This is an exaltation. To friends, family, and America. We’ve said hundreds of goodbyes, driven thousands of miles, and cried countless tears. And now there is only left to love and remember.
This is an exaltation to our families, the Daves and the Mehrotras. For your support of these two crazy adventurers who are the moving targets of the family. For your help in crossing the finish line, through last minute calls of encouragement, last meals to nourish us for the road, last days in America filled with laughter and happiness, and finally the ride to the airport. The jokes in the car, the dancing at the security line. In our families, we value letting each other be exactly who we are. We value acceptance. And we love our precious time together. Your are kind to let us be ourselves, gracious to accept our choices, and generous to let us go.
This is an exaltation to our friends. For love in its most fun, uncomplicated form. For your zest for living, your laughter, your curiosity. For the millions of ways you inspire us — to live bolder, to love deeper, to play harder. For the late nights, the emergency phone calls, the reminders that “you can do this.” That you are so happy for us and the kids in this next chapter. That you have let us know how special our friendship is. That we have shared All Of It together. You are us, and we are you. May we be graced to see you again and again and again.
This is an exaltation to America. The beauty, the possibility, the boldness. Driving out of the Grand Canyon and into the desert, I couldn’t even speak — so awed was I by your beauty and your greatness.
And yes, this is a goodbye. A goodbye, not “the” goodbye. A moment to pause. A transition has begun and must be noted. We’ve marked it with wine, with laughter, with shared memories, and now I mark it with a tear and an exaltation. We love you forever and we miss you already.
Being back in the Bay area brings back great memories of wonderful times with friends, great food, and of watching the Niners at Candlestick Park with my brother. My brother, as many of you know, is a gentle soul who transforms into a fierce warrior if you transport him to a Niners game. While we were in San Francisco, we watched many a game, none more epic than the Niners victory over the Packers in the playoffs with time running out. That was the only time the Niners had beaten the Pack in five tries in the playoffs. Fourteen years later, as we meandered our way through Sedona, another historic meeting at Candlestick Park was set for 3 days after our arrival in San Francisco. THIS was not an opportunity to be missed. Working feverishly by phone and web, we managed to secure tickets to the game. My younger daughter, Ayala, who is a budding Niners (and Patriots) fan like her dad was excited to join her dad, her uncle and cousin to the game. Our dear friend Raj aka Indian Elvis and his son rounded out our party.
A glass of Blue Label in hand, wearing our warmest and best Niners red, we arrived at the stadium with the atmosphere fully buzzing an hour before the game. If it weren’t exciting enough to be at the game, seeing the excitement and sheer amazement in Ayala’s eyes as she clutched my hand was awesome. We got to our seats, which were three rows from the field near the end zone, high fiving ourselves for pulling off the heist of the century. Pretty soon the stadium was covered in a sea of red with the roars of “Let’s go Niners” so loud that it made it hard for the Pack offense. The line of the night was from Ayala when I said, “Ayala, the Packers scored” and she replied “I know, I heard the F-word twice!” After a close 3 quarters, the Niners broke free with a convincing win. Throats sore, we left the stadium with huge smile and the knowledge that our record of watching the Niners win was still intact. GO NINERS!
“Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light, my head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night”. Listening to one of my favorite tunes of all time, we crossed the border into California, the only state to have an agricultural checkpoint at the border. We immediately stopped for gas and noticed that at $4.60 a gallon the price of gas was by far the highest of our drive and 50% more than the $3.00 we paid in Oklahoma.
When we think of California, we generally think of Hollywood or the great drives along the Pacific Ocean or one of the real Blue States. The California we drove into was desert – rural, oil producing dissolving into agricultural. We drove through Blue but we also drove through hundreds of miles of Red (yes, rural California is much like the rest of rural America). We saw a large sign with images of AK 47s that said “Guns Here” and a giant billboard of Rush Limbaugh. We drove past Edwards Airforce Base, and Lopa quickly searched through Yelp and found a tiny restaurant off the highway that served incredible Mexican food in the middle of nowhere. After a good nights sleep at a small motel in Porterville, a small non-descript town near the Sequoia National Forest, Lopa woke up with a craving for soup, and unbelievably found a tiny hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant where we all loaded up on delicious Pho.
As we took our final drive into the Bay area (with a pit stop at the famous Inn & Out Burger that lived up to it’s past billing), the landscape changed dramatically. As we got our first view of our old home city of San Francisco, we realized that we had seen nothing like it in our entire drive. The diversity of California really struck us – from ethnic to geographic to architecture to food to political to economic, all shades co-exist in this vast state. We reached my brother’s place excited to see family and friends, and vowing not to get behind the wheel for at least another day.
The last time we did the great American roadtrip, back in 1998, we listened to U2′s Joshua Tree album a lot. I’d been a fan since I was a 7th grader. I can remember lying on my stomach in the dining room (where we kept our stereo system), listening to The Unforgettable Fire and following along with the lyrics that were printed on the sleeve of the cassette. And I can also remember when the Joshua Tree album came out, hearing a full Saturday afternoon interview on WBCN radio with Bono and the DJ, Carter Allen. (He is famous for being one of the first DJs in America to play U2 on the radio, and is the author of Outside Is America) Had no idea I was listening to history that day.
It’s a brilliant album, Joshua Tree. It’s a love letter to America, and the perfect soundtrack for a drive through the desert. To this day, the songs “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” remind me of driving into and driving away from the Grand Canyon. It was ironic, then, that Rishabh happened to play the Best Of U2 as we entered Kaibab National Forest, which is the foyer to the majesty that is Grand Canyon National Park.
They say it’s never the same canyon twice. I can attest to that. This time, there was snow! Packed snow on the trails, meadows of snow in the forest. What a spectacular thing to see — snow in the Grand Canyon. I LOVE snow. A perfect day for me is 38 degrees (F) and clear blue skies. Skiing, hiking, waiting for the bus — anything that takes me outside in the snow is sublime.
As I write, Rishabh is asking that I include how AWESOME it is to see the canyon. To have taken the kids, to wonder at what it must have been like for that expedition team to have discovered it for the first time back in the 1500′s.
Beyond the usual stuff that amuses this family — good food, interesting hotels, beautiful hikes — this stop included something really cool: a conversation with a local.
David is a bellman at the Bright Angel Lodge, a cluster of cabins that lie on the edge of the South Rim of the Canyon. He’s a happy fellow, probably mid-fifties. We met David when he helped us into our room, and I ran in to him as Rishabh was checking us out.
We had shared with David that we have moved out of Louisville, are on our way to San Francisco, and from there we are moving to Sydney, Australia for Rishabh’s Dream Job.
Before long, David was telling me his story.
He once pursued what he thought would be his dream job. In his case, he was an engineer who was moving into the sales side of his company. More money, flexible work, travel … and he hated it. So he quit and joined the Peace Corps. Two year of teaching high school physics in Papua New Guineau, and he was ready to come back to the States. Quick stop in Portland, Oregon to stay with friends while he got on his feet. Unhappy days, unfulfilling work.
David realized that he needed to make some money, and he needed to do it in a way that he loved and that gave him a feeling of self-sufficiency and independence. He recalled how much he loved the Grand Canyon and came up with a plan. He’d work at the park, live in the employee dorms, and eventually save enough money to buy a trailer when he turned 60 — his retirement plan.
He worked this way for several years, first as a busboy, then in the corporate office, a brief stint in a gift shop, and then finally as a bellman. In this last role, he found his bliss. He got to interact with guests, get outside throughout the day, and make tips. And better yet, he saved enough to buy that trailer — years ahead of plan.
Now he is living independently, saving more for retirement earning $8 per hour than he did when he was making $55,000 a year. His rent is $90 a month. And he spends every day in the place that he loves.
“All these years, the Canyon is still different for me every day. I still see new things, feel new things,” he told me.
It was so great to meet David, a contented soul and self-reliant man. As we get ready to take off into our Australian future, he was a great reminder that a created life takes many forms, and that it results in an infectious happiness and wonder.
So cheers, David, and to all of us — may we create tomorrow out of our wildest — or simplest — of dreams.
Something I haven’t taken the time to mention to you is that this is the second time that Rishabh and I have done this Texas to California road trip. The first time was in December, 1998, and we were moving from Dallas to San Francisco. That time, we started in Dallas, hit Santa Fe, then Sedona and the Grand Canyon. We made our way into Utah on that trip, spending a gorgeous night in Zion National Park. Quick breakfast in Las Vegas, then a final night of camping in Sequoia National Park on New Year’s Eve before crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.
What a time in our lives. This was B.C. (before children) and at the early part of our careers. We had just enough work experience to prepare us for the next thing (entrepreneurship for Rishabh, political fundraising for me), just enough money to make this trip, move house and start a new life together, and just enough friends and family to feel connected in San Francisco. We had a new Jetta, black, with a CD player and tape deck. I had made a great mixed tape to keep us company, thanks to Raj’s incredible CD collection and stereo system. (Thanks, Raj!) It was called The Great American Road Trip, and it was an excellent mix of U2, 80′s and 90′s alternatives, and some grunge thrown in for good measure. Driving music for the open road.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here we are, 14 years later, doing almost the same thing. This time, new characters are on the scene — Ariana, Ayala, and Maya. No time to hit Utah or Nevada on this trip, but the first three stops are the same.
So all this to tell you that this is our second time in Sedona.
We rolled in well past sunset. The road to Sedona off Highway 40 winds and turns sharply as it descends into Oak Creek Canyon. We could not see the canyon walls through the darkness, only sense their massive presence. After another long drive and another missed meal, we were all eager to throw ourselves into bed.
I’ve not been an early riser on this trip, decompressing, I suppose, after the press of moving that preceded this trip. Let’s face it, we went through the ringer in our last weeks in Louisville. But somehow that next morning in Sedona, I was motivated to walk Oak Creek at Sunrise. An incredible wake-up for the senses — the sun rising against the red Sedona rocks, the creek gently rushing past, the cold winter wind licking at our cheeks. Totally worth it.
We did get one great hike in before we left that afternoon — Cathedral Rock. Holy elevation change! Its a massive monolith that just emerges out of the ground. Spectacular — and a very challenging hike. OK, I’ll just admit it — this one scared me to BITS! It seemed like I could just just step off the rock face and leap straight out into the sky. Thankfully Ayala was willing to turn back with me and try another trail that wound around Cathedral instead of straight up the damn thing. Rishabh and Ariana, of course, kept bounding up the face of Cathedral, with Maya faithfully in tow. Ariana, it turns out, is quite the billy goat, with way more will than skill. Rishabh finally had to make her turn back because her enthusiasm was sure to get her into some serious trouble.
I enjoyed Sedona a ton more on this trip than the last. Both times were a quick stop and a short hike. Can’t say that I really got to know Sedona either time, and can’t even add up the two times to create one definitive Sedona experience. What made this Sedona trip so fantastic was experiencing it through the kids. Ariana’s sheer joy at discovering something new — a skill and passion for rock climbing — and her adventure with dad at Cathedral Rock made this Sedona visit an extraordinary one.
Hi it’s me, Maya, you know the cute red Aussie terrier that’s doing the great American road trip, hanging out in California and then heading off to beach in Australia after a short jaunt in the local prison which they call “Quarantine”. I’m doing my daily push-ups for that as they tell me that cuteness doesn’t go too well in prison, but, well, that’s another story. For today, I’m having a blast on this road trip. Sure I have to sit in the car a lot, but I get to cuddle with my favorite people, occasionally poking my head out to breathe in the various smells of the country side. And every time we stop, I get to send pee-mail to dogs from Kentucky to California.
My family really likes food so I’ve already been feasting on steak, brisket and pulled pork. Can’t wait to see what’s next. And the hotels have been great (except of course the prison aka kennels at the Grand Canyon where I spent a night in captivity.) They’ve got these big rooms that move you up and down called elevators and I get to go on nice walks. I even went on some amazing hikes in the snow and through the red rocks. Apparently my family thinks I am part billy goat, because that Cathedral hike in Sedona was PRETTY HAIRY.
The only thing I don’t like is being left in the car when everyone goes for lunch and that weird alarm goes off when I try to open the door, especially when we were on that great ranch that reminded me of the John Wayne movie I once saw. And one more thing, why don’t they allow dogs to hike into the Grand Canyon? I mean, they let those mules that drop big chunks of you-know-what every 50 yards! But hey, life’s never perfect and I got a pretty good gig. At least I’m not like Laika, the poor dog send off into space all by herself.