Since my current focus with Reflection is traveling around the US to collect stories from different people, it stands to reason that this is becoming somewhat of a travel blog too. There have been a multitude of beautiful moments where I’ve met people that were willing to open a window into their souls for a brief moment. There have been contemplative moments, where I’ve gotten to reflect on myself and what I’m doing with my life and discover what I love and value. There have been opportunities to explore breathtaking places in nature and see landmark structures humanity has raised up. But for each of those awe inspiring moments, I feel like there have been just as many awkward moments, that maybe we don’t talk about from our travels. So I thought I’d share a few.
As I was driving from San Diego to LA I was starting to get a little hungry. Sometimes hunger demands a simple sandwich. So I pulled off the freeway to some unknown place and found a Jimmy John’s. Because I had just spent the last couple nights in a communal sleeping area and had a few more of those sort of nights in front of me, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for solitude that my car provided me. I took my sandwich to-go and sat to eat in my car in the parking lot.
I should explain that I have this sort of condition where from time to time food gets lodged in my esophagus. It’s uncomfortable, but when I feel it happen, a big swallow of water will usually wash it down. Just such a moment happened as I sat in my car eating this sandwich. I took a swallow of water and then that familiar feeling that happens from time to time arose. The water wasn’t washing it down. When this happens, my gag reflex goes into action and sends the water back out.
I jumped out of my car to save the interior from a spray of water mixed with chunks of masticated sandwich. I stood in the parking lot spewing out the water. Panic tends to set in with these episodes, because despite the airway not being blocked, there is a sensation of choking, so I continued to pour water down my throat only to be met with yet another violent rejection of the newly introduced fluid. I stood in the lot, spewing multiple times as cars slowly passed me by, passengers staring at me and my ever growing puddle of regurgitated water.
Finally, after multiple attempts, a successful swallow of water dragged the lodged food further into its digestive journey. Feeling the movement, without any sense of control over my reaction, I raised my hands in the air and shouted out “YEEEAAHHH!!!!” Suddenly, the eyes of those that had driven by were back on me as the were walking into the various shops they had come to.
As I made my way up the coast of California, I found it difficult to get a couch surfing host to let me stay at their place in the San Francisco area. So I decided to camp at a site a couple hours south of the Bay area. I found myself at an utterly vacant campground that evening. I had expected to find other campers and thought I might be able to strike up some conversations. Given a situation where I was alone, with no other person apparent for miles around, I embraced my solitude. I listened to the sounds of the creatures, trees, and wind as I fell asleep.
The next morning I went out for a run on one of the trails leaving the camp area, continuing to soak up the beauty of the wilderness and feeling alive in the moment. I could easily just leave it at the beautiful moment I had camping and running. But things got awkward.
Now being all sweaty from my run, I decided to get cleaned up before hitting the road. With water spickets being at each of the camp sites and my being alone, it seemed appropriate to strip down to my underwear and splash water on myself, lather up and rinse off. The cool water would be refreshing and a nice clean up after a run would set me on the road feeling mighty fine. I pursued this very plan and just as I was rinsing off, a man emerged down the road. I awkwardly tried to hurry my rinsing and get my towel wrapped around me before he noticed me. But it was too late, his body language said it all. He awkwardly looked at trees, bushes, anything he could place his eyes on that wasn’t in my direction and slowed his pace significantly.
I got wrapped up in my towel and walked back to my car to put my clothes on. This gentleman walked past, seeming to be content to maintain a respectful silence. To borrow from the words of the great comedian Mike Birbiglia, what I should’ve said was nothing. But what I did say was, “Nice day to take a bath!” as I smiled at him, clenching the towel around my waist.
I wish I could say that was my last moment of partial nudity. But it of course was not. Further up the coast, I was exploring the Redwoods. Again, I could leave what I share from that experience to the simple beauty of what it was like to wander alone in the midst of those towering sentinels. Walking barefoot for a time with the soft fallen foliage below my feet brought a smile to my face. The previous night’s rain dripping from the heights of the trees into puddles and onto the ferns brought a dose of perfection to the whole scene. I walked, lost in thought and bliss.
I was aware that rain had been in the forecast, so shaking myself from the dreamland I was in, I started to notice there was more than just the drops of water falling from the trees, but what appeared to be rain. I hastened my pace back to my car. Less than half a mile away, the rain began to fall hard. I found myself running from tree to tree, feeling as though I was going from one massive umbrella to another. Despite the protection of these beautiful trees, I still found myself getting soaked.
As the road came into view, I sprinted to my car and jumped in. I started to quickly peel off my wet clothes. It was awkward, given the small quarters of my car and the wet clothes clinging to my body. My shirt came off and just as my pants were coming down a minivan filled with a vacationing family pulled up right next to me. Oblivious to the scene they had just parked next to, the parents stared at their phones, clearly trying to figure out where they were. Meanwhile, their children stared at me, bewildered. Completing the removal of my pants, I clicked into place my seat belt, started the car, put it into gear and drove away with a wink, as if I was some kind of frightening Santa Clause.
Traveling around the country in the early going has been an incredible experience. And I am in love with the awkward moments that come with the beautiful ones. As much as the plan is to have heartfelt, uplifting experiences with people, these awkward moments will happen too, and I’m glad they do.