Things I’ve Learned Traveling

What do you do when it doesn’t work out like you planned? Try again. What do you do when it doesn’t work when you try? Try harder. It’s a lot easier to say this than it is to do it, and that’s probably my great big life lesson so far this year.

I’m writing this from my parents’ house in Oregon, only a month after having left the state, not planning to return for a while. I had everything lined up as best as I could – or at least, as best as I knew how. The job thing, the living thing, the budget thing, it was all completely put into place as carefully as I am capable. We know what they say about the best-laid plans. Job prospects got quickly thrown aside the closer I got to Los Angeles. My living situation, by no fault of my own, and thankfully with no real punitive monetary effect, completely fell apart. You just can’t assume everyone is honest, and I suppose that would be the only mistake I made in regard to where I had planned to live. There are, however, quite a few things I gained from my tumultuous month out and about.

First of all, I have now seen, with the exception of San Diego, every single city, beach, hotspot and destination on the west coast, including Phoenix and Las Vegas. The course of my adventure made me realize just how different a city can be from another, and I think I finally have come to recognize the value of local communities, regardless of how big or small a city is. If there is no sense of connectedness, the city will be tossed to the side once the next best thing comes around.

The next point: Las Vegas is not somewhere I would ever really care to go again, save for business or an excess of money that I somehow need to dispose of. The same goes for Los Angeles, and most of the surrounding area around it. The West LA / Santa Monica / Culver City / Hollywood area is wonderful. It is, by far, the most interesting part of the area, although my favorite beach town is still Newport. The catch is, everyone knows it, and none of the desirable areas are best-kept secrets anymore. Rent is sky high and competitive, the traffic is worst along the northern coast thanks to the 405 and the 101, and once again, there is no community. There probably is if you dig hard enough, but it’s not appealing to me to live somewhere that the whole city is making money off of people passing through and using it as a toy, then leaving their messes behind. It’s municipal prostitution.

Number three: I don’t really think the beach is compelling enough to live near. As someone who isn’t the type to go jump in the water (especially considering I saw a shark as soon as I arrived), I’d probably rather live near a rocky beach than a sandy one. The view is prettier and there aren’t nearly as many people clamoring to get there. Although, admittedly, it’s the sunshine I find myself chasing in general.

Number four: Phoenix is dreadfully underrated. Maybe it’s because people think John McCain will be their neighbor. Maybe it’s because they think it’s completely backward and right wing. It is a conservative state, this is true: but the conservative states are the easiest ones to live in. You’re less likely to find yourself swimming in taxes for programs you never wanted in the first place. California, for example, subsidizes the tuition of illegal immigrants, but not out-of-state students. Did you catch that properly? As a US citizen, I would pay more to go to school in California than someone who swam across the Rio Grande illegally. Doesn’t really sound like the kind of state I want to pay taxes to, if they plan to treat me worse than a criminal.

Number five: You need to be on your own at some point. Go drive down a desert highway sometime soon, I dare you. By yourself, music is optional, Red Bull is encouraged. I can’t express in words how helpful it was to drive from LA to Phoenix, then Phoenix to LV, all by myself, passing by all kinds of nothing in the ninety-degree heat. Escape the noise for a while and see what your mind does on its own. Listen to what you find yourself thinking when you are truly by yourself, and see how well it lines up with what you thought you knew.

Number six: until you actually leave, you will never realize how much your hometown is dragging you down. If you’re the type of person who has an excuse at the end of every sentence, if you’ve got a reason why not but never a reason why, you need to leave. I don’t care about your house and your marriage and your leases and pets and dying siblings and disabled granduncles and bills out your nose and your friends who will miss you. You will find just as much misery to feel awful about in any place you go, so why rob yourself of the opportunity to feel awful about a whole new set of excuses? Anyone who truly, genuinely wants the best for you will be waving goodbye with a big smile underneath any tears they may have as you drive away. You can always come back if things get rough, but don’t ever let someone else’s life stand in the way of you living your own. I mean it.

There’s many more things I’d like to share, but as much as they keep coming, I am slowly wasting precious hours of sunshine. My plan is to leave Oregon as soon as the sun goes away. That gives me about a week to find my next city. Wish me luck, and I hope to speed past some of you on our way out of town.

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