I’d ducked into the Newport Mall bookstore to scan their New Jersey shelf on my way to the PATH. Just wanted to make sure that they sold my New Jersey camping guidebook in my hometown, and maybe I rearranged the display a little as well.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
I looked gratefully at the bookstore manager. I’d been a Ma’am since June and was relieved I could still be taken for a Miss. But that’s home for you, where blushing brides and new Moms are commonly 40 years old. In Africa, I’d be considered all-used-up at 39, but in New York, I’m not even an anomaly.
I’d had a long talk with Marky in Jinja about the age thing. He’d gone on the road to drive overland trucks at 27. He’d driven for over a decade, ushering tourists around from Ethiopia to South Africa. He’d even been through Sudan and Congo in the old days, before these routes were closed for a while. The Congo one is still closed. He’d seen a lot more than most people ever see from their desks, but there had been a price.
“It was like one day I was 27, and the next I was 40.”
I knew exactly how he felt. At 34, I ditched it all, throwing away a perfectly good job for the open road. Okay, not perfectly good—the company had been bankrupt multiple times, the staff turnover rate was appalling, and the atmosphere utterly dysfunctional in a then-dying industry—but anyway, it was the kind of job that some people would give an arm to have. Maybe they’d also dreamed of having the power of flight or invisibility, but regardless, Marvel editor/colorist/jill-of-all-trades was considered a desirable position by those who did not know any better. And it came with health insurance.
But I left. And I left the East Village too. Home to… well, all kinds of famous people that I wouldn’t recognize even if they spilled a drink on me. Fine with me though. The East Village had transformed from “ghetto” (a/k/a actual neighborhood) to “hipsterville” (a/k/a get me the hell out of here) and I’d come out the other end into another actual neighborhood, albeit on the “wrong” side of the Hudson.
I went around the world, lived in Australia for six months of the next few years, traveled across the US with Turbo and a tent and a Ford Taurus for three months, lived in Barcelona for another three months with Herr Marlboro there part-time, hung my hat briefly in Bangkok, visited Antarctica and Sri Lanka, and lived in Africa for almost-six months.
But it feels like I missed something. Like I went to sleep one day at age 34 and when I opened my eyes, everyone else had moved forward by five years while to me it was January 5, 2001, the day after I got on the Amtrak to head west. Others had saved while I had spent. Advanced while I’d ignored. I’d let a lot of friendships slide and constantly have to start over. It’s like everyone else has aged gracefully but I’m still casting about trying to work out what to do next.
I expressed this to Sean, a friend in Sydney. He told me I was flat-out wrong. That I’d been living while others were chained to the desk. Maybe he’s right, but I still feel like I missed some vital personal-growth part of life, or at least realized too late that I’d been ignoring it.
And here I go again. Avoiding the hard stuff by going to Kuwait. But my Googling has not yet turned up any reasonable housing there. Shall I go on a wing and a non-denominational prayer, as usual, or am I taking foolish financial risks in one of the most expensive Gulf countries??