The day after my parents decided to divorce in 1979, my father took a bus to Atlantic City, NJ. He had always wanted to see the Atlantic Ocean.
He and his family moved to the United States when he was a small child, settling immediately in very, very rural northern Pennsylvania. The town, Hillsgrove, had only one business: a combination general store/post office. Later, a bar was added (my uncle–a notorious drunk–later bought this bar, and he still owns it today).
The trip to the Jersey shore only whet my father’s appetite to see more. And so he took all of his money out of the bank–only a few hundred dollars–and set off to see the rest of the country. Eventually he ended up in Arizona. He met my stepmother, and they eventually moved to Salem, OR (a 45 minute drive from Portland).
He told me about his journeys over lunch when I was 16 years old. It was our first time seeing one another since I was a sickly toddler. I’m sure we talked about other subjects (obviously there was a lot of catching up to do), but the one thing that stuck with me was his admitted wanderlust.
It seemed as if I had always known that I wanted to leave Central PA. I would settle for no less than seeing the entire world. I lived in a town with a population of less than 5000 people. Everyone in my family had always lived in the same 50 mile radius. Huge vacations occurred at the Jersey or Maryland shore, only a 4 hour drive. My grandma seemed incredibly worldly to me, because she and my grandfather went on a Caribbean cruise every winter. Most of my relatives had never even been on an airplane.
After that conversation with my father, I realized that I had inherited his urge to travel. I certainly had not acquired this from my mother. Despite her overall radical (by Central PA standards) views, she had no interest in going anywhere new.
I thought about this tonight as I drank a Mexican beer with my friend Marie in a bar in Camp Hill. She came down from Brooklyn this weekend to see her family. As always, we were faced with a “what to do?” quandary. The only establishments open after 10 pm here are diners, Wal-Mart, and bars. The bars in Harrisburg–the largest city nearby–are pretty awful…aspiring to emulate Philadelphia/NYC watering holes….yet filled with rednecks drinking Coors Light. So we decided to go to a place in Camp Hill (best described as a “suburb” of Harrisburg…still cosmopolitan in comparison to where I grew up).
Guys were talking loudly about simultaneously snorting coke and smoking weed in their parents’ basements. There were a lot of “hilarious” homophobic jokes and accusations. A smattering of racism. Cargo shorts and flip flops. And the girls…this was their big night out. Theoretically sexy ensembles purchased at the Capital City Mall. Lots of elaborate makeup and curled hair. Most likely drinking Cosmos because they heard that’s what women in the city drink.
We kept saying to one another, “What if we lived here?” This was too sad to think about for more than the briefest moment.
“These guys would be our boyfriends,” I grimly said to Marie.
Her response was, “Don’t say that!”
I drove home silently thanking genetics, my lonely childhood, cable television, and countless books for motivating me to move away. I thought about sending a fruit basket to each and every one of the students at my high school for relentlessly mocking my clothes and overall weirdness. If I had been homecoming queen, I am sure I would still live here in a split-level cookie cutter house with my husband who does something involving computers. There is nothing wrong with that life, but I know it would never be the right path for me. Not enough drama and tragedy and exhilaration and joy…