Three Unrelated Topics Linked By Awkward Transitions

With Ambriel in the bus, circa 1976


July 2, 2018

Three Unrelated Topics Linked By Awkward Transitions

  1. Lessons

Many years ago one of my closest friends told me that he was working on “letting go of the oars.” When he explained what that meant—letting go of trying to control everything and following the course of the river—I was immediately suspicious. This sounded like something my therapist was fond of reminding me about, when she told me I needed to learn to “tolerate ambiguity.” I didn’t and don’t like ambiguity. I have always been an answers person, and I have struggled with accepting what just simply is. However, last summer I was processing so much, and I developed a new mantra: The only way out is through.

When I make a trip book, I save the last part for lessons I have learned on the trip, and that was last summer’s big lesson. But now that we find ourselves up here in Oregon, apparently getting ready to actually do this, to get the bus (hopefully running), take it in the 4th of July parade, then drive it down the coast, I am filled with anxiety. What if it breaks down? What if we can’t drive it? What if it never runs at all and we have to hire a flatbed to get it home? What if something goes wrong?

Of course, with trips as with life, something will always go wrong, and worrying about just what that might be is often not helpful. I know that I need to heed these lessons from my past and try to stay in the moment, but right now it feels like I am juggling the oars. I keep thinking they are going to bonk me on my head, and yet I keep catching them. I find myself dipping into magical thinking: heading north, we saw an old and dear friend on I-5, so that’s a good sign, right? The motel we stayed in had a “Fisher Street” sign, and we live on Fisher street, so we were right where we were supposed to be, right? (It was a motel catering to fishermen next to the Sacramento River, but never mind that). The I-pod smoothly segued from “Welcome to the Jungle” to “All Things Must Pass,” so that’s good, right?

It is early in the morning as I write this, and I don’t know what today will bring, but that’s true of every day, no matter how much I think I can control things. Other maxims fill my head: “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” being a frequent visitor. But here’s what I do know: No matter what happens, I am glad I am here. I am so happy to see my father and my family, and while I know this will be stressful at times, and my list is long, I also know I am so very, very lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. I’m also reminded of one especially trying trip I took with Robert when we visited a hippie grocery store and spent the rest of the trip singing Bob Marley due to a pernicious earworm. “Don’t worry, “ I’d say, and Robert would respond “About a thing…every little thing is gonna be alright.” Even hiking I could look over at Robert and know our feet were falling in the same steps, and that three little birds were guiding our way. This should be the mantra for this trip, but this is a new trip, and it is very, very hard to tolerate quite this much ambiguity. I try to remind myself, that if this epic journey really winds up not working, there will be other epic journeys. The one thing I do know is that I shouldn’t check Twitter to see what the president is saying this morning.


  1. On Technology: Some information that may be helpful for those who don’t know me very well

On Technology

I don’t have a cell phone. I have never sent a text. I am reviving a Facebook page that I have never once checked for this trip. However, I am no Luddite. I use the computer every single day, and I am addicted to lurking on Twitter. People are always concerned when they find I don’t have a cell phone, but I always point out that there is no point in time when I am not surrounded by people with cell phones unless I am at home (landline) or in a remote area that likely doesn’t get service. My husband Robert has an old cell, not a smart phone, and we avoid it as much as possible.

My students are always surprised that I can even exist without a cell, but I tell them quite earnestly that we did it for many, many years. I also mention that I’m concerned about how everyone is turning into a zombie, but I try not to make people feel bad about it. I’ve always felt some sympathy for zombies. I think it annoys many of my friends—there will be no texting me to say you are running late—but I am fine like this. In fact, it’s a non-negotiable condition of my existence.

That said, the trip is always a strange time for me. I have always followed the news, but since the 2016 election, I think it is fair to say that I am addicted, and Twitter has not helped. On the trip we have a strict rule: news blackout unless you receive the information passively. On the summer before the election, we eavesdropped shamelessly as a quartet of retirees ate breakfast and discussed the presidential debates. Last summer when we were camping near Cambria, Robert went into a drug store and emerged to tell me that he’d seen CNN and the FBI was raiding Paul Manafort’s home. We pondered what it could mean, and wondered what was happening. Soon after I went to buy ice and saw a newspaper. “Something happened in Charlottesville,” I said. But we survived without the news or any connection, and once we got home it was easy enough to catch up, but I will always associate those stories with how I first learned about them.

This summer I have decided to blog this, so that means technology. I have asked myself about my willpower, usually not one of my strengths, and I am committed to keeping the regular blackout except for the blog. That means I won’t see e-mails, and if you want to reach me, smoke signals might be the best bet (or you can call the cell if it is important). However, that means I have to take pictures with a camera and update them to the laptop, so there may be some delays, and I am not 100% sure what the wireless situation will be as we travel, but I am confident I can find some way to continue this.

III. On Protectors and friends

Recently, I was talking to a friend and she told me about developing coping skills by choosing characters to nurture, guide, and protect her. She was able to imagine a nurturer, and a wise guide, but she was stuck on a protector. I tried it myself, and I immediately thought of my childhood friend Ambriel as a protector. Perhaps because of the bus and finding old photos to post, I have been thinking of Ambriel lately. She is one of the people I associate with Ashland, my childhood, and the bus.

Ambriel was the toughest of tough kids, so tough that she wore Toughskin jeans like a boy. We met as very young children, playing in an artificial creek at the start of Lithia Park in Ashland, and she was my best friend in Ashland until she moved away when I was 9. One of my earliest memories is of running away from home with Ambriel because our parents told us we had to wear clothing, underpants at least, when we were in the front yard. Our runaway trip ended when we ran out of carob chips, but the memory remains.

I was a shy little girl, and you can see this in some of the pictures of Ambriel and me. She looks to the camera, smiles, proudly standing in front of me, while I hang back a little. As I said, Ambriel was tough: she was always ready to take on a challenger, she never feared boys, and she could ride a skateboard. When our Litter Club went to clean up the hillside behind my house, Ambriel scrambled down the hill first and was willing to pick up the dangerous items like broken bottles. When I found out she was moving away, it was my first experience of heartbreak. I tried to imagine my life without her and I couldn’t.

I did stay in touch with Ambriel, but we lost touch. The last time I heard about her was in 2004 when my family ran into her in at the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain. Oddly enough, one of the things Ambriel wanted to know about was the bus. Did Dad still have it? Could she borrow it? Dad did not loan her the bus for her own epic adventure, but I know I will be bringing her memory on my trip, and although I don’t know her now, I hope that the spirit of her protection will travel with us. I am often nervous in social situations, but Ambriel never was. She had that quality of being comfortable and confident with who she was, and I am hoping to channel a little of that on this trip. In fact, this morning I am thinking I should try to take all the best qualities of my friends with me on this trip: My friend who is a mechanic is skilled with cars and infinitely kind, so that would be helpful, and my friend who told me about the oars always knows what to do in difficult situations and makes me laugh, so that would be nice, and my dancing friend understands why it is important to find swings when you can…I could continue this list for a very long time because I have such wonderful friends, but I want to end this with my father.

When I was a child, my father was the captain of all of our trips. There was no scenario he did not handle, whether it was breaking down in Turlock or camping in the rain, and he made everything an adventure. This is the quality I most treasured as a child. Other dads might make sandwiches, but my father used cookie cutters to cut them in amusing shapes and colored them green with food coloring. Other fathers might give their children a bath, but my father let me take showers in the sprinklers. When I first went camping as an adult, without my dad, I was surprised at how much I remembered from my father, but I was also aware that I was growing up, doing the things he had done for myself. The one quality I never could quite capture was his sense of fun perhaps because I tend to worry and get bogged down in details, so I resolve to try to be more like him on this trip. “Kiddo,” he’d say, smacking his hands together, “This is going to be great. Terrific!”


With Ambriel in the bus, circa 1981

Update on bus July 2, 2018

So, Larry finally called this evening. Apparently there is a problem with the idle and the carburetor. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, and I strongly suspect that writing this post earlier is forcing me once again to let go, but I also feel like this is unfair. I am not a fan of tolerating ambiguity, as I mentioned at the outset, but I am trying.


One Comment Add yours

  1. LOLLIE RAGANA says:

    Love, love, love your essays, Jenny! So much brings me back to my own childhood and I’m so enjoying traveling through yours!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s