The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
From Ukiah to Clear Lake and Sacramento, California
As I sit here for the third day in an asphalt-covered lot sandwiched between a racetrack and the Sacramento River, I realize that our time on the road this week has been eclipsed by our time immobile.
After we left Ukiah, we decided to detour by Clear Lake, a largish body of water that neither Mark nor I hd ever seen. A campground on its edge in the tiny hamlet of Nice ("that's Neece, like Nice, France," said the gas station attendant) first lulled us into immobility. It was a sleepy place, the most activity being provided by flocks of ducks and pelicans fishing in the tules. We first planned to stay overnight. Three days later, we headed south.
I can't explain the crossroads decisions now, but we found ourselves in Sacramento. The state fairgrounds boast an RV park, and, once again, we thought we'd spend a night. That was three days ago.
Since it's obvious I can't regale you with stories of the open road, I thought I might let you in on what it's really like to live in two hundred square feet when it's not rolling. I can tell from the disbelieving looks on the faces of house dwellers when they peek inside that they think it's impossible to lead a real life in the confines of a shoebox. Their incredulity notwithstanding, here's my view after five years on the inside of same.
You can do whatever you want in a tiny domicile, as long as you don't try to do more than one thing at once. I can cook dinner, darn a sock, write a book, take a nap, watch a video, or bathe the dog, just like any ordinary suburbanite. Okay, no gardening, and, no I can't vacuum a swimming pool I don't have, either.
So what's the difference? After much mulling, I've come to the conclusion that there is less than I thought. I could never really do more than one thing simultaneously even when I had more room. All I could do was fool myself. I could have desk piled high with papers and a dryer full of clothes and an oven full of turkey, but no matter how many projects I might have under way, I could actually apply my efforts and attention to no more than one at a time. That's the deal when you live in three dimensions, but until I lived in confined quarters, I deluded myself into believing otherwise.
Living in the Phoenix has cleaned up my brain. Since no unfinished projects lurk about my physical space, they don't loiter in my head, either. I find my focus is clearer, my concentration sharper. I can't leave anything hanging, and I can't escape the task at hand until I finish it or put it away. If your house is about to accelerate to freeway speed, you have a good incentive to clear the counters.
As unlikely as it seems, living in a small space has expanded my horizons, and not only because that small space has wheels. I have a much clearer view about what I really prize in the way of possessions, and what is unnecessary clutter. It's as though my home and belongings are a lovely little sonata now, when once they were a large and noisy cacophony.
Tomorrow the road will disappear beneath our wheels once more. When we're rolling, I won't be making borscht. I won't be writing a letter, brushing my teeth, cleaning the refrigerator. I'll be watching California fly by, one mile at a time. Later, I'll write a while, cook a while, read a while. First one thing, then another, then something else. Whether you live in a palace or a breadbox, life's a journey, best enjoyed one step at a time.
Santa Cruz, California
December 13, 1998