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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is it better to pursue a dream or let it dangle just out of reach?

    I spotted this VW camper, I'd guess circa late 1970s, parked outside a repair shop in Richmond. Seeing a VW bus any where's a thrill for me, seeing one in Richmond is especially unusual.  I didn't bite on it (asked who owned it, what condition it was in etc.), but it's not because the worm wasn't a-wigglin' and the spinner wasn't a-spinnin'

     I've been hung up on these things since the late 1960s (when else?), when I briefly owned a white bus. If I recall, it was a '60 or '61. It was air-cooled, had zero power (36 HP if it was a '60, 40 if a '61). A couple of us college freaks took a brief road trip in the bus from Worcester, Mass. to somewhere in Connecticut when the VW said "I will putt-putt no more" and went, as we said so crudely at the time, "tits up". I left the bus there and that was all she wrote.

     Kind of. I've been fixated on them ever since, wanting, scheming, dreaming, plotting, fantasizing, daydreaming etc., wishing a) I had lots of money and could afford to maintain one; b) was mechanical enough to fix it myself; c) had less common sense than my wife says I already don't have (that's a wing-ding of a double negative, but you get the idea).

     I used to like the buses, but I've since transitioned to the campers. In a nutshell, the idea is that I take care of another lingering longing/curiosity and head out (no doubt, the moment the clock strikes "retirement") in the VW with the essentials -- guitars, tip jar and a dog, possibly named Blue (old Byrds fans will understand, but it's a good name for a loyal dog nevertheless). I'd travel, most likely to the South and Southwest, playing music whenever and wherever I felt like it (or needed money). Since I wouldn't need a place to stay, the tips would be for gas, food, showers and other necessities.
     I should note that there are very few places (restaurants, bars, coffee houses) that won't feed you and let you play for tips if you ask. You can also sell CDs, so this Financial Plan isn't completely screwball, just mostly. What would make it interesting is planning well enough to know how much you need to earn to make it to the next stop. I don't think AAA has a Trip Tik dedicated to the meandering songwriter.

     This detailed fantasy begs a philosophical question, possibly the first philosophical question I've asked since leaving Clark U. with a philosophy degree in 1970. Is it better to have a fantasy but not act on it or act on it and a) risk disillusionment and b) lose the dream force of having a fantasy in the first place?

     After all, dreams are psychic ethanol.

     I'd have to say I side with the go-for-it faction, but something holds me back. Clearly, there's caution and fear, but there's also common sense. What happens if the VW breaks down and the repair calls for more than a duct tape and a G chord? Even if the camper is rebuilt and in good condition, one serious breakdown and Mr. Travelin' Man's in deep dog-do, ol' Blue notwithstanding.

     For now, I'd say the excursion isn't very likely. Clearly, I have the dice and haven't rolled them.

     But it's been 40-plus years since I owned my bus and around 38 since I thought about going on the road as a musician but didn't. You'd think time would cause those things to dissolve, maybe be replaced, but it hasn't happened. When I see or think of a VW  (Google, eBay, You Tube have made dreaming that much easier), the package deal comes roaring back, cautious nature or not.

     A couple of weeks ago I set up to play music outside a restaurant on the square in Liberty, Mo. It was kind of a no-risk, single slice of local VW bus excursion, minus the VW. I made $8 in tips, was given free coffee and could've eaten for free had I'd asked. While I was there, there was a bearded, skinny, road-worn guy in a cowboy hat who sat outside, talking to people and listening. He asked me if I knew such-and-such a song, and I said no, I didn't do any covers. 

     He asked me what kind of a harmonica I was using because he kept a Hohner in his pocket for the occasional musical emergency. I figured he would ask to sit in or just play along, which I can tolerate if it's in the right key. But he didn't.

     I saw the guy leave later with a double-tall backpack weighing him down. The people behind the counter told me he was a drifter, a term (like rounder) that doesn't carry the negative connotation of a homeless person or hobo.

     It occurred to me that here was someone who took some sort of a leap and was doing it -- whether "it" was a dream, penance, an escape act or simply following the lead of low-level mental illness. He'd paid for his coffee (but stuck around for several hours getting refills), the employees said, so he'd come across some money somewhere.

     I didn't envy him, although maybe I did admire his courage -- not knowing where he'd go next, would sleep or where his next meal would come from. Who knows, maybe he had a VISA Gold Card and unlimited cell minutes. JK.

     What it brought home was that, while I fantasize about the great unknown, I apparently like my security and routines. And I understand my limitations. What I can't predict, though, is what I'll feel the next time one of those VW campers goes putt-putting by.

    Like this one:

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