Whoa. Left my sister and brother-in-law’s place today after a weekend of hanging out with them, my nieces (the canine and the human one), and my parents. I had already left Chicago and my life there behind, but this goodbye was more wrenching than that one by far. Leaving Chicago just felt right, and the only thing that made me feel really sad was that I had to say goodbye to my friend Natasha for the last time. She’s friends with Darin too, and her message to him was, “Bite it. I miss you,” a message I dutifully delivered.
Leaving my family felt so hard. I was crying, and my parents started too; they walked me out to the car and watched, crying, while I drove away, crying. It’s not like I won’t see them again, but there was something about this leave-taking that seemed really profound. I guess I am on a vision quest, after all. A BJJ vision quest. In 2006. And my parents have been so involved in getting me ready for it that now that it’s here, all this pent-up emotion must’ve come spilling out. And we're all freaked about my mother’s surgery, which happens on the 11th. My sister and brother-in-law stayed in the house, which was just as well, because it was hard enough seeing my parents cry.
I was going to take pictures of everyone, but they would have been depressing. So here are some pictures of my canine niece, Nora. She is the best dog ever, and not only because she absolutely adores me. These pictures don’t show “happy tail,” which is when she is excited about something and curls up her tail so it is in a circle. I tried to get pictures of her with happy tail, but she wasn’t happy because she knew something was up when I was leaving (dogs are so perceptive). That’s also why I wasn’t able to get her to smile. But trust me; she has a great smile and adorable happy tail.
I tried to lighten the mood by telling my folks that after all this build up, my first stop after leaving there would be about a mile away, because I had to get gas. It worked for a minute, until I got to the gas station, when I started to cry again. So I pumped gas while crying and then got on I74 headed east. I had to pass a turnoff for Chicago, and like I said, NOT heading to Chicago felt like the rightest thing. So that was a good sign that I’m glad I could recognize even though I was, at that moment, thinking, “What the hell am I doing, again?”
I headed east through Indiana and into Ohio, then south on I75 into Kentucky. Past Lexington, past Berea, and onto a surface road that led into Somerset, about a 6-hour, 400 mile trip. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but even though this trip is amazing and is sure to change my life (it’d better, goddammit!), a lot of the mechanics of it are mundane. I drove with cruise control on, flipped radio channels, cried a little, realized a tiny bit of my road rage was back (though not nearly as bad as when I first moved to Chicago in 2000 and was driving every day from the suburbs into downtown at high rush hour to train BJJ), thought about stuff, thought about other stuff, cried a little more, stopped at a rest stop, etc. Oh, and giggled about the fact that I didn’t have time to stop at Big Bone Lick State Park (there’s that 12-year-old boy mentality again, but give me a break; I was traumatized).
One thing that’s really fun about long drives is scanning the radio. You can always count on hearing songs you have always liked but haven’t heard in ages, maybe because you don’t have them in your own collection. In my case, these are usually oldies but goodies from the hard rock stations, like Bad to the Bone (George Thoroughgood), Take It on the Run (REO Speedwagon, arguably their only good song), Shooting Star (Bad Company), Barracuda (Heart), Cuts Like a Knife (Bryan Adams), Enter Sandman (Metallica), Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash). When the stations were few and far between, I busted out the CDs my sister and brother-in-law gave me and sang along to Amie (Pure Prairie League), among others, and then listened to Superunknown (Soundgarden) for the first time in ages. That’s a damn good album.
One thing that isn’t as fun about long drives is the car that goes just about the same speed you do, so either you leapfrog each other for miles and miles or you are literally running neck and neck so you have to decide whether you want to 1) step on the gas to pass it despite the fact that cruise control is set perfectly or 2) not worry about it because the other guy will eventually either speed up or slow down so you don’t have to. This time around that car was a green Mercury Grand Marquis from Michigan. He usually slowed down or sped up enough so that I didn’t have to, but there were a couple times when I had to mess with cruise control. Annoying.
I hit Somerset about 8:30. It was dusk and some clouds were moving in. Somerset is set in some rolling hills, so the scene was really beautiful and otherworldly. I had heard that this part of the country is gorgeous, and like New Jersey, it gets a bad rap that’s not entirely deserved (although as one of Darin and Linh’s friends has said, “Yeah, in Kentucky, not EVERYONE is a redneck.”). I pulled into a parking lot and called Darin, who came to lead me back to his and Linh’s place.
What a welcome! Linh came out, the dog, Bandit, came out, the neighbor happened to be walking by and stopped to chat. They have a beautiful little house on a quiet street with a comfy guest room, they had an awesome dinner waiting, and they left me a present of travel-sized toilet articles (shampoo, mouthwash, etc) along with a card welcoming me and wishing me luck on my trip. If every one of my stops is like this, it’s going to be difficult for me to drag myself away from any of them. I continue to be amazed at how supportive and excited people are for me, and I want to go on record as saying that although I’ll never be able to pay back the Darins and Linhs in my life, I will definitely pay it forward. So if any of my friends or family happen to come through wherever I end up living after my trip is over, my doors are always open. And while I am unlikely to have digs as nice as some, I will certainly match the hospitality and enthusiasm I have already been shown.
Anyway, after dinner, when we started talking about the trip they took last year and about my plans for my trip, Darin asked if I wanted to go see the PRIDE fights at his brother’s place. I am so out of the loop on the entire world that I had forgotten about them, so I was stoked to go. (For those of you who don’t know what the PRIDE fights are, see the BJJ glossary). There were some good fights, and the spectacle rivals that of professional wrestling, so that’s always amusing.
So it was an enervating day, on all fronts. But I’m so glad I’m on my way, and I’m so glad that Darin and Linh are my first stop! Tomorrow we train at the Submit Pit, which is going to be most excellent. Right now I fall into bed exhausted.