Mex2010 Blog # 3 Musings

Mexico 2010              Blog # 3                                                         7 November 2010

 Hi, there, y’all.          

 “You just tell Miss Lucy here what you want on that sandwich and she’ll fix you right up.”

 Yup, we’re in the South. Miss Lucy is the fixin’s lady in the line at the Subway where we’ve stopped for lunch, what with our having brought coupons we clipped from the Sunday Providence Journal back up there in Yankeelandia,  coupons which, after talking with the manager, they are right pleased to honor for us, thank you very much. Miss Lucy must be in her seventies, and she wears a smile foreign to the teenagers who work the fast-food places up north. She spoons olives, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber slices onto our 6-inch subs and douses them with dressing: ranch for Linda, chipotle for me. We pay for our lunch, go over to the soda machine to fill the plastic buckets they’ve given us as glasses, and pick a table.

This is a refueling stop, a gas station with a Subway, a fried-chicken dispensary, and a little store that sells sodas, beer, magazines, packaged snacks, and those little plastic air fresheners you hang from your rear-view mirror. The clientele is mostly traveling seniors like us, harried moms with kids, and truckers who look like they are smuggling watermelons under their shirts.

I look around for a utensil of some sort to repair my sprawling sandwich and the lady who sweeps the floor and wipes the vacated tables comes over to ours.

“What can I get you, honey? A spoon? A knife? Don’t you fret about it, I’ll be right back.”

And so she is, a minute later, plastic implements in hand.

She’s wearing blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt whose orange ‘T’ identifies her as a fan of University of Tennessee football. She looks to be in her forties. When she smiles it becomes clear that she and two or three teeth have parted company sometime in the past. We thank her for the plastic.

“It’s our southern hospitality, that’s what it is. I’m lucky to have this job. Though I probably shouldn’t be working at all, what with how my back got all twisted up. Car accident. I was stopped at a light and some young girl, talking on her cell phone, smashed into me. Well, a cop came over, and let me tell you he didn’t pay any attention to me at all. Went right over to that girl, asked her if she was all right, gave her a big hug. Seems they knew each other from someplace. Well, right then, I knew I was fried. Friiiied, I tell you. Just like that chicken there.”

By now it is clear that this is a monologue, not a conversation, and that it is gathering steam. We murmur sympathetic noises, steering clear of leading questions, and try to re-engage with our sandwiches. Hint not taken.

“The cop said it was my fault. My fault! I don’t see how it could have been, though, what with me stopped there at that light.”

 Linda makes lets out a noncommittal “Hmmm.”

“It went on my license, of course. And jacked up my car insurance from $100 to $150 a month. Plus what it cost me for repairs. As soon as I saw the way he looked at that girl I knew I was fried.”

This last week we've been driving south and visiting friends, some of whom we haven't seen in many decades. Lynn Talbot, who walked the Camino with us in 1974 and now takes Roanoke College students on the Road every summer. Steve Raulston and Tom Spaccarelli, who began walking the Road in the early 80s and for the last decade have taken Sewanee University students every year. They, and Lynn’s husband Mike and Steve’s wife Jenny, are all fabulous cooks, so in their various kitchens and at their tables we have been catching up on each other’s lives and musing about our common affliction.

The Road.  Like ourselves, they can’t manage to stay away from it. Among us we must have put 10,000 miles on our boots. We’re all Road scholars, too, so we know that we are not the only afflicted ones. The Camino is crowded with recidivists.

These last few days, as the glasses fill and empty, we've been musing together about why it is that giving in to restlessness is such an addiction, despite the toll that it seems to take on budgets, professions, and sometimes relationships. The conclusion -- tentative, of course – is that road rambling combines several attractive illusions. The illusion of the simplicity of stepping away from all our material clutter and living just out of a backpack. The myth of order that comes from reducing a messy three-dimensional environment to a two-dimensional road with only a behind and an in-front-of. The sense of achievable purpose that comes from having a clearly definable geographic goal: all you have to do is get there and you’ve actually accomplished what you set out to do. How much more satisfying it is than struggling to meet the messy, ill-defined, long-term, hard-to-measure goals of the workaday world. And then of course there’s the seductive attraction of the mysterious, untasted newness that might lie just round the next bend: new vistas, new people, new flavors, new air, new . . . adventures, maybe? Well, experiences that you can define as adventures and that make you feel lucky, privileged, even happy.

Like any addiction, of course, there’s a darker side. There’s that touch of snobbery, that unattractive sense of being more alive than the drudges to routine who seem to lack the desire, and the will (or, to be fair, the time, or the resources) to walk over the next hill, and the next hill after that, like the bear who went over the mountain, to see what he could see. And the unwillingness to admit to ourselves that road rambling, too, quickly becomes a kind of routine; that in a sense, ironically, we have substituted the comforting familiarity of home for the comforting familiarity of the road.

Of course the truth is that we and our friends have a double addiction, both to the generic road, and to the Road, the Camino, with the capital letter that the Santiago pilgrimage junkies seem to utilize even in their speech. What we crave is the high that comes from seeing, again, the morning sun light up the massif that forms the north wall of the Road from Irache to Estella; of making out, once more, the first faint smudge of the mountains of the Bierzo on the western horizon at the end of the flatlands of Castilla; of standing center nave in the light-soaked cathedral of León; and of feeling, one more time, the familiar solidity of Roman paving beneath our boots. Of meeting new people, of hearing their stories, of sharing the moment, and filling the memory bag with tales.

Road ramblers, Santiago pilgrims …  But this set of friends, and a dozen others we could name, in truth suffer from a triple addiction, for beyond our fixation on Santiago, Saint James the Greater, we are also devotees of Saint Bona, the patroness of pedagogues, guides, and facilitators of pilgrimage. Our most inte

nse high seems to come from leading a group of students out on the Road. From sharing our knowledge of the Camino, its art, architecture, history and traditions. From watching our students’ eyes grow wide, from seeing them tap inner strengths that they didn’t know they had, from helping them make the connections that lead to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the beauties of the world. Our enthusiasm may drive them nuts, but it fuels our lives. It is unquestionably, unshakably, our drug of choice. 


Ventosa, Spain, 1979