“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” William Morris
All my life, good design has trumped just about everything else, including logic and financial prudence. This quote from designer William Morris will be my guide as I furnish my new nest, the vehicle that I will drive off in next week as I begin my first book tour.
In 1971, after graduating from college, I bought a former mail truck boasting an old Studebaker engine. It had several hundred thousand miles on it but I ignored the mechanics and spent my meager budget on the interior rather than maintenance. I carpeted it lushly, hung an Indian bedspread on the ceiling and hit the road with my dog Shine. The driver’s seat was on the right, giving me a jump-start on a new perspective for my life and travels. Big passages seem to fit well with a road trip, and although my travels were limited by the age of my vehicle, I got my money’s worth nonetheless.
When the engine overheated, as it did every 75 miles, I parked and lounged around the back, reading until it cooled down enough to carry me onward. The truck was beautiful and useful and I have long carried the memory of the freedom it gave me to stop and relax along the way.
In a life of interesting travels all over the world, I feel I have not cracked the code for road trip perfection, but I’m still trying. Travel has been one of my great joys in life. I love the shock of shifting perspectives as my long held points of view slide around like tectonic plates. If you are lucky, it is an inner shift, (although I have been caught in a few actual earthquakes.)
From the Pacific Crest Trail (430 miles of it-all of Oregon, with backpack) to Bangkok, I have slept on the ground, in luxurious staterooms on fancy ships, and in airplanes-a lot of airplanes. It wears you down, all this schlepping and unpacking. It is unsettling and disorienting to wake in unfamiliar surroundings night after night.
As I contemplated my future book tour, I dreaded that aspect of travel. I resented all the time I would loose to bargain hunting, for I have Champagne tastes and a thrifty New Englanders budget. The last straw came when, after springing for a very pricey hotel room so I could be safe, secure and comfortable for my book launch in New York City, I awoke to find a stranger had been in my room. According to the security folks, a doorman had mistakenly let him into my room because he was feeling ill and needed a bathroom urgently. He left behind a rather thick wad of credit cards on the bathroom counter for me to discover when I awoke. I found this to be a massive boundary violation and more than a little bit unsettling.
I’m about to commit to a month of travel through the West, Northwest and South, beginning and ending at Rose Cottage, my home in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire and it has me dreaming about road trips past, and road trips imagined, as I shoot once again for a perfection that I now know will elude me.
After the time of the mail truck, as I settled down and made my way through a life of tasks with deadlines for school, for family, for business; my goals have had a life of their own, drawing me forward on a schedule I know I agreed to at some point, but don’t always love. My deepest desire has been for time to “drift sideways” in a metaphorical boat without agenda. I dream of big brown Studebakers, clip pictures of lovely houseboats and save my points for first class upgrades.
That vision is probably why, after the kids were grown and I was divorced, I bought what I believed to be an upgrade to the big brown mail truck-the Vixen. The Vixen was an American made class “B” camper, designed by the same Italian team that made the Delorean. It was sleek and beautiful and never failed to draw a crowd. It had a diesel BMW engine, a kitchen and a bathroom and it captured my heart and imagination fully. It was a collector item, number 12 off the line in 1986 and I loved it dearly. As with most infatuations, the experience of Vixen ownership fell far short of the dream. It broke down every bit as often as the Studebaker. Eventually, I realized the Vixen had served me well for the dreams it inspired, but it was time to release her to a new owner who was also a yacht mechanic.
Now that I am older and require more preventive maintenance to keep me on the road, I want a vehicle that can be relied upon. Enter the "New Vixen." (Naming ceremony to follow our first meeting, for this is, so far, a cyber relationship.) Looking around for a new road trip vehicle, I found this miracle of great design and beauty. An uber luxurious class “B” van, built on a Sprinter chassis, with Mercedes engine and a miraculous amount of interior space in its 22’ frame. Brand new for 2013, it was manufactured in Canada, hard to find in the US, and I knew the moment I saw the pictures that I had to have one.
The “New Vixen” is a rare bird-only 250 are made every year and most are sold before they hit the sales floor. I called around, looked at every possible alternative and finally concluded that this time, I would get exactly what I wanted, no compromises. So, for the first time in my life, I am buying a brand new vehicle, new car smell and all. I sent off a check for the next one to come across the border and now I am packing for, of all places-Las Vegas, where I will pick up my new chariot and begin my new life on the road.
I’m easing into this and old habits rarely go down without a fight. As I scan for routes and change my mind with a click on the Google map, my greatest fear is boredom or disappointment from a lack of planning. Oh well, it’s a journey and I will just have to set out and see where and how the road takes me. Check our new page for updates to follow-www.BeforeIGetOld.com/roadtrip