One Sunday afternoon we’re sitting at a table in the window of Wilde in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. As usual, we’re feeling down on our corporate jobs and the prospect of another dull and unchallenging week. Suddenly Paul says, “Let’s take off for a year.”
I’m feeling crabby; the usual Sunday afternoon crabbiness. I say, “I don’t even see the point of talking about stuff like this. It’s too depressing to talk about the exciting things we’ll never do while we continue to slave away. I’d rather not dream anymore.” I’m thinking he’s talking about Europe, and I start listing all of the challenges and expenses of an expatriate trip. “No,” Paul says, “let’s get a car and travel around the US, Mexico, Canada. Let’s go everywhere and anywhere we want to go.”
Well, that’s another story, I think. We could do this. I would love to do this. We’ve done this before and we’ve done it well. For our honeymoon, we rented a car and drove a circuit from Denver to the Grand Canyon and back. I’d never been happier. Sure, we got a little stressed at the end, but I’m sure that was because I was in a major funk, thinking of returning to work. And there would be no return to work this time.
I’m drifting off to sleep when I’m jarred awake by thoughts of Frank and April Wheeler. I’d just finished reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. At the time, the story had felt uncomfortably close to home. It was us (a “young, ostensibly thriving couple” “mired in well paying but boring office job[s]”); it was a premonition of what the future could bring (I can’t bring myself to quote). So was this just a delusion like Frank and April’s move to Paris?
But would we make it if we didn’t do this?
Being the practical one, I again start thinking of the barriers. We have a fair number…a condo in a semi-remodeled state in a weak housing market, a preexisting health condition, no car, one boat, my personality, our upbringing, our parent’s ideals of us as bright, successful corporate warriors. I’d also been seriously thinking of starting a business, and I know that’s going to require some major funding. Should I put my dream on hold before I’d even gotten started?
After more thought, though, I realized that we have to do this, and we have to do it now. We’re young. Our parents are young. We’re not interested in this corporate “career path” idea. If I do become a successful business owner, I’ll never have the time to do this until I’ve sold the business 40 years from now.
OK, I’ll do it then too. But now’s the time for now.
We bought a map and spread it out on the cluttered dining room table. We proceeded to hunt for the green highlighter, the one we used to mark up our honeymoon map of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Couldn’t find it. Paul made an emergency trip to Walgreen’s for a brand new four pack. “Which color should we use,” Paul said when he got back. “Pink,” we both said at the same time.
Just thinking that we’re going to do this is making me happier. I grew up going on long road trips. My parents traveled for about 10 years before they had kids, once driving an old Datsun pickup from upstate New York to Alaska on dirt roads (“Do it in a Datsun,” white letters on a bright red button that I loved as a kid despite my mom’s attempts to take it away without explaining what “it” meant. “It” means everything, right?). Sure, I’d hated these trips at times as a kid. But as a kid, you’ve got no control over the itinerary, over the bathroom breaks, over the food and lodging choices. Plus you’ve got all those damn hormones and pimples.
We started making pink dots on the cities and parks we wanted to visit. Suddenly a year didn’t seem long enough. There are so many amazing things to see, friends and family to visit. So many dots on the map. We’ll trace out the route later in orange. We’ve got to think about the seasons, and Canada. This isn’t the last trip we’ll ever take.
It feels weird talking about this with our friends. I know everyone thinks we’re crazy. We’ll just have to get used to it.
“We’ve got to be completely honest with each other,” I tell Paul. “It’s going to get horrible at times.”