Go On, Ya Big Dummy...
Do you ever feel like anything can happen at any moment? Perhaps a wadded up twenty dollar bill will fall from your pocket, only to be picked up by the youngest child of a struggling single mother, who will then take that twenty and buy a winning lotto ticket? Or maybe just a big-ass hunk of shit will fall from the sky and break the branch in the tree where you had planned to hang a noose?
As you may know, Tiffany and I are preparing to undertake a voyage of self-discovery and adventure with our newly adopted friend, Pelé the dog. In the midst of this undertaking, I have been writing emails to a man who I consider an intellectual hero of mine, Dr. Christopher Ryan (full disclosure, spell check had to help me out with the spelling of intellectual...twice). Over the past year, I have been sending him emails about random topics. Things like, 'I liked your interview with so-and-so'. Or, 'if you are passing through such-and-such town, you should check out blah, blah, blah'.
Dr. Ryan was always generous with his time, and usually sent some type of response. When Tiffany and I decided to start a podcast based out of our 2006 red sprinter van, I felt compelled to explain this to Dr. Ryan and assure him, where we seemed to be copying him blatantly, it was completely by accident, and where the similarities were more subtle, we were doing it on purpose. Dr. Ryan was gracious and replied with good humor and wished us well.
About two weeks before our journey was to begin, I decided to shoot for the stars, and invite Dr. Ryan to be a guest on our show. To be sure, this is a busy man with a variety of tasks both personally and professionally, which demand quite a bit of his time. I honestly thought if I got a response at all, it would be a polite no. To my surprise, the good doctor said yes.
Now, I should also tell you that while attempting to prepare for our journey, I was told I needed to have an arthroscopic surgery on my knee, to prevent a potentially uninsured injury of greater severity in the future. This surgery was scheduled for the Wednesday before our departure. The time available for Dr. Ryan to meet with me was that Monday, at 2 PM, in Topanga, Ca.
Getting to Topanga from Sebastapol is no big chore. An easy 7 hours without traffic. I was happy to do it, as it meant I could stop and see some friends and my niece on the way down. My niece and I had Hawaiian BBQ, and I gave her some books. My friend Alex saw the van and gave me a hug. My friends Gnome and Vickie have a hot tub in which I was delighted to soak before Pelé and I crawled back in the van for a good night's rest. On Monday morning, I had breakfast with Gene and Vickie, got some much-needed exercise for Pelé, then drove down the coast in Malibu to connect with the road to Topanga.
When I arrived in Topanga, I immediately felt welcome. It reminds me of the town we've been living in, Sebastapol. Both are small, and filled with a clash of farmers and hippies. There are intellectuals in the hills and cafes, and the local economy seems somehow snack-based.
Dr. Ryan is in the final stages of his most recent work “Civilized to Death”. That alone makes a man busier than most. In addition to that, his father was in the hospital, and his wife was due to arrive home the following day from several weeks abroad. That Dr. Ryan would have set aside an hour in the middle of his day to chat with a complete stranger, was a sign of a guy who takes a relaxed view of scheduling and obligations. It also suggests to me a confidence that the number of hours in a day is always exactly the right amount of time.
We had a fun and wide-ranging conversation in my van. We talked about van living, travel, bullshit, the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, his friend and mentor Stanley Krippner, disaster psychology, and poop. Just getting the opportunity to casually and leisurely chat with him was a blast for me.
After we wrapped up the interview, Chris invited me to his home to take a look at his van so I could experience the same sensations he had experienced when sitting in our van. We drive the exact same vans, and both have similar floor plans. His van feels much more open and spacious. When sitting in our van for the first time, he said, “it's like meeting your girlfriend's better looking twin sister”.
Dr. Ryan lives about half way up a rather steep hill. His driveway flows past his landlord's home, a 92 year old retiree from NASA named Ginger. I didn't get a chance to meet her; luckily she was once a podcast guest of his, so I have the opportunity to hear her tale.
Chris offered me a coffee, and I accepted, thinking he was being gracious and getting me caffeinated for the drive home. The coffee was a double espresso...if you know me, you know that caffeine has an intensely powerful effect on my mood and aspects of my personality. This double espresso got to work immediately. I started telling stories as Dr. Ryan and I walked around his place. After about 10 minutes, he asked if I wanted to hang around for dinner. The overly polite weirdo in me wanted to decline, to give them man some space. The southerner in me who hates to turn down hospitality and home cooked meals thankfully spoke up first and accepted the offer. I was also having fun, and felt like hanging out, so I didn't end up sabotaging a good time with the urge to be polite.
As my mouth continued to run and the stories got, I would imagine, progressively stranger, Chris asked, “would you like to sit down and record another podcast?” At this point, my mind was swirling down the drain of a caffeine toilet, and any hopes of being polite or demure were gone. I accepted.
It was an enormous privilege for me to actually watch the host and producer of a show that I listen to every week, sit down to do his craft. It was like being a guest and a student at the same time. I felt incredibly comfortable and had a distinct feeling that I was making a new friend.
I honestly can't remember most of what we talked about. I know we talked about my parents, my jobs, masturbating and me, me, me. I already talk too much, as it is. I am now keenly aware of just how much I talk about myself. At this moment, I am writing about myself, talking about myself. I will soon reread these sentences about myself, to myself.
Mercifully, my time with Chris Ryan was not all me yammering...we had a fantastic meal, and we talked over dinner about books, writing, polyamory, sociology, psychology, and a host of other subjects about which I know basically nothing. The whole time, I felt at the very edge of my capacity to think clearly about complicated subjects. Never at any point did I feel like I was bothering him. I was also not worried that he was having a dull time talking to a thick-witted hippie-bro from the internet. It was a completely relaxed time, and I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend...exactly the way it feels when you meet people traveling and become fast friends by a campfire, or at a trail crossing.
Time spent with a wiser and more seasoned traveler is time well spent.
The evening drew to a close, I thanked and hugged my host, and Pelé and I walked back down the steep hill to our van, and we drove out of Topanga Canyon about as content as a man and a dog can be. I'm beyond grateful to Chris. I am learning to trust my impulses and intuition...making the split-second decision to drive to Topanga was worth every minute. It was also a great opportunity to shake down the van...
On the drive back home, about 120 miles from my front door, I heard one of those sounds you never want to hear while driving; a loud pop and bang, followed by a distinct whooshing sound coming from the turbocharger.
I immediately lost power, as I climbed the first of the many hills which would be torturing me and the van for the next several hours. 40 MPH was top speed on the incline of a hill. Black smoke would blast out of the exhaust, and the sound from the turbocharger was constant.
We travel with an onboard diagnostic tool, which can read and clear engine codes. I pulled over, plugged it in, and immediately wished I hadn't. The panoply of fault codes filled the screen with horrible little letters and numbers and crammed my head and heart with the kind of dread you can only seem to get from car trouble.
I searched through blogs and forums to try and diagnose the severity of the problem and came away with a slender confidence that I could drive it to a shop close to home...slowly, perhaps, but at least not in need of a tow truck. Three hours later, I was pulling into a shop.
I should also explain, almost ten minutes before this happened, I ate a pot chocolate. Those typically take about two hours to kick in for me, and I figured I would be home before things got weird, or clear thinking became difficult. Edible pot is excellent for creativity, lovemaking, and relaxation. It is a uniquely terrible substance if any amount of critical thinking is needed. Also, my exposure to paranoia is increased dramatically.
Of course, like clockwork, the last hour of my tortured journey, and the bit where I had to deal with explaining to the mechanic just what in the fuck I thought was happening with my van, was stumbled through in a paranoid and moronic haze.
Over the next three days, and in the middle of dealing with my surgical procedure, the van would spend time in three different shops. Finally ending up at a Mercedes dealership, where they replaced an exhaust hose, cleared the fault codes in the computer, charged me $800 and sent me along my merry way.
What is the lesson here? We took from that experience the following insights; Do what you want, listen to your intuition, be prepared for your intuition to fuck you over occasionally, and remain calm the whole time. Anything you worry about will suck at least one more time than it should.
We are grateful to have experienced all of this before the trip began in earnest, and that all of this happened at home, and not in the middle of nowhere. Let the journey begin!