It was a cool autumn evening. The sun was lazily ambling down the western sky and the smell of wood-fires and home-cooking infused the air with familiarity and reflection. On my evening walk, I passed two children playing in a huge natural yard. I noticed how different it was from the perfectly manicured, postage-stamp size yards, I’m used to seeing and how surprised I was to see the kids out in plain sight. In the San Francisco suburbs, children don’t just play out in the open like that.
I marveled at their carefree innocence from the other side of the street. They laughed and played and hung on a good natured and patient Golden Retriever. Not a care in the world; they didn’t even notice me. I felt like I’d been transported back to simpler times.
I’d parked my RV at the little league fields, a few blocks away, earlier in the day and spent the afternoon working and writing and enjoying peace and solitude. I was amazed that not a single kid came to the field to play nor nearby residents to walk their dogs. And I realized, it’s because here, in tiny-town USA (Enterprise, Oregon) everyone has a yard. Their little league field is for actual Little League, not a community yard where people who live in giant houses with tiny yards and neighbors within arms’ reach must drive to get some exercise and fresh air.
Spending the day in the tiny northern Oregon town took me back to my own Upstate New York roots – the ones I fled when I moved to San Francisco at twenty-one, and never looked back. Roots that I’ve spent my whole adult life running away from and denying. In my race to run from my past, I ran from myself. I ran from my predisposition toward a simpler way of life: where the streets aren’t always paved and the clerks in the grocery store know their customers by name.
As I hobbled over the cracked and crooked sidewalks, through old neighborhoods with normal-sized single-story houses (not super-sized McMansions), and inhaled the crisp home-town air, I realized how much living in a metropolitan area for nearly three decades had changed me. I’d forgotten how the rest of the country lives; how pure and simple life can be.
I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. Like I’d walked into a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and a world where kids are innocent and free and old-fashioned kindness and community rules the day. I wanted to wrap the town around me like grandma’s handmade quilt and fall asleep in its warmth.
As the afternoon turned to night, I meandered through the tiny town wanting to see and experience it all. I saw, through the lighted windows of cozy homes, quaint shops and tiny wooden churches with stained glass windows, what had been missing in my city life. Family. Community. Simplicity.
It dawned on me that my big city experiences and values had isolated me from the reality of what most Americans experience daily. I pondered the contentious election, and for the first time, I understood. I understood the fear. I understood the challenges that small-town America faces and how they feel like their way of life is on the verge of falling off the cliff. I understood how they view a sensationalized version of the events in our country – and the world – through their TV screens and it terrifies them. I understood how their serene and quiet lives seem threatened. And like the crackle of a fresh log put on a dying fire, my brain awakened to a new concept of reality. And a new awareness of how relative “reality” can be.
What a gift I was given that day. My new life as a full time RVer put me in a place I’d never have experienced in my old life. My new, slower, RV Life allowed me to get out from behind the windshield and immerse myself into new places – and not just fly past at 70 miles per hour. A new town isn’t just another double almond-milk cappuccino served up by the local Starbucks barista at an anonymous interstate town, but a real, live breathing place with history and community.
I spent three days in and around Enterprise, Oregon. I talked to chatty coffee drinkers in cafes, friendly grocery store clerks and helpful mechanics. I got to meet real people, with real wants, needs and concerns. Real people, with families, friends and happy Golden Retrievers. Not nameless, faceless political ideologues or Facebook trolls. But real people.
What a wonderful life I have: one that allowed me to step away from my version of reality. Life on the road allows me to forge my own path and a new reality. My RV Life opened my eyes – and my heart – to a community, which, on the surface seemed so different from my old Bay Area community, but at the core, was very much the same.
Thank you, Enterprise, Oregon, for letting me temporarily live in your town and experience your reality.