Spending nearly two weeks in LA in the home of people I'd never met didn't appear anywhere in my travel plans when I started looking at flights to Seattle. However Seattle wasn't to be my only destination city this time, and so I expanded my search to include flying into Portland and taking a train to Seattle a few days later. Just to check my options... That was the search that brought LA onto my Travel Radar.
Maybe a little back story is in order: A couple of years ago when Bob and Brenna Redpath hired me to collaborate on the design of their blog (From Here to Eternity) that would chronicle the dispensing of most of their things, their jobs and their home so they could travel with their children for a year, our connection was immediate. Which isn't THAT unusual. I've made several friendships with people who started out as clients. This time a feeling of kinship emerged that had to do with even more than a shared fascination with moving from place to place and collecting stories from interesting people. The rhythms that appeared during our long-distant meetings made it feel as if these were friends who'd been with me for a long time. And so they traveled Europe, then moved on to Morocco then Peru... and then they came home on August 10. Excited for them, still, my West Coast destination didn't factor them into my itinerary. Until, that is, a flight query gave me a single result among several pages of results, that included a 3+ hour layover in LA. Hmmm! I know some people in LA! People I would quite love to see! And so I emailed the Redpaths and asked them to weigh in on a little idea that had to do with me manuvering an airport I'd never entered, departing the secure area, having a quick cup of coffee with friends who would have themselves, maneuvered traffic of the likes I had yet to comprehend, all so I could immediately rush back through serurity in time to make my connection to Seattle.
Their response was quick: my plan could work, though security might be tricky, but it was worth discussing. And? The drive from LA to Seattle is 19 hours - they were talking about it. Um. That's a lot of driving. Even for people who just spent 13 months traveling to places they've never been. But it was the mere suggestion that triggered Plan C: Anybody who would would even consider the possibility of driving that many hours to meet me would probably be willing to entertain the idea of letting me come to their home and spend a couple of days in their company. Right?
It's imperative that I stop right here and acknowledge the incredulity that could emerge upon a reader's discovery that I, A Good Southern Girl With All Her Manners And Sensitivity To Social Appropriateness, was inviting myself to go visit people I'd never met before - for 3 days! People who had not, as of that time, found a home or car, who had yet to even see the things they'd left in storage a year ago. People Who Made The Assertion "We're Kinda' Busy" scream with ludicrous quantities of understatement. Was I out of my everloving mind? Did my Momma' not rear me right? All I can say is it was exactly the thing to do. And so I did. I just asked them what they thought about this alternative plan.
Their response was just as quick as the first: "THIS is the plan we like!" And so I sat there looking at my computer screen, giddy with the possibilities rushing through my head. Could I? Would I be able to make such a plan work? Not only could I, but that is exactly what I did. I rechecked the various plans and itineraries of my other friends whose schedules had been factored into my original travel ideas, and a couple of days later I went to work on making it happen for real. I bought a ticket to LA (the only ticket so far, I might add - nothing but a loosely-formed set of ideas factored into the second leg of my trip.) Never mind. I now had a one-way ticket to LA. Breathe. Now email Brenna and Bob and tell them you did it.
Five minutes later, I heard the distinctive Skype ring and when I answered, Brenna was on the other end, squealing the exact sound I'd been hearing inside my head since I'd booked the flight. We talked for a half hour as they filled me in on the key details of their lives since they'd returned to American soil. And then: "How long can you stay?" I answered, "I'll leave on Tuesday." Silence on the other end, and then, "But you'll miss everything! There's so much we have to show you!" Followed by more moments of silence as I recalled and then responded, "Well I haven't booked a departing flight yet. That's just when I thought I probably should leave." To which I heard, "Well stay, then! We want you to stay!" Inner Southern Girl stood up and started waving her hand in a frenzy, giving off indications that she was headed for a convulsion. And then I replied anyway, "But you have so much to do. People to see. Cars to buy. School and jobs to start!" "Stay anyway! It will be so much fun!" As genuine an invitation I've ever received. If an hour over coffee at an airport would not be enough time to enjoy the kind of first meeting we all wanted, neither would a quick weekend. At least that's what permitted me to entertain the thought as I pondered it for the next couple of days, as conflicted as I've ever been about any decision. (Again and again the part of me asking whether in spite of their invitation, wouldn't it be rude for me to extend my trip in light of their own "reentry situation.")
Still... I bought a ticket leaving LA on September 9, followed by a flight back to Greensboro for October 11. Since the plan was formulated and I told my friends, I frequently heard - still hear, "What are you going to do in LA? What will you see while you're there!" From the beginning, my initial reaction has been one of hesitant confusion as I shrug and answer, "Well I'm going to see the Redpaths!" As if this answer alone is a sufficient response to The Ideal Travel Destination For Us All. I mean, isn't the idea of sitting across a table, morning coffee in hand, exchanging stories and ideas, in person, with Bob and Brenna Redpath, while Ella wakes up with her morning pears and Owen shuffles in to find some cereal... isn't that enough? Isn't this almost-constant laughter WHY people go to other places and meet new people? And running through the yard while Owen shoots me with the Nerf gun, ineffective at the use of the retaliatory weapon he's given me to protect myself, hiding behind the fig tree in the yard of the home they moved into mere days ago, shooting into the orange tree as I miss even his leg? And Ella showing me the tiny soft alpaca she got in Peru or reading aloud to me? Sure, of course I'll see "The LA Sights" while I'm here. And they'll be exciting and amazing, because there ARE so many new and interesting things to see while I'm here. But just as importantly, I'll finally enjoy the company of this family I've gotten to know for the past two years from a distance, and meet some of their friends, like Paul, who came by a half hour after I'd woken yesterday - my first morning here - from whom I heard of their shared time in Serbia last year. Paul brought Brenna's guitar back, and sometime this week I think she's going to play it and sing for me. Or with me, even, if I should find the nerve to sing aloud, along with a woman whose career elements includes professional singing.
They're showing me "their LA" which will include some of the places that appear in the tour books, but even better - "ordinary LA people" living their daily LA lives, experiencing this area from the inside. Right now as I write this and then get back to cropping some photos for a Greensboro client, the children are visiting with friends, Bob is editing video footage from Chucuito, Peru, and Brenna is practicing Further the Sky which she's singing soon. Later I'll hear more stories from this past year along with any hard-won lessons they want to share, which might help me in my own aspirations to learn how to really travel. Because I've got this little idea that if I'd like to find some travel mentors, this family is a great place to start.
PS: Due to a little matter about how you can't get high speed internet hooked up immediately, even in LA, by asking nicely, this blog post was written hours and hours ago, and I'm now posting it after we've returned home from dinner with more friends. A dinner not unike so many gatherings in Greensboro, with the common thread of kind people, funny stories, amazing food and drinks, and that familiar warmth that emerges over time but is always extended immediately to friends of friends. Their LA thus-far is turning out to be right up my alley...