If you followed our travels here in 2011, you may be interested to know that we’re starting to travel again. Starting September 7, we’re leaving Denver and setting out on a trip through the eastern US for three months. You can read more about that on my blog article right here.
I meant to write this article shortly after we left Arcata, back in November 2011. But life soon thereafter threw me several curveballs, and I’m just now getting back to it. I wrote very little here on “12 Cities, 1 Year” about Arcata, which was the 4th city of our trip. We were there for just about 3 weeks, not a full month, but I think I got a decent sense of the place.
Since leaving, I’ve learned that most people have never heard of Arcata. I even mentioned it to someone from California, and he assumed I meant Arcadia (another California town). Arcata is a small town in the far north part of the state. It seems largely powered by Humboldt State University, a pervasive cannabis growing and processing industry, and a bit of the remains of the timber business. There’s a town square called The Plaza that’s pretty quaint, and has a farmer’s market, concerts, parades, and so on. Being a college town, there are a few coffee shops and more than the average number of mediocre pizza joints.
I got to spend a lot of time with my old friend Chad from high school, who has lived in or around Arcata for over 20 years. He is a videographer who makes TV and web commercials, and records musical jingles for ads. He didn’t have the luxury of making up his schedule every day like I did, and had to finish projects for clients. But when he wasn’t working, we spent some time experimenting with using remote control helicopters for doing low cost aerial video. Ultimately, it’ll become a service he provides to his video clients, but when I was there he was still working out the kinks in the process. I’d never flown an RC helicopter before, but the one he loaned me to use was very stable and I only crashed a couple times. And we often went flying in the redwood forests that northern California are famous for. The scenery is so beautiful, and we had lots of good times in those three weeks.
The thing I remember most about the town itself is the smell. Here in Denver, where I’m writing this now, occasionally when I’m walking around I’ll catch a whiff of smoldering cannabis (marijuana). But in Arcata, it’s everywhere. People smoke pot all day long in the wide open at The Plaza, right in front of the local cop. I have a feeling that so many people in Arcata have medical marijuana cards that it’s just not practical to even try to bust people for smoking illegally. Instead of catching a whiff every few blocks like in Denver, when you walk around Arcata you smell pot smoke coming from about every third house or store. The smell from the houses didn’t surprise me too much, but the fact that people smoke in and around businesses was an eye-opener. Laundromat, hardware store, book store (pot smell). Liquor store, restaurant, tire dealer (pot smell). Art gallery, yoga studio, dentist (pot smell). Unfortunately, unlike Boulder, Colorado (Arcata’s nearest Colorado sibling), the open cannabis culture in Arcata has more of a dark side, in that there are a huge number of stoner bums for such a small town. It made me sad that there were so many people not really doing anything creative or beautiful or “useful” but just sitting around for hours each day in a daze, often panhandling. Chad told me the big difference between Arcata and Eureka (the larger town to the south) is that while Arcata has stoner bums, Eureka is overrun with tweakers (meth addicts, for those who don’t know the term). So I guess given the two choices, pot is a way better choice than meth.
I wrote before that our living arrangements were different than we’d had before. We were sharing a house with the house’s owner (who also shopped and cooked for us) and her one housemate. It was strange, particularly because our landlady was uncomfortably neurotic. I get along with just about everyone I meet in the world, but she just really rubbed me the wrong way. One minute she’d tell us to make ourselves at home, but then the next minute she’d follow behind me in the kitchen, cleaning up after everything I did. One time Beth and I got back home late one evening and found our landlady’s glass pipe and marijuana on the nightstand in our bedroom. At first we didn’t know who it belonged to – the landlady, the housemate, or the landlady’s teen daughter who had been over earlier that day. Later, the landlady confessed it was hers, but claimed to have been so “out of it” that she didn’t remember how it got there. She made up some story about how maybe the dog went into our bedroom and she went in there to get the dog out, but left her pot and didn’t remember any of it (that story never held water because the dog never once came into our bedroom and we always kept the door closed). It’s weird enough to find that your landlady has been creeping around your private bedroom in your absence, but even creepier to find she’s left her drug stash there. So after that experience, I decided that for the rest of our 12 Cities, 1 Year journey, we’d have our own personal place, not a shared living space with someone we didn’t know.
Oh, one last thing I should mention about Arcata is just how liberal it is. It’s not surprising, given they’re home to a liberal arts college and are financially dependent on the drug trade. But I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that far left. One resident, when he heard about how our next city was going to be San Diego, warned us to not go there because they’re very conservative there – there are actually Republicans in that city!
Todd and I received an unexpected card today from the woman who bought our home. Let’s call her C.
Happy Holidays! I hope enjoying your adventure and are having fun in each new city! Thank you so much for all the thought and little things you left around the house. Coming from a condo, I didn’t have a shovel or a tall ladder You both truly made this an amazing transition for me. May you find exactly what you seek.
We noticed she didn’t mention the bottle of Cointreau we left because we couldn’t fit it in our car.
After I read the card, I looked at the address and noted she had mailed it to us at our old address—where she is now living. Given the greeting, the post office had taken its sweet time about forwarding it. And no one had bothered to postmark the envelope. It’s a bit of a mystery how it got to us.
I can’t decide how, or if, I should respond to the letter. On the one hand, it’s very sweet of her to write to us. On the other, it makes me want to cry.
“Oh, yeah, that trip we were planning—well, we made it through 4 months! Then we had to return to Denver for cancer treatment. That wasn’t exactly what we sought. Come to think of it, can we come live with you for free?”
That wouldn’t be appropriate, now, would it?
Her card also made me think of timing, and planning. How it’s really a bad idea to schedule medical tests for a week before you leave on a long trip. So what if the last 9 mammograms have been normal! And how the timing for my diagnosis could have been worse than late November.
What if my gynecologist had thought to schedule an ultrasound for that swollen lymph node that showed up on the mammogram in June? What if those results had come in 2 days before we were supposed to close on the house? Would we then have canceled the home sale? Even if we could have done that without repercussions, we wouldn’t have had company-paid health insurance any more because Todd had already quit his job.
Yes, getting the diagnosis in June, when we were prepared to leave but hadn’t actually been anywhere, would have been worse than getting it in November. At least we got to travel to 4 cities.
Getting the diagnosis in March 2011—now that might have been better. Todd would still have had his job, with the excellent health insurance paid for mostly by the company, and we would have had our house. We could have done the treatment, kept downsizing slowly, and started 12 Cities in 2012.
I suppose. But I can’t really bring myself to regret the way things turned out—though every now and then I wonder, “How much difference did those 6 months make in my survival chances?”
Which is not really a helpful line of thinking.
This post is sort of the flip side of the one I posted yesterday, titled Todd’s December doldrums. That article was about my sadness thinking maybe we’ve come full circle, and now are right back where we started before we started the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project. But the fact is that we aren’t the same people we were when we left Broomfield to travel the country. In 2011, we irreversibly changed our lifestyle in a way we’ve wanted to for a while. Sure we’re not finished yet. In fact, I sometimes feel like a caterpillar that is stuck half-changed into a butterfly. But we started.
I realized at the start of December just how important it will be to keep from sliding back into old habits and patterns, and so I wrote up these rules. Here is my quick manifesto to myself. And Beth agrees.
IMPORTANT!!!: Don’t fall back into old patterns. Just because we’re living in Denver again for the moment, take care to not “settle” in to the area. Once Beth is back to good health, we want to resume our location independent lifestyle.
Here are some specifics:
- Keep our possessions light. Don’t re-accumulate stuff that we’ll have to get rid of or store. Use the “only get something if you give away something in its place” rule if necessary.¹
- Related to that, only own small important things that do multiple functions. Be prepared to move out and travel given only a week’s notice.²
- Live in a decent and comfortable place that we won’t grow too attached to. Rent.
- Take a contract job instead of a regular employment position.
- Live outside the home a lot. Don’t start hobbies or pastimes that keep us indoors. Instead, do things that get us outside, interacting with people, or exploring.
- Each month, schedule time to go through stuff, looking for things to pare down.
- Borrow or rent, rather than buy.
- Financial goal: Don’t dip into our savings any more, and add at least $1000 a month into it.³
That’s it! If you’re a real friend, please help us do these things any way you can.
And now, a few geeky notes. I mean, seriously, who puts footnotes in a blog post?
¹ I’ve been calling this “Todd’s Law” since late July, though Beth thinks it’s a little too hard-lined. If you’re an avid reader, you may remember that I mentioned “I decided that we wouldn’t take on anything new unless we got rid of something else of the same size or smaller” back in this post.
² When Beth read this, she said, “Wait, there’s no way we could just give a week notice to a landlord and then leave.” She’s right, of course. But the point is that we could leave within a week. For example, don’t sign a lease on a car, don’t tie ourselves to some project we can’t back out of for months, etc.
³ This one is going to be really tricky. If you took the pay I was getting as a senior QA engineer at Polycom plus Beth’s freelance editing income before we left town, and compare it to our expenses now, we would have way more than a grand each month in extra cash. But taking short term jobs is likely to mean making less money each month. And Beth won’t be able to work as much as she used to. And I really want to do a lot more videography jobs, which don’t pay as well or as steady. So can we really save an extra $1000 each month? I hope so. We’re gonna try, but it’s gonna be tough.
The things I think about when I’m feeling sorry for myself
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We planned to spend another eight months traveling around America, living in another eight new and interesting cities. And then we might settle down into one of them. But here we are back in Denver, with our travels (the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project) put on hold indefinitely until Beth goes through cancer treatment and gets back to good health. I occasionally feel sorry for myself that we’re back here, and a few things over the past month have set me off into a pretty negative space.
In the final stages of downsizing and preparing to begin our “12 Cities, 1 Year” project, I was worried we had too much stuff to fit in our Prius. I assumed we’d need to buy one of those rooftop cargo carriers. But a friend of mine who also has a Prius said, “Don’t forget about the secret compartment.” Huh? She explained how there’s an area under the deck in the hatchback area where you can store stuff. Even after having the car for over a year, I had no idea!
But I popped open the back deck, and found that she was right. We packed our emergency medical and first aid supplies in there, but there was still extra room. So we stuffed our winter parkas in there, too. We didn’t plan to need them during our year on the road, since we picked out our cities so that we’d be in the south in the winter time. But we put the coats in the car anyhow, just in case we found ourselves on top of some high mountain where it was chilly.
As we were driving back cross-country from Los Angeles to Denver the weekend after Thanksgiving, the temperature dropped and dropped and dropped. And by the time we got here, we found that it was winter – snow, ice, freezing. We had to open up that secret compartment for the first time in six months, and get out our winter coats. That really depressed me.
A couple weeks after we got back to Colorado, I finally had some time to do some editing on my film “Kung Fu Sushi Chefs” (KFSC). It’s a martial arts comedy that I’ve been working on for something like three years now. The footage is all shot, and the editor handed the project off to me about 90% edited, with just a couple dozen little things to fix and polish.
I was editing one day at a coffee shop and posted something to Facebook saying that I’m editing KFSC. A friend commented back, “It’s like you never left.” I know it seems like a small thing, but this really deflated me, not just because I was still working on this film so many months after it should have been finished, but because it really does seem to many of our old Colorado friends that nothing changed in the six months we were gone. Have we come full circle right back to where we started?
About three weeks after arriving back in Denver, I had a job interview with the company I used to work for. It wasn’t in the same group, but I would have been working for another group in the same office where I worked for nearly ten years. As I was driving to the office, my mind was running through interview questions they might ask, and I was also thinking of my other main worries – Beth’s health and where we should try to find a place to live.
I pulled out of my reverie about 15 minutes later as the car was pulling into the parking lot. I realized then that I hadn’t really consciously thought about where I was going, how to get there, what turns I needed to take, or anything like that. It was like the navigation part of my brain was on autopilot; I gave it a destination and it subconsciously drove the car there.
Even though I hadn’t been on any of these streets in six months, or even thought about any of these streets, the way to my old office was so ingrained in my muscle memory that it all just came back to me. When I realized this, I chuckled at how memory works. But then I realized how pathetic the whole situation was. I was back in the suburbia I worked so hard to leave, visiting the company I tried so hard to put behind me, interviewing for a job that was a step back in time about five years.
I’m back in Denver now, going to see surgeons and oncologists about my metastatic breast cancer. There’s still a lot of Occupy stuff going on, despite the fact that pseudo-Democratic governor John Hickenlooper was one of the first to evict an Occupy camp and has done so three times. I would never have expected him to act that way.
On November 18, I was at Civic Center Park and took a few pictures. People seemed a little paranoid about my showing their faces on my blog—understandably—so I’ve limited the pictures of people I’m presenting here. I took pictures of the group in Civic Center Park. There were no tents, but people were sleeping on the ground. I admire their tenacity in the face of this:
These protestors stand along Broadway.Apparently Denver police have taken to giving tickets to drivers who honk in support. Just last week Occupy Denver was warning people bringing supplies not to park along Broadway. The police response in Denver has been truly ridiculous.
The Occupy camp in Kansas City was set up near the Liberty Memorial, which includes the National World War I Museum, and across from the Federal Reserve. It’s a great symbolic location, but there’s not a lot of traffic going by that camp. As far as I know, the camp is still there.
Arcata’s Occupy camp differed from Portland’s in a couple of ways. First of all, it was much smaller, initially set up in the middle of Arcata Plaza and then moved to City Hall. (Portland’s camp took up an entire city block.) Second, the people I saw occupying the plaza fit much more neatly into stereotypes of Occupiers being “hippies” and such. Third, when I sat in on a General Assembly the Friday before Halloween, there was an extensive discussion of committees and contacts with local businesses. I think Occupy Arcata is grounded in its particular community, much more tied to it, simply by virtue of Arcata’s small size.
And then, of course, Occupy Arcata has palm trees.
The first four photos are of the camp at Arcata City Hall. The rest of the photos are of the initial camp at Arcata Plaza. When I was taking the latter group of photos, I had a weird encounter with some man who claimed he was a “prophet of God” and who asked if I supported the movement with a slight hint of threat in his voice. He said he had gotten 3 people arrested that day who were trying to hurt the movement.
My other encounters with Occupiers that day were much more positive. I took some cookies to the camp and talked to the woman at the kitchen. She said earlier that day she’d found a man to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that he was a “human megaphone.” I heard someone reading the declaration later that day before the assembly, so either he read it twice or she found another man to read it. She also told me the police had been “awesome” but that some of the businesses on the Plaza didn’t want them there. Perhaps that was the reason for the focus on contacts with local businesses at the assembly.
I left the Plaza for a while and then came back and took more pictures of signs. Another woman asked me what I was doing and I explained about this blog. She said she’d been there 8 nights straight and then had gone home to take care of something things and then had come back. So she’d camped for 10 nights total, she said. She pointed out the men playing the accordion and drums and called them the “house band.” When I asked them about it, they said they’d been there 10 minutes. Occupy humor, I guess.
Then I listened to the meeting. The “leader,” if that term is correct, wanted to set up an oversight committee, despite one person’s objection that there was a lot of oversight all of a sudden. He also said he was tired of being everyone’s mommy. There was a long discussion of whether to move the camp from the Plaza to City Hall (by Halloween, they had moved). One man said the police had said they were obstructing business (especially the farmer’s market, held in the Plaza on Saturdays), and another reminded everyone that the point of the Occupy movement was to obstruct business. My favorite comment came from a man with curly hair who said that Arcata Plaza was a “pretty bitchin’ place to occupy.”
As I listened to the Assembly, the crowd got larger. It got colder. I looked around at the flimsy tents and thought of the comment by a homeless man that they had kept the Plaza clean but they would dirty it up again if they didn’t get heard. A small group of people, trying to accommodate everyone.
One thing I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving is the Occupy movement. I have a buttload of photos of the few I’ve seen, mostly of Portland and Arcata. Occupy Portland’s camp was removed November 14, so I post these photos in memoriam of the camp that was and in anticipation of the new forms this occupation will take. The first gallery includes pictures of a general assembly, and the second includes pictures of the camp on the day of the Portland Marathon (October 9, 20110.
Watching an Occupy General Assembly is interesting. I like the inclusive nature of the People’s Mic. It takes a long time for the speaker to say a phrase and the crowd to repeat it, and it takes a long time for everyone to speak. Sometimes, after a decision is voted up or down, people will do the opposite thing anyway. But I have to say, I loved the feel of the assemblies. I’ve been to two assemblies, one in Portland with a lot of passionate speeches, and another in Arcata with a discussion of meetings with local businesses and what committees needed to be formed.
My favorite photos in this group are the photo that shows the sign “End War” and, behind it,” Arm the Poor”—a little contradiction there—and the one that says “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
After this meeting, I went to have lunch at Brasserie Montmartre. You can read my post about that memorable sandwich on Beth at Home and Abroad. Then I wandered over to the route of the Portland Marathon, where I briefly spoke with a documentary filmmaker from Canada. The organizers of the marathon and the police had completely enclosed the camp in fences so that the protestors couldn’t get to the marathon route. I don’t know if the runners knew the camp was there, though some of the tents were pretty hard to miss. As I stood there, the fences began to come down, and I was able to walk into the camp.
Hello, faithful readers. I’ve got some serious and bad news to share. While in Denver last week, Beth had some medical tests on a strange lump that’s appeared in her armpit over the past couple months. We learned on Monday that she has cancer. So, we are immediately returning to Denver, so she can have more tests, treatment, and recovery. Because of this, the 12 Cities, 1 Year project is going on hiatus.
We don’t yet know very much about the extent of the disease. All we know is Beth has a growth in the lymph nodes under her arm, and that it’s metastatic, meaning that the cancer started somewhere else (breast, perhaps) and then spread there. We don’t know where it started yet or how advanced it is. All we know is she needs tests to determine those things, then surgery, and then probably chemo and/or radiation. We’ll learn more starting next week.
Obviously we can’t deal with these things very well on the road or living in a new city every month. Since Denver is where we both have the biggest support network, we’re going back there, probably for several months, if not longer. We both hope that after Beth is back to good health, we’ll be able to continue our location independent lifestyle. I personally don’t think we lived as digital nomads long enough to really get used to it or learn how well it would work long-term for us.
We lived in four cities, and learned something new in each one. Maybe someday in the future we can just pick up where we left off, and go to the remaining eight cities we originally planned. Or maybe we’ll choose another eight. Who knows; we’ll figure that out later, after we deal with much bigger and more urgent matters.
We still have a few videos, blog articles, and photos queued up to post on this blog. So we’ll do that as we have time. And I’m sure we’ll post a few reflections and lessons learned from the project so far. But then this blog site (and our associated Facebook page) will take a slumber for a while. Instead, we’ll go back to posting things at Beth at Home and Abroad and Todd Bradley’s Galaxy, and on our two individual Facebook pages.
We’re currently in Arcata, California, which is the 4th city of our 12 Cities, 1 Year trek. One of the amazing things — other than the fact that Beth hasn’t gotten so sick of me as to resort to violence — is that we’re now in our 4th different type of living arrangement.
In Missoula, we rented a whole house, not counting a tiny mother-in-law apartment in the basement. We had our run of the place, with no neighbors sharing the space or even sharing a wall with us.
In Seattle, we rented a tiny apartment in a single-story apartment building. We had neighbors sharing one wall, but we never heard them. In fact, I don’t think we ever even met them. The apartments all shared a courtyard and a laundry/storage room, but I only met one of the neighbors, an elderly year-round resident of the place.
In Portland, we rented a basement apartment under a family of four. The house was a little over a hundred years old, and the basement was divided roughly in two; one half was storage and laundry for the family that owned the place, and the other half was our apartment. During the day, it was mostly peaceful, but when the family’s boys got home from school it got really noisy, as there was no insulation between the floor of the upstairs living room and our ceiling.
Here in Arcata, we rented a bedroom in a large house. Most of the house is shared living space: the kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry room. Part of the check we wrote to the landlady is to pay for food, which she buys (and often cooks) every week and stores in two refrigerators for the household. There’s one other woman living here under the same arrangement (plus her visiting friend for part of the time). Also, there’s a separate basement apartment with one person there (and occasionally her friend), but we only met her once.
The only other type of living arrangements I can imagine us having during this trip are:
- sharing a home with friends
- sharing a home with family
- staying in a hotel for the month
- camping for the month
I really don’t think #3 and #4 will happen. #3 would be too expensive and #4 would be too painful. But we’ve got plans for both #1 and #2 later in the journey.
What would it be like to live on a boat?