Here’s a preview of next season: we interviewed a fascinating guy named John Hammond—a fellow podcaster, academic, and, of course, VW owner. The podcast will likely cover the VW stuff. But our conversation with John covered another interesting topic—risk. See, John has a podcast called Make Moves where he talks to people who take risks. During our interview with John we asked what some of the commonalities and trends he noticed in the risk takers he interviewed.
John is a thoughtful guy and I know that he approaches his podcast with considerably more precision in language than I write my blogs. So, please forgive me, John, if I am butchering your response. But he outlined three things he noticed:
- People who take risks either have lots of resources or no resources.
- Risk is an afterthought for creatively-driven people.
- We don’t know how things will turn out.
This is a big one. I blogged at the onset of our journey that my government retirement—the sixteen years of collected public service in children services, libraries, and higher ed—had given me some money to spend. I also had two vehicles—the bus and my Prius—which were both paid off. So I had the capital needed to pursue a creative project. I had plenty of access and not much risk financially.
But it is not that simple. Elon Musk has plenty of resources so he can go to space. Same with Jeff Bezos and Larry Conner and the entire run of space bound billionaires. The risk is not whether they can afford it, but if the rocket will blow up. And trust me, they’ve used their resources to minimize that risk (as any of us would sanely do). So money as a resource is not a risk, even when the price tag to weekend at the ISS is $55 million.
There’s a modern day fable I’ve heard a few times about a group of people at a dinner party in a billionaire’s mansion where everything is done to the nines—food, pool, decor, etc. But one of the guests—a known but not wealthy writer—says he has one thing the billionaire will never have: enough. He had enough money, enough fame, enough friends, enough love. He was content. The billionaires we read about are probably not insatiably curious or even adventurous spirits. In fact, I can tell you firsthand that my time interviewing a space bound billionaire was uninspiring to the point that I scrapped the planned essay about his adventure altogether. In all likelihood, billionaires are rocketing into the void to fill some sort of void in themselves. They are lacking an important resource. Maybe it is self esteem. Ego. Self-importance. Who knows? I don’t say this as a criticism, but as a realization about myself.
My frequent criticism of the super wealthy makes me examine what resources I lacked, why I couldn’t accept my white collar, well-paying job, my debt-free life, full of friends and family and a super cool apartment down the street from the best pizza around as enough. What was I lacking? What void was I trying to fill?
I lost a lot in the divorce. I’ve not really discussed it on this blog because I thought—up until Big Sur anyway—that this trip was about moving on, moving past the last couple chapters of my life which included marriage, a farmhouse, step kids, marathon racing, and a stable career. My ex-wife got the house outright as well as a hefty check in lieu of alimony. She kept nearly all the jointly-owned possessions. But I didn’t care. My refrain throughout the divorce proceedings had been that I wanted to see my youngest stepdaughter—the only one who was still a minor. After a year of negotiations, what my lawyer, and my best friend had been saying all along had become apparent: as a stepparent I had no legal right to see my stepdaughter and each step in the negotiations was a tactic to have me give up more.
At the time of this blog entry, it has been 39 months since I saw my daughter. I saw her when she was born and read her to sleep hundreds and hundreds of times. We cosmic bowled and raised chickens, played games and sang songs and had dance-offs in the kitchen. She would be angry with me when those moments of discipline came, but she was also whip smart and understood consequences. I stayed home with her and slept on the floor of her room when she screamed in pain for months with compartmentalized pain syndrome. We joked and carried on and worked on books together. Before I walked out of the house that last time, in February of 2019, I told her I loved her and would be here for her whenever that time came. I sent a single letter, care of my ex-wife, assuring her of this again. The only response I received was from my ex-wife, threatening legal action if I tried to make contact again. That, as they say, was that.
Selling all the possessions I had and leaving in a bus, checking out for a year-plus and dwindling away my life savings is hardly a loss compared to losing her. The silence of the past few years is an incalculable loss. I enumerate what I gave up when I signed over the house or mark down the value of the area rugs and couches, the chairs and dishes and such that my ex-wife kept. It doesn’t matter. I already lost everything.
We interviewed Colin Kellogg, the Itinerant Air-cooled Mechanic, last season and he assured us that many bus lifers try to pack everything up and hit the road to get away. “Don’t worry,” he assured us, “your baggage goes with you.”
I think of my stepdaughter constantly—everyday without even trying. Sometimes it’s like she is here in the bus with me, riding along. I think she would love a trip like this—the adventure and the people, the kooky places we end up.
I had to leave town because I couldn’t risk running into her at the store. I couldn’t bear the thought of coming around a corner and seeing her—that absent moment where both people are at a loss for words and then the realization of that person who was gone is now right in front of you. She’d still be child, of course and I would still have to maintain a role of step parent—meaning she could be angry and hate me and I would have to let her. Whatever she had been told about my leaving, I could not refute.
And she would be older. I’d see her and see all the time I have missed. My favorite story of all had been watching her life unfold—the person she was becoming. And I was always amazed by her and her natural kindness, her curiosity, the way she just understood people. When our paths eventually would intersect, I’d see the gap, those empty absent years. That was the risk.