Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vagabond Summer, Part 1

It started sometime in the winter, when my husband, Joe, turned to me and said “Let’s spend the summer in Portland.”  

One of the things that happens when you live in Los Angeles long enough is that you develop an escape plan. A backup. A “what if…” It’s just a hard place to live. It’s crowded. It’s dirty. But mostly, there’s a franticness to the pace of life. We race everywhere. We have to be productive every moment of every day. Because if we’re not, there’s someone younger and hungrier and more driven to take our place. It’s exhausting.

We stick to grind, answering emails in the checkout and scanning every social interaction for ways to further ourselves and all the while, we talk of escaping to blueberry farms in Maine or the mountains of Colorado or the vast openness of Arizona. We dream of something different. Some place different. Some place we can breathe and think and feel.

For Joe and me, that place is the Pacific Northwest. The trees are big and the air is clean and the entire place is permeated by a sense of adventure. It’s a place that, in our few visits, quickly became the home of our hearts.

And so, when the claustrophobia set in this winter, Portland beckoned.

It’s more than the air or the adventure that draws us. It’s a sense of purpose. Portland is important and I’m still not sure why. But it matters. It matters to us.

So I said yes. We’d spend the summer in Portland. We’d already booked tickets to Ohio to visit our families, but what was one more trip? We needed to be in Portland.

As rational adults, we listed our home – the condo we bought before it had walls, where we chose counter tops and floors, with our carefully selected sofa and brand new sound system – on Airbnb. How else would we fund such an endeavor? Joe let his company know he was taking a mental health holiday. I told our friends and planned around preschool graduation.

The first few Airbnb inquiries turned my stomach. Single guys who wanted to party over the 4th of July. Retired couples with large dogs that would do “that much” damage. Dates that didn’t work. I doubted. I worried. I planned.

On a Sunday morning in May, I listened to a sermon on the idea that none of our stuff belongs to us anyway. Everything we have is a tool to be used to serve the world around us. I turmoiled. Should we go to Portland? Should we stay in Los Angeles? What was the best use of our resources? How did we use the gift of our home? My phone buzzed in my pocket and I knew. This was my answer. This was our renter.

We adore your home… We just sold our house and will be a bit homeless… We are working on buying a place (but don't have it yet)… We are looking for a place to stay with no stress… It would be me and my husband and my almost 4 year-old, who would be thrilled with the kid's room… Love to talk to you more…

In all truth, I only skimmed the inquiry. I cried with relief and fear and doubt. I sat on a metal folding chair in an elementary school auditorium, while my church family sat around me, and I sobbed. 40 days and 40 nights. The perfect fit for our space needed our home for 40 days and 40 nights.

This was it. Portland called and there was our answer. We were off. Where would stay? How would we get there? It didn’t matter. This summer was important. This summer would change things. We were off.

For a week, I searched through Airbnb, extended stay hotels, campgrounds, whatever I could piece together to make a home for my family. Nothing worked. Nothing fit. Our home was rented and we had no place to go.

May drew to a close, with preschool graduation – and the first leg of our journey – only two weeks away. During Sunday naps, a listing popped up on Airbnb, in a neighborhood in Portland that had a particularly strong draw for me. In a city with so many interesting little pockets, Sellwood caught my attention and kept it. And here was this listing with a “park-like backyard” and jetted tub. It was perfect. The dates worked. It was just too much. It would more than take our budget for the whole trip – just in lodging.

Joe threw out a number – something more than 1/3 less than the listed price – and suggested I ask the host for that. In my non-confrontational way, I sent a message asking if she was at all flexible, keeping our budget number for future communications.

Minutes later an offer popped up on my phone, offering the full stay for exactly our number. It wasn’t a number that made sense. It was a random amount we could afford and that was her offer. We booked that night.

I cleaned and packed and planned. I put most of my closet in boxes. I made sure our sheets matched. I scrubbed places in my home that I haven’t touched since we moved in seven years ago. I sorted things into piles – for Ohio, for Portland, for in between.

That was the hitch. In between. Our dates for Ohio were set. Our dates for Portland were set. And in the middle, we had seven days with no place to go.

But those are details, right? We’d figure it out.

{More to come. I thought I'd fit this into one post. It's 1,300 words and I haven't actually reached Portland yet...}

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