The people who connected the dots along the way
Crossing the US-Canadian border made us feel like we did when we saw “The Wrestler”: empty, unfulfilled and hugely disappointed. We dreaded the final days of our journey, the end of countless miles of uncommitted wandering, the nightly challenge of finding a suitable place to eat, sleep, and enjoy the cities and towns we have encountered.
At the precise moment of crossing the border, however, what we missed most was our pal the guard at the Sault Ste. Marie UD-Canadian border who had befriended, entertained and amused us. What we got in St. Albans was a loser in a US Customs suit who had the personality of Donald Trump and the sense of humor of a sphinx, an ex-high school second string football player who’d stuffed himself in a uniform so he could act like a jerk and get paid for it. All the bouncer jobs must have been filled, which was what led him to the federal dole.
What we needed was a dose of real people. Someone to help us feel like coming home was a good thing – a welcome feeling, a familiar sense of belonging. Despondent at the prospect of ending our trip and returning to the surly, businesslike “reality” of the Northeast, we drove south to our next destination, Burlington, Vt.
There, we got the perfect antidote: The Goldman family.
Paul Goldman is my best friend. He was my college roommate and perpetual best man at my weddings (ALL my weddings, as he loves to tell anyone who’ll listen.) His wife, Anne, is a complete sweetheart who, among other admirable attributes, has an enormous capacity for tolerating her husband’s odd behavior.
Their daughters – Julia and Hannah – are as they were two of my own. The comfort, ease and love that Gabi and I feel being around them was precisely what we were needed after the reality hit home that our journey was nearly at an end. We spent two days laughing, talking, catching up and – the bittersweet part – saying goodbye.
Our time in Burlington reminded us how vital the people in our lives are to us, and how enriched we’ve been by the people we’ve seen along the way as we traversed the US.
It began with our friends Katy and Steve in NC, when they were on their way north and we on our way south. My dear Uncle Wes and cousin Brian in Daytona Beach, and our friends Tony and Susan in Georgia.
Nashville brought us to the Mulgrew’s door, where Tom and LaVoe welcomed us, fed us and gave us a sense of home before we once again hit the road.
Edie and Art in Las Vegas, with whom Gabi not only rekindled a 25-year dormant relationship but also relied up on as we navigated our way through the health issues I encountered there. They were unbelievably kind and helpful to us.
Dear Norgie Walkley in San Francisco, who opened her home to Gabi as she has for years and included me as if I’d always been part of the fabric. We talked, shared and cooked together (thanks to her I have a new wrinkle to my bouillabaisse recipe that makes it better than ever.)
Our friends Ari and John in Oakland proudly showed off their new apartment in a hip up-and-coming neighborhood and John outdid himself with a delicious dinner, topped off by homemade strawberry shortcake.
Gabi’s friends in San Diego, Kelley and Craig, and their tolerant son Kevin, who gave up his room for a couple of travelers and still made it to school on time the next morning. Our friend Kathleen, who met us for lunch that could have extended to dinner with no problem, we had so much to talk about.
Leela, Joel and nine-month-old Carly (first time meeting her, and I think I’m in love) in San Francisco, for a too-short visit and a yummy dinner. My former colleague, dear friend and erstwhile soulmate Stan in Santa Clara, whose mind I always liked and appreciated, but whose heart is his most defining quality
In Portland we spent time with my niece Cori and her husband Josh, and we got an update on their lives and great tips on what to see in a very cool, very liveable city.
Further north, our travels took us to Seattle and our friends Crispin and Jurg and their incredible boys Joe and Jay. We got to catch up with Crispin and Jurg, cook dinner together, and spend time with the boys. I got to read “Owl Moon” to them, and it took me back to nights when I’d read the wonderful children’s book to my own kids.
My buddy Mike and his hostess-to-die-for wife Rhonda welcomed us in Yakima, where we got to watch their all star daughter Emily knock the stuffing out of the softball then share an early draft of a school essay with a couple of unbiased editors just off the road. Dinner was complemented by one of the best wines I’ve tasted, a special treat offered by a special friend.
Cousins Dan and Doug and their families in Minnesota opened their doors and poured out to hug and greet us, then immersed us in their compelling and unique brand of embracing familial love. We left with Lauren and Mere’s “Have Fun in Cambodia” drawing and a warm reminder of things in this life that are truly important. Time with Kelli, Josh and Rebecca and the rest of the gang seemed to lift us as we left Dan and Kelli’s in Chaska that night, and we carried the glow for days.
We set out to meet people in the US, and to spend time with people we love. The former was fun, informative and interesting; the latter was soul-nourishing, poignant and, as we head off to Cambodia in six short weeks, incredibly bittersweet.
As we hugged the Goldmans goodbye yesterday, we all shed a tear as we held onto one another for an extra moment – I onto Paul, Gabi onto Anne – in the middle of street where we’d parked to meet for breakfast.
“It’s OK, it’s Vermont,” Paul quipped, ever ready with a one-liner to keep things moving along, and with a wave not goodbye, but so long for now, from a man I am proud to call my friend, more brother than pal.
Today it’s back to Massachusetts, to my incredible daughter Kirsty, sisters Jane and Betsey, and a robust circle of friends. We’ll begin the next process of separating ourselves from our lives in These United States. The next six weeks will be partly about business – cancelling, selling, donating, planning – but mostly about people. We’ll spend time with those we love and whom we’ll miss, and we’ll cherish precious moments to keep the relationships alive and close despite of the miles between us.