I’m blogging every day of November, with each day being a post about a thing for which I am grateful. – HH
On the 7th day, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had to travel.
Growing up, travel was a thing other, richer people did. I lived in rural Mississippi, and we never had money for real vacations. Instead, when my parents got time away from work, we visited my mom’s parents in Texas, an eight hour drive we usually took in the summer, at night, because it was cooler then, and our car’s air conditioner seldom worked. So we would leave home at 8 at night and arrive at my grandparents at 4 in the morning or so, having driven across Arkansas all night. There isn’t much to see in Arkansas during the daytime, but there is nothing to see at midnight.
It would be when I was 16 that I would actually travel someplace other than family – I had placed 1st place in a state level extemporaneous speaking contest, and was invited to compete at the nationals, which that year was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The shop teacher was my chaperone, and he and I drove to Tulsa in his pickup and stayed at a motel that had a pool. It was across the street from a Steak and Ale, where we ate each night we were there. I rode around downtown Tulsa, which at the time was the largest city I had ever seen, just star-eyed.
I was 18 when I first flew on a plane, en route to boot camp for the Marine Corps. I was terrified and exhilarated. A month later, on Parris Island, I would see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. We were on a forced march and came over a hill and there was the ocean, blue green and just a few hundred yards away, spanning as far as the eye could see, surf crashing on the sand. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I came to a complete stop, just frozen, staring at it. Like a slapstick comedy, everyone behind me kept walking and ran into me. I bet I did a thousand pushups as a result, but every one of them was worth it.
I was 26 when I first flew to New England on a business trip, to see a client in Hartford, Connecticut. The car rental place was out of mid-sized cars and they upgraded me for free to a Mustang convertible. I drove around New England for 4 days, including a night in Boston where I sat in a pew in the Old North Church and went on Old Ironsides and stood on Bunker Hill, and my head was so big you couldn’t have told me shit.
At 28 I stayed in Manhattan the first time, in the New Yorker Hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden. It captivated me, New York did. I loved the subway the way they spent so much time together and yet gave each other space. I fell in love with the people, their attitude, the can-do spirit, their utter refusal to give in to despair. That spirit was on display to the whole world the following year when the Towers fell.
For the next few years I would travel a good bit, flying into a strange city where I would meet with a client, eat in a generic restaurant, stay in a beige motel and drive a grey rental car and then fly back home. I make it sound boring, but every time was magical, and each place had something to teach me that the last place didn’t.
I then spent perhaps 8 years not traveling much at all. I was no longer in sales and no longer had money to stay in Manhattan.
And then word got out that I knew something about homelessness and I got invited to speak at a small conference in Pennsylvania, and then later another in Upstate New York and before I knew it most months I was flying into a strange city and staying in a beige motel or sometimes a preacher’s guest room and I would get on stage and people would listen to me and I would tell stories about people I knew and loved, and sometimes I got paid well for this and sometimes I got paid poorly, but every time was magical. Truth be told, I had spent several years where I would have paid them to listen to me, so anytime someone wanted to pay me, it filled me with amazement. For perhaps seven or eight years, I flew 10-20 times a year. I had frequent flyer miles and Amtrak rewards and had TSA pre-check status. I kept a bag packed in the closet and had a special briefcase just for traveling.
Since I took that first plane ride to Parris Island all those years ago, I’ve had my feet in both oceans, I’ve been in almost every state in the continental US, I spent a week in Costa Rica seeing parrots, monkeys, waterfalls, and mountains. I’ve been in deserts and above the snowline in the Rocky Mountains, met interesting people, learned about new cultures and made lifelong friends, slept on the beach and in the woods, and on a mountainside, and along the way ate food nobody in Byhalia MS ever heard of.
In short, I have gotten to go to all sorts of places and do all sorts of thing 12-year-old Hugh never would have dreamed of. Nobody could have predicted I would have ever had this life, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
I have places I would love to go still. I’ve never been to Europe, and I have lots of friends all over the UK I would love to see. I think Venice would be nice, and what’s left of the 18-year-old Hugh that was captivated with Hemingway and Fitzgerald would love to see Paris, and eat from that moveable feast.
But if that never happens, I couldn’t complain at all.