Chapter 02: The Before, Before The After

Uncle Jimmy!

Wow, it’s been a really long time. How’ve you been?

Besides dead, I mean.

I don’t know if anyone prayed the news up to you, but I’m about to return to Europe to live for a few months. And while my girlfriend and I are wandering over there, I’d love to write to you every now and again. Share some stories, ask for advice, that sort of thing. Maybe hark back to prior travels and poke fun at myself. I’m assuming you’ve got some free time on your hands?

You did hear about the prior European trip, yes? Nine countries in three months, back in 2017? Well, despite that sounding like some unpleasant and maniacal tourist vacation, I actually did spend most of my days trying to live like the locals. And I had quite the incredible experience.

As I’m sitting here waiting (not so patiently) for the launch date to arrive, there are so many great memories from the last trip that have been replaying in my head.

Here’s one for you. Picture the scene. We are just finishing dinner at an outdoor cafe in Cologne Germany. Only Nikki and I, as it’s a chilly and wet night and most sane folks are home in their warmth and dry. Just past her shoulder, I can see a train bridge crossing over the Rhine River, lights twinkling in the mist.

With me so far?

She and I were just chatting, nothing that I remember as being consequential, when I was suddenly struck with a really curious thought. How in the hell did I get there?

Here was this spawn of a blue-collar upbringing, a man who never really had expectations of international travel when he was young and impressionable, who was now sitting in a European cafe and calmly blathering on like it was normal. And realizing that for the prior who knew how many years, had been doing so in too many places to count.

Even as I continued to chat like nothing had just happened in my mind, I was deeply remembering the guy that I had left less than a dozen years earlier. The one who really wanted nothing more than to build his white picket fences and live the ordinary life. And now, somehow, that guy’s nirvana of having a single-family home was completely missing. His home was now everywhere.

Deep shit, right?

Our travels back in 2017 were actually comprised of two very different experiences. One designed specifically for Nikki, and the other for my more staid sensibilities. Mine was the first half in Barcelona, with a rented apartment and lots of plans on the calendar. The second half was Nikki’s ‘Gypsy Trail’, where we would bounce around wherever serendipity took us.

I still find it extremely pleasing that I was able to thrive in each different flavor of travel, planned and spontaneous. And that despite the two types being such polar opposites of the other, that I was actually pretty comfortable in both. A real learning experience.

Anyway, life hit me very strongly that drizzly evening in Germany. I was simply on top of the world. I suppose that is why I like to think of myself as a traveler, or perhaps a better name might be a collector of experiences. It’s also why I often compare myself to you. I’ve always envisioned my favorite uncle living for that moment of emotional overload and clarity. That feeling of carrying ones home everywhere you go.

So … again I find myself heading to Spain. And since I did the bulk of the planning for this one, you can guess which flavor of travel we mostly have before us. Spreadsheets and calendars just seem to be in my blood. What can I say?

Now to give myself some credit, I only planned the home base. And the getting there and the getting back. And maybe a trip or three in the middle, along with some other events.

But the rest I’ll leave to hearts and whims. I promise!

OK, I know what you’re thinking. But to cut myself some slack, now that I’ve had a couple of years since “Europe 2017” to contemplate the lessons of that trip, I’ve realized that maybe the best way to travel and explore is somewhere in the middle of spontaneous and planned. And perhaps also in both.

One last thing before I let you go. It’s weird, but I can’t seem to get out of my head that something has to happen after. I’m not even there yet and I’m already pondering my future. You’re probably shaking your head ruefully right about now. But despite that reaction, I think as I write to you over the next few months, I will also solicit your opinions on that subject. So get your advice ready. (I’m sure that’s something you still do really, really well, oh opinionated relative of mine).

OK, my favorite uncle, I need to go. I have to finish packing and getting everything ready. The next time I write will be from Sunny Barcelona!

Your Now Pen-Pal and Always Favorite Nephew,

Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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