One benefit to traveling the country for a year—to spending roughly one week in each of the lower 48 states—was the opportunity to scout out our eventual home. Just several weeks in, however, we realized our decision was growing more difficult every time we pulled into a new campsite, every time we walked the streets of a new city, every time we explored a new national park, every time we discovered, well, almost anything new at all. In just a few days, we learned, we can fall in love with anything.
We loved the Verde Valley of Arizona.
We loved New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains.
We loved west Texas, the javelinas patrolling their territory like a 50s biker gang.
We loved the retirees who drank all afternoon and listened to bad cover bands at Patches Pub & Grill in Panama City, Florida.
We loved Asheville, North Carolina. We always have and always will.
We loved Maine, and we loved Cleveland, and we loved Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon.
We wanted to move to Baltimore. We envisioned a future in Oakland. We fantasized about moving into a small cabin at Lake Umbagog in New Hampshire and never returning to society.
Which is all to say that by the time we returned to our home state of Nebraska almost a year to the day we left, we had absolutely no idea where we wanted to be. Someday, we knew, we would want to travel the country all over again, and so we kept Elsie, our beloved trailer. But we were itching to return to a solid community, a place to plant some roots. We crashed at my parents’ home in Lincoln for a few weeks to regain our footing, and then we started applying to jobs: in New York, in Baltimore, in Oakland, in Chicago, and here in Nebraska, too, despite our promise to move literally anywhere else.
And then Mel got a wonderful job at an advertising agency in Omaha, an offer too good to pass up. And yours truly? Though I was initially resistant to the idea, Nebraska makes good sense for me, too, as a freelance writer. Had we gone somewhere else, I’d have been forced to juggle my freelance career with something else. But here in Nebraska, living is relatively cheap. Compared to New York or Oakland or so many other cities we fell in love with, Omaha is basically the clearance rack (in the best kind of way).The freelance life is filled with variables. To live somewhere consistently cheap avoids some major headaches.
So now we live in Omaha, a city just 45 minutes from Lincoln, where both Mel and I went to college and where we lived for several years before vagabonding across America. Though we’d obviously been to Omaha plenty of times before, we’d never experienced it like a local. And so far, we’re pleased to report, we’re loving it. We found a great apartment within walking distance of Mel’s work. It’s called The Lancaster, and it’s one of the oldest apartment buildings in Omaha, built in part with materials recycled from the original Douglas County Courthouse. There’s an exceptional taco truck one block from our front door. We drink weekly with a group of Mel’s co-workers. Each week we explore a new dive bar. We joined the YMCA. I’m playing pickup basketball games again for the first time since grad school. I’m always chosen last, which I assume is a real honor. Right? RIGHT?!
Our floor doesn’t shake when we walk on it anymore. And our towels don’t smell like the onions we just chopped up for dinner. And we pee inside now. And we can run both the oven and the microwave at the same time without blowing a fuse. And our ceiling doesn’t leak. And our toilet isn’t in our shower. I still catch myself walking from the bed to the bathroom and thinking, “I just walked double the length of our former home.” There’s a lot to celebrate.
But this much I’ll admit: every now and then, I still fantasize about the road. I grow nostalgic for southern Arizona. I daydream about Zion and Bryce and Arches.
I might get the trailer out of storage this weekend, just to keep it active.