It's February 1st. I can't believe it.
One year ago to the day I was stuffing as much as I could into two bags and setting them down in Howard's hallway as Max (Howard's cat) watched me from the top of the stairs. I checked my freshly compiled iTune's CD's before stuffing them into the last available section of my bursting bag while figuring out which CD I was going to use first. After all, within 24 hours I was going to be driving from Wichita, Kansas to Dallas, Texas - hitting the open road. Was I excited? Are you kidding?
Just like that.
February 1, 2007 - "Off We Go ..." - I remember looking out the plane window, watching Shea Stadium and the new Citi Field construction shrink and fade into the thickening clouds. I was on my way to the middle of the country; my days of merely flying over the flyover states were about to end. As I sat back and closed my eyes, I remember taking a deep, happy breath. I was letting go of something big, even though I couldn't pinpoint what that something was. Truthfully, it didn't matter. I just felt downright good. After thinking about driving cross country for, I don't know, 30 years? I was finally doing it. Chalk one up for Eldercation. A decade's worth of stored up stories about taking leaps, not regretting things, and the like - it was time to take some of that wisdom out for a test run in my Enterprise car rental.
And, as I pecked away on my laptop and started to write what would end up becoming my road-journal, certainly the last thing I figured was that I'd end up living in Kansas City, Missouri. So it just goes to show you - it simply doesn't make any sense to ... well ... figure on anything. For the most part, life unfolds on its own. I smile when I think back to that first day of the trip and how, after landing, I found myself staring at the shiny black baggage belt as it kept running by me from right to left, bag after bag. That belt kept running and running until there were no more bags. I had made it to Wichita; my bags hadn't. As Frank Rizzo like to say, "Ehhh, I see we're off to a bad start, Paul."
The thing I remember most about that particular moment? I smiled. I'm not kidding. I actually smiled. Well, okay - so I freaked out for about 10 seconds and then I smiled. But pretty soon, after filling out the lost baggage forms and meeting the young man who was to later become my luggage hero, I walked over to an airport bar and ordered a cold beer. I was celebrating that fact that my bags were somewhere else in America besides NYC and I was sipping a beer in the Wichita, Kansas airport. Breaking free of the New York's sometimes mesmerizing hold, I had finally moved forward, starting the process of fulfilling a dream. And, boy, it felt great.
February 1, 2008 - "Brick By Brick" - I've been using that phrase a lot lately. The Eldercation project is (and I know I'm obviously biased), quite a remarkable experience collection, I have to say. My focus now is to convert these interviews into a format where I can share just a small sampling of what I've been seeing and hearing as I've traveled around meeting some of the best people you'd ever want to meet. A lot of work was in the can before I left last year; hundreds of interviews were already in place. But, this trip, this adventure - it's allowed me to spread my wings. Something started to click with me and it seemed to happen almost as soon as the plane's wheels left the LaGuardia runway. Dallas to Austin to Liberty Hill to Fort Worth to San Antonio to Oklahoma City to Kingfisher to Stillwater to Tulsa to Hot Springs to Benton to Little Rock to Eureka Springs to Branson to Springfield to Columbia - back to Wichita to Lawrence to Kansas City ...
And it wasn't supposed to stop in Kansas City. The fact is, I had already made plans for the next leg - up to Nebraska and then over to Iowa. And the interesting thing is, whenever I fantasized about making this trip, for some reason it was always Nebraska that popped into my head. Which is a pretty strange thing considering I had, as you already know, never been there before. Go figure. Maybe it was memories of being at the 1969 Orange Bowl, watching the Cornhuskers beat LSU that year. From that day forward, I always felt kind of attached to Nebraska football. Which wasn't such a difficult thing to do, seeing as they seemed to be in the hunt for the national title every year up until very recently.
But, Nebraska and Iowa would have to wait. Like everything else on this trip, instinct took hold and something pushed me to stop the trip in its tracks. It was time to write, compile - write and compile some more - and then write and compile some more. The fact is all I've been doing for the past six months (besides working part/time) is writing and compiling. Tedious at times? Yes, I can't lie. There are no shortcuts. For every interview conducted, it means listening and combing through that interview several more times, culling out the one or two things that I want to pass along to readers.
Which reminds me.
It's time to write and compile.