always be cognizant of the feline and its comfortability; does it have a place to lay in the car? Has it eaten? Has it gone to the bathroom? A road trip can become the traumatic event that changes a cat's demeanor and personality forever. The cat has no reference, no knowledge of the road, of the journey, of the destination. The only thing the cat knows is that he's stuck in a flying tuna can packed with all its owners things on unsteady footing for endless hours upon endless days. Watson had already made the journey from Orlando to Chicago and back, so I was confident he could adjust to five days of life on the road.
To be continued . . . .