May 26, 2009 Leave a comment
Neurotic people like me plan many things in advance, but one thing we are not so good at planning is vacations. This is in part because we feel like we do not deserve them and therefore don’t prioritize them ahead of time. And yet, after a 9.5 month journalism school program and two years of working before that almost since the day I graduated college in 2006 (with a 6 week break of sorts in the summer of 2008), I could really use a vacation.
At some point this past spring, I got it in my head that it might be nice to take a road trip, because it is something I would not have commandeered in my younger, more workaholic days and because I saw photos from a road trip my cousin took across the United States that looked absolutely beautiful.
So I started to consider going to the Pacific Coast. I have been there before but mostly to its cities and certianly not enough for all there is to see. I loved my cousin’s photos of Hearst Castle along the coast in Central California and figured it might be neat to see the home of a newspaper magnate of yore. I had all sorts of thoughts about hiking through Redwoods and camping on beaches. Mind you, I have camped about twice. But 26 is the age to try new things, I thought. Why not start in Vancouver, Canada, I thought, and work my way down through all of the Pacific Coast cities, as far as San Diego?
As school ended last week and Memorial Day, the marker of summer’s coming was suddenly upon us, it became more necessary to start planning this trip. However, some unwieldy variables occurred to me, like recruiting trip participants, paying for a rental car and anticipating gas costs, and planning the trip’s scale.
For one, the many places to go on the West Coast are all very far from each other. Recently, someone was making a joke about how East Coasters assume the cities on the West are as near each other as the cities out here, which cluster in one amazing and kind of scary when you think about it megalopolis , from D.C. to Boston. San Francisco, it turns out, is ten hours from Portland. I realized I would have to allot a lot of time for an ambitious coastal trip (word play intended!).
This sheer distance combined with the fact that I have never headed up a road trip myself but just been the passenger was starting to make the trip a bit improbable.
So tonight, determined not to fail quite yet, I went to the Borders in Penn Station after dinner with some friends in Korea Town and looked at some travel books. While doing so, a small old man approached me and whispered. I couldn’t hear him, but I immediately looked into his dark eyes and said “I’m sorry,” knowing what he wanted. Suddenly he growled back at me, his voice had astonishingly lowered by octaves, “Sorry for what?” Startled, I let him go on with his pitch. He unrolled a yellow strip of plastic on which was written “Funeral” in black letters and asked, again in a whisper, if I could spare him some money to fund a funeral for his dead father. In his other hand, he clutched chocolates. “I’m sorry,” I said firmly, now that I had something specific to refuse. “Some change?” he pleaded. “Sorry.” Unlike my earlier refusal, he was okay with that and walked away. I turned back to my book and thought, as fun as the people are here, I need a long vacation from New York.
I had impeded my own progress in road trip planning, however, when a book called Don’t Go There caught my eye. The subtitle made it impossible to pass up: “The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World.” I learned that there is a city in Nigeria (if I recall correctly) that was built for 500,000 people but today holds 14 million; that Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has just about everything wrong with it possible, from crime to pollution; and that you have no good reason to visit Bakersfield California.
Finally, after about an hour of skimming Don’t Go There cover to cover, I turned to my thick Lonely Planet California book. Too big. I turned to my smaller Pacific Northwest book. The first thing that caught my eye was a blurb about coffee. The Pacific Northwest prizes their coffee, it said. My expansive road trip suddenly turned into a vacation of hanging out in Portland and Seattle and enjoying good coffee. Contrary to what one might expect, New York is not a city where high coffee standards prevail, so the coffee meccas out there would be a vacation for me.
To conclude this ramble, my goal is to make some aspect of this trip a reality. Hopefully my siblings will join me on it, but if that doesn’t work, I’d like to go with a friend or two. I’ll provide updates about my progress, and for anyone who has trip planning/Pacific Coast/camping/driving advice, please comment!