I’m feeling reminiscent today. Maybe it’s because the calendar has swung around to the right marker in time. Or maybe the temperature has reached a particular zenith. I’m not sure, and might never be.
If you live in Canada, from Winnipeg on west, or you’ve traveled there in the summer in the past 40 years, you know me. You don’t know me, but you know me. You wouldn’t recognize my face, for we were always behind the scenes, designating one of my “brothers” to be an impromptu spokesperson for the media. Everybody loved us. But nobody knew us. We were anonymous, seamlessly blending in with the crowd in plain, everyday clothes and plain, everyday faces.
We traveled, you see. A different city every two weeks, but always the same cities, in the same order, every year.
It was hard, at first. We locked up the house for three months out of the year, leaving our kitties in the loving hands of trusted local relatives, and leaving our friends with typed lists of cities and dates, with the express caution that all written correspondence needed to be mailed off at least three weeks ahead of time, with sufficient (astronomical) postage.
For those three months, we left behind everything and everyone we knew and set off to fulfill the tall order of making our entire annual living in a mere 63 working days. We left behind our friends (what few of them I had), our two-story house with regular plumbing and a full kitchen and our own bedrooms, and crammed sometimes six people into a single-wide fifth-wheel trailer exactly 31.5 feet long. We barely went grocery shopping; all of the pizza, burgers, milkshakes, and soda could be found on the few streets without names that surrounded us.
There was no such thing as a cell phone in our world. We usually spotted a day-old USA Today lying lonely and tattered on a cookhouse table where another traveler from another outfit had left it.
There were no weather channels or local TV; we figured out the immediately-impending weather for ourselves by watching the flags planted in front of the exhibit buildings across the street. When the flags blew one way and then switched direction suddenly, it didn’t matter if the sky was cloudless and filled with sun; give it time, and use the current fair weather to park the semi trucks close to your trailer or tent and tie them down real good with heavy rope.
It’s a rugged life. Like I said, it was hard at first.
And then, it became easier. Easier to leave, easier to say goodbye, easier to detach, unhitch from one life and hitch up to an alternate one, and go. Leave the housekeys with neighbors, leave the credit card, checkbook, and whatnot on the kitchen table; you won’t be needing them for a while.
I think it became easier for two reasons. First, let’s state the obvious: it gelled into a routine. And we all know how my Aspie/autistic brain loves routine.
Second, it was a whole new group, mostly made of misfits, people running away from something, whose paths only converged because that is the nature of the carnival, you see. Every kid without a future runs away to join the circus.
Well, I was running away too, but for different reasons. It wasn’t a conscious decision made of my own free will. The decision was made for me, shortly after I was born; I was practically born into this. My escape was from an otherwise ordinary life, that shared by many other autistic people, attempting to fit into an otherwise “normal” world, a world in which I didn’t belong and never could. I had realized somewhere along the way, that those whose paths crossed mine weren’t like the rest of the world. By definition, they didn’t fit in, either. It was probably all we had in common, but it was enough.
On the road and on the fairgrounds, I was free to be myself, without fear of judgment or criticism, without having to live “up to” the invisible and unattainable standards of others.
I think I loved it so much because that was the only time in which the yardstick disappeared.
There were hardly any rules, and it was a sensory-seeker’s paradise. Flashing lights from the rides, five different booming sound systems playing different songs, smells of cotton candy and grilling onions and burgers and roasting corn, and you could almost feel the magnetic pulse of the energy permeate your entire being.
It was perfect for my 30-hour body cycle; being able to stay up and awake and energetic until the sun rose the next morning was suddenly an asset, as opposed to a liability.
I had fairly permissive parents, too. By age 9, I was tall enough to start riding the “grownup” rides, and became a total Thrill Junkie. By age 11, I had ridden every ride on the fairgrounds. Before I turned 13, I conquered the Ride of All Rides in North America at the time: the Mindbender, aka the “killer coaster”, a massive indoor roller coaster at the West Edmonton Mall that had killed three people and injured several more just a few years prior.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
It felt good to be queen. 😉
Eventually, probably around age 13-14, I had carved out my rightful place among the alterna-hierarchy and become so accustomed to this life and its routine that the tough part was actually the coming home.
It would take me a full month or more to re-acclimate myself. (August and September were hard.) I refused to switch my watch out of Mountain or Pacific Time and back onto Central Time until well into the new school year, when the Daylight Savings period was over in October (back then) and everyone was changing their clocks anyway.
To this day, it takes me longer to settle back in from a weekend trip than I was actually away for.
I was gypsy-like in many other ways, too. I found myself homesick, longing for places I’d never known, like Asia (specifically Japan) or the American Southwest.
I had always felt an inner “pull” toward resolving that feeling and finding a home. I’d never really felt like I had a home, per se. I lived in a house with my family during the rest of the year, but that’s not always the same as having a home.
I needed a place to put down roots. Moving to Dallas was a start, but it missed the mark on so many levels. I never understood the perpetual contest with perfect strangers, over who has the biggest house or the best-kept yard or the most extravagant Christmas decorations or the most expensive hair coloring or the deepest tan during the winter months.
South Texas is about as close as I’ve ever come to finding my home, and I didn’t find that until I was 32. But I know it’s not the final answer; the inner sensation stirs again. I can keep it quiet, on the down-low for a while, but it will keep nagging and it will not be ignored. Eventually, it will win.
My soul sings the further west I travel, but only to a point. Maybe my spirit lies in New Mexico and I will be reunited with it again later.
For now, although I’m not literally, physically homeless, I am spiritually homeless. And it’s a strange feeling indeed.
For now, I’m happiest on an open road and I can placate the stirring restlessness with paltry road trips that last a day or three, but there will come a time when that will no longer suffice.
I feel as though I’m drifting, wandering, never to settle like I might like to.
Because first, I would have to know that I even want to settle. And then, I would have to know where to settle.
And remember the words near the beginning of this post: I’m not sure, and might never be. 🙂
Song of the day: “Canada” by Low (link to video on YouTube)
This is one of my more popular posts!
A life less ordinary ~ October 2009 (on my “other” blog)
Where the streets have no name ~ June 2013 (on my “other” blog)