In the morning, I limped into the motel office for the continental breakfast, still leaning on my weathered walking stick. The ankle was no better after a night’s rest; it might have been a bit worse.
I certainly received some looks and comments from the breakfast club. I told the story to the group of strangers, which seemed to draw more chuckles than compassion.
I called my friend John, who had recently suffered through a similar injury, for advice. At his consultation, I headed to the local Wal-Mart in search of an Ace bandage. I also looked for some kind of ice pack that would attach to my ankle and not fall off. Though I didn’t have to walk much that day, I did need to drive, and my right foot was needed for that. I could not find any suitable ice pack, though.
While checking out with my Ace bandage, I considered simply sticking ice down my sock. It would stay in place that way, but would also soak my foot and she as it melted.
As I walked toward the exit, I noticed a box of latex gloves affixed to one of the building’s support columns. The gloves were there so the cleaning crew would have easy access to them. A light bulb clicked on in my head, and after a short negotiation with the nearest Wal-Mart employee, I walked out with 2 free latex gloves. Back at the hotel, I filled the gloves with ice and stuck them on each side of my ankle, outside the Ace bandage but inside my sock.
Now I was good to go.
On the way out of Fredericksburg, I made the short detour to Luckenbach, Texas, of Wayland and Willie fame. The town isn’t really a town, which makes it a bit hard to find. It basically consists of a dance hall, general store, and two houses that may or may not be occupied. A bumper sticker on an old pickup there advertised “Luckenbach Texas, Pop. 3”, which is probably an accurate count.
Speaking of old country tunes, my iPod in “shuffle” mode decided to play “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash at about that time. I had heard the song a hundred times, but this time, as the opening line played:
“I was totin’ my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road…”
I realized that I now knew where Winnemucca was located. I’ve been there, I thought. I even drove on a very lonely and dusty desert road to get there. And, since there are only two roads that run through Winnemucca, and I had driven on both of them, I felt pretty confident that I could claim to have been on the road mentioned in the song.
I listened to all the other locations mentioned in the song, to see if I could claim to have been “everywhere” according to the lyrics. After a bit of research, I determined that I had been to at least a majority of the town names listed (though not necessarily to the town the songwriter had in mind; many town names are duplicated in more than one state).
So, no, I haven’t been everywhere, but give me time.
I took the scenic route up to Dallas—well, scenic if defined as “not the interstate”.
As I got closer to the beast, I noticed that my radio presets were now working again, and playing the correct music/sports rants for the first time in a month.
I also noticed that it was suddenly cold. A northern front had beaten me back to Dallas by a few hours. Pleasant weather had followed me most of the past 4 weeks, even in the northern states, and now I was entering Siberia in the one place that normally was too warm for my liking.
My goal was to make it back to Dallas in time for the Porch, a weekly Tuesday night worship gathering for “young adults” at my church. I was signed up to help as a greeter, in preparation for my retirement job at Wal-Mart. I was supposed to help out twice a month, or every other week, and at least this way I would not have to again call to let them know I would not be there.
I did not have time to make a trip to my house first, so I showed up with all my gear still packed, and ice-filled gloves still hidden under my socks.
“So, where’ve you been?” I heard the question multiple times from friends and fellow volunteers.
“The West”, was my attempt at a simple reply.
“The West? Like, where in the West?”
“Sort of…all over.”
“But where? California? Seattle? Arizona?”
It was close to 10 p.m. when I finally made it home.
Home? Did I just say “home”?
Ever since college, I have been very careful about where I call “home”, realizing that the place I live does not automatically qualify as such. After all, the post-high-school years typically a pretty transient time. I once heard someone bragging that they had moved 18 times since high school, and after counting them up I realized I had moved 14 times during that period myself (to 10 different addresses). Though I now had title to my own place, I do not think I had referred to it as “home”.
As I returned to Dallas, though, I noticed myself referring to it in my mind as “home”.
Maybe it was just a mental slip. Or maybe I really did now think of Dallas as home, despite the fact that I have repeatedly told people that I don’t really like the place.
I pulled my pickup into my spot in the garage, and started unloading stuff. My kayak went in its place along the garage wall (I can’t even close the garage door until it is unloaded, because it sticks out past the tailgate so far). My tent and cot went in their own spots along the garage wall, while my clothes went into the closet or the washing machine. My toothbrush and razor even have their own designated spots in the bathroom medicine cabinet.
It struck me that everything had its place, a spot designed specifically for it, where it belonged.
Everything, that is, except for me.
I still had no bedroom—no real bedroom, anyway, since I slept in the smaller of the two living rooms. And one of the hinges on the hide-a-bed contraption I had built was broken, so for the night I crashed on the couch, in the same borrowed sleeping bag I had used on my trip.
A bit hard to feel “at home”, with that.
Still, the physical dwelling is not necessarily what constitutes a “home”. I may tell people that I do not like Dallas—and there are many things about it that the country boy in me is not a fan of—but I do like the people I have met there and the friends I have made there. That is what I was glad to get back to.
“Home is where the heart is”—I’m not sure how I feel about that cliché. My heart is tied to many places and no places all at once. The open spaces of Montana, the Ninth Ward, Manhattan, Yosemite, the Mississippi River, Broken Bow Lake, Kirkwood, Stillwater, the Flint Hills, Dallas—they could all fit that definition.
The anonymous know-it-alls at Wikipedia define “home” as, among other things, “where a person is comfortable being”. I like that definition, I think.
Dallas is one of my homes. Not my house—for the reasons stated above—but being around the people there that I have the privilege of knowing. Grainola and Stillwater are homes. The outdoors is home.
And sometimes, for at least a little while, the road is home.