When I wrote my last post, I had made the declaration that I was going to seek out what makes me happy. And now that August has come to an end, I think I had a pretty high success rate overall. It ranged from little things such as seeing shows like Rock of Ages at the Venetian, to larger things like finally paying off my car once and for all.
But I wanted to go bigger. More meaningful. More personal, but with a twist of larger than life? And what better way to do the latter than meeting William Shatner?
I’m not going to lie: I’ve wanted to meet William Shatner since I was a little kid, and while I have passed/missed the opportunity for years on end, I decided that this was going to be the year it was going to happen. So Jen and I went to the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, and to paraphrase that other Captain: We made it so.
As I was leaving, I told him that he was one of my heroes, which he took graciously enough. And that was true. The man has enjoyed an incredible career, and he’s still just cruising along and enjoying his life in his 80′s. I could only be as fortunate.
And in a bit of the random, we also met Will and Holly from Land of the Lost, and they too were just really nice people.
A few more days of waiting in between, and I was finally able to take a long overdue vacation and get the Hell out of Dodge. Or Vegas, in this case. Regardless, I had to escape town for a few days.
The drive over there was fraught with peril. while I can spin a good yarn with dramatic emphasis from time to time, the drive over to our first destination sucked. While still in New Mexico, we had to get the two front tires fixed as they were about to blow out. Upon hitting the state line, we hadn’t even driven in Texas for one physical minute when there were already five churches back to back, along with a sign claiming in huge letters how much they hate Obama. Welcome home indeed.
While that was more notable and amusing, the rest of the drive wasn’t. As long as I live, I shall never solely use phone GPS again to navigate cross-country. In an attempt to be “helpful”, it rerouted us every time we took a gas, food, or pee break, putting us on every possible backroad it could find. From New Mexico to Austin, Texas, we never hit one single highway. And the road itself were full of wandering deer that had no issue whatsoever stepping in front of your car. A few minutes later, a police officer pulled us over for having our brights on. As we sat and traded info., we collectively realized that GPS had added an extra four hours to our trip, thanks to these stupid back farm roads. He felt sorry for us as we explained what happened. Upon getting to Austin, we nearly lost our room as they have to have people check in at a certain time, and you guessed it: That was well over four hours ago. We told the same story, and he also felt sorry for us, giving us a room after all.
We crashed hard that night.
Austin itself was an interesting place. Among the many things we did, we visited the Cathedral of Junk:
This was a two-story Burning Man style structure made out of all kinds of trash, scrap metal, and assorted refuse… in someone’s backyard. You would never know it was there as you passed through the residential area, but expert sleuthing skills found the place, and it’s massive.
Other places of interest we found were the Salt Lick Ranch, with contestably the best barbecue I have ever eaten in my life.
Found the house of Lord British (aka Richard Garriott of Ultima fame):
The house has all kinds castle related things, from secret passages to observatories.
I also went on Austin’s Bat Cruise, where one bridge on Congress Street houses over a million bats that all fly out at dusk.
We went to 6th Street, once completed, than began to travel to New Orleans.
New Orleans is perhaps one of the most magical cities that I’ve visited in these United States. Unlike the manufactured feel of Vegas, everything feels real and alive here. The city itself is as old as it can be, founded on the stories of pirates, aristocrats, jazz, and voodoo, and it all blends perfectly here, from the neighborhoods to Bourbon Street.
And that goes for the food and the drink here as well. If you’re not eating, you’re drinking anything from coffee to hurricanes. Music is always playing somewhere. People are hustling. Some poor wretch is invariably in a corner somewhere for not handling his alcohol. But it makes for good times.
We were only able to stay one day due to our hectic schedule, and I could have easily stayed more. From ghost tours to muffalettas, it remains one of my favorite cities.
But we had to make time to drive over to Florida. And you know, that in itself is not a bad thing at all.
I was born and raised in Texas, but Florida retains a soft spot in my heart. I lived there in the early 1980′s. I well know the beach, the food, and a few other non-touristy and personal places. And for that reason, I found myself going home deeper than I ever could have imagined.
I still remember where my Grandmother, Mother and I lived while my Grandfather was sick. I was five years old, and despite it being a sad time with him passing away, my being so young remembered it as more than just that. I lived a life of beaches and Pac-Man, and playing in our little home. And on return trips, I’ve found myself driving past looking at the place where I once knew, yet would never know again.
At Jen’s prompting, I found myself at the door, ringing the doorbell. A friendly looking lady answered. “Hi. Um, this is going to sound weird….” I began, relaying the story of my life in what is now her house. At the end of my story, she blinked for a moment before opening the door wider. “Why don’t you come inside”, she said.
I found myself in a home I thought I would never see again. There were changes, yes, but there was familiarity. Moreso than I expected, and a flood of memories washed over me as I walked around. My grandparent’s room, my Mother’s room….
For the first time in 32 years, I stood inside my childhood bedroom. The furniture was different, but everything else was the same. It was a gentle feeling, but I also felt the pang of loss of my Mother and Grandparents. And my Dad as well. I could feel my eyes beginning to water, but it wasn’t entirely sadness. There was a feeling of gratitude for that life lived, and for one moment, with a stranger being kind to this stranger, I got to touch it again.
Jen and I talked a little more, then wished her well, promising to send photos of my time there. We also got this photo:
After we left, I decided to track down my old school, Little Flower.
I graduated kindergarten in 1982 there, you know:
And yet, with another “Hi. Um, this is going to sound weird….”, I found myself with another reunion:
During our remaining time in Pensacola….
We climbed all 177 steps of this beast.
Ate ridiculously fresh fish every single day.
And watched the sunset from the beach.
After the next morning’s sunrise, we drove back into Texas to have a small family reunion with my Uncle, my sister, and her kids. It’s been since 2008-2009 since I’ve seen them, and although the trip was long, seeing them was worth it.
The drive back was about as random as it could get:
And the roadtrip, while over perhaps too soon to properly process it all, was exactly what I needed.
I may still be on my own quest for happiness. I was on social media less, and chose to make my memories though photos. I made an effort (and did so) to meet one of my heroes. I reconnected with my past, my childhood, and the parts that I sometimes forget to in my present due to work, or something else in my constant schedule. I needed to remind myself where I began. I did new things. Went new places. Connected with people that I had never met before. I took time out to watch a sunset and a sunrise. I hadn’t done that since Burning Man. I realize that I had simply forgotten to live my life, and along the way, the jarring loss of Robin Williams reminded me that laughter is perhaps a gift that we often take for granted in our day to day lives.
I don’t suppose that every month will be like August. “Responsibility”, for all of its benefits, can also be a very ugly word in those times when it is all you are able to focus on.
With a clearer head, and a coming break from my own storms, I think it will be time to move forward again myself. That part isn’t totally clear yet, but I have a better idea of what I do want… and what I don’t.
“The Month of Happy” is going to have be extended. Indefinitely, I think, until I reach the place where I truly want to be.