My family rarely took vacations. We did a great many fun things together, but finances and work schedules made it difficult to go very many places more than half a day away. In fact, the only place out of Utah we ever went was Yellowstone. I love Yellowstone! My parents photo album sometimes reads like a skipping record. The year is broken down into the same elements-Holidays, birthdays and Yellowstone. Every year we seem to take the same twenty pictures. We must have thirty or forty pictures of the same places during the same events. Geyser eruptions, waterfalls, buffalo, elk and us eating ice cream. Every trip (even into my married life) I would promise myself I would not take any photos of things I had already photographed. Without fail, I would see a hot spring in a different light, or be certain this eruption of Grand Geyser was the largest I had witnessed. The place is so spectacular, so unique that the instant I enter the park, I am captivated by it. Still, it is nice to want to go other places every once in a while, right?
The first time I had been east of Vernal, Utah was when I flew to New Hampshire to begin my LDS mission. It was also my first airplane ride. Arriving in New England in the dead of winter, I can say I was not a fan of the place at first sight. It was bitter cold, very snowy and unfamiliar. I was extremely homesick, living in a run-down and dirty apartment, feeling completely lost. I hated every day for the first two months. I found flaws with everything and everyone, self included. I hated the weather, the rolling hills, the way people talked, how old the buildings were, how my clothes fit.
Of course, by the time Spring and Summer rolled around, things had changed. I was really starting to love everything about New England, especially the things I had initially loathed. I loved the weather, the rolling hills, how the people spoke and loved, loved how old most things were. I was sad to leave when the time came.
With those two as a starting point, I have been pondering places I have been, some have inspired me while others, while interesting and worth the visit, were not places I would love to return.
I feel like making a happy list, so this one gets to be called-Places I have been that mattered.
1.Phoenix, Arizona-I first went to Phoenix in the late spring of 1993. I was going with my friend Joel and my brother Dylan. We drove down in my 1992 Geo Metro, three cylinders and just enough room for two grown adults. It may have been crowded, but we did get great gas mileage. We drove all night, through Southern Utah and across the Navajo Reservation, through Northern Arizona and near the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We couldn’t see anything as it was the dead of night, but I recall driving with the windows down, loud music and dodging jack rabbits. This was my first extended road trip without my family and I loved every second of it.
I fell in love with the Phoenix area the moment I saw it. Morning light and the palm trees, the desert sand, the vast expanses of urban sprawl, I was hooked. It was still a bit cold in Salt Lake when we left, but it was a lovely 69 degrees at 7 in the morning in Phoenix. I loved the orange trees growing in the medians (Dylan actually ate one of those nasty things), the smell of chlorine that seemed to be everywhere and the wonderful heat. I have been to this area many times since then, but the first trip is the one that sticks in my head. I remember cruising around the Tempe area with my brother. It was nearing 8 or 9 at night and we were driving with the windows open, the sun setting over some of the most insanely shaped mountains I had ever seen. The heat of the day was still lingering and it must have been close to 85 degrees. I wanted to move to Arizona. Sometimes I still do.
2.Coeur d’Alene Idaho-Yep, that’s right! Idaho! Sheryl’s mother grew up in Couer d’Alene and much of Sheryl’s extended family still lives there. We took our first vacation as husband and wife in the summer of 1994, driving the 11 hours (again) through the night, across most of Idaho and a western Montana, to Coeur d’Alene. I wish I could express how amazing it was as we drove along the freeway and the lake came into view. It was a brilliant morning, near cloudless and the sun was less than an hour into the sky. I was exhausted from the night of driving and really wanted to sleep. The sight of the lake woke me right up. The mountains surrounding it, deep forest green pines and the sparkle of the sun off the water, it captivated me.
Couer d’Alene is a fairly small town that survives mostly on tourism with water sport being the largest draw to the area. Strangely enough, after close to ten trips, I have never spent even one hour on a boat on this lake. I have instead hiked amazing trails, eaten exceptional food, and mountain biked on some of the best single track I have ever seen, some of it no wider than three feet. What a rush that can be, flying down the mountain, a steep drop of to one side, clinging to your bike as everything rushes by you. I miss that!
The entire area is breathtaking. I highly recommend going there.
3. Boston, Massachusetts-The first time I was in Boston was while I was doing that mission thing. I was not supposed to be there, but went anyway. I spent a whopping three hours seeing places like Beacon Hill and Fenway park. I wanted to see more and I promised myself I would go back.
It took over ten years.
Sheryl and I went to New England in 2003, visiting Joel and his family in Rhode Island as well as staying in Maine and New Hampshire. We spent a full day in Boston, a perfect spring day in May. It was 70 degrees and so sunny. We walked the city, walked the Freedom Trail. One thing I love about Boston is the mixture of old and new. So many historic buildings nestled among sky scrapers creates a completely fabulous experience. Joel and I drank cocktails and Sheryl a lemonade by the bay. We ate great pasta. It was a perfect day.
New England feels like home to me. One of the ways I determine how much I love a place is by being in it at its worst. I visited Boston a year or so later in January. Joel and I spent an evening out and about on the town, eating a fantastic steak dinner, drinking 7 dollar cocktails and having one of the best nights of my life. I remember distinctly walking from the underground station to the hotel, the winter wind blowing right through me, freezing cold and thinking, “I could live here. I need to live here” Of course I already knew that, having wanted to move back since leaving my mission, but it was nice to have that confirmed all over again years later.
4. New York, New York-Ok, yeah its a huge cliche, but going to NYC totally changed my perspective on the world. So many people, everywhere. My first day in NYC started with hiring a car from the airport, fearing for my life the entire way into the city as the driver jammed in and out of lanes, accelerating into the exit lanes, then breaking quick and sliding back into traffic, all the while saying over and over “very busy today”. I was so freaked, so ready to have this guy out of my life, that I jumped out of the car at the hotel and left my jacket in the back of his van.
Later that evening, Sheryl and I met up with Meredith (Sheryl’s cousin) and we went to get some Italian food. As we walked to the restaurant, we passed buildings were people sat out on the stairs, smoking and talking to each other in loud voices. It felt like something out of a movie-some guys in wife beaters and fake NY accents screaming at each other on the stoop, drinking beer and what not. I couldn’t help but feel it was all staged for my benefit. No one really did this sort of thing, right?
The sheer amount of people, everywhere, all the time, was so amazing. I loved walking the streets, the smells, good and bad, the buildings, taking it all in. You could spend months in New York and not do or see even half of what was there. I heard so many languages, saw so many different people, it made me envy my friends who were lucky enough to live there. If nothing else, the food is reason enough to go-Every conceivable nationality, every imaginable dish.
I have never felt as insignificant as I did in New York, but it wasn’t a bad thing. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was part of a larger world, not just the community where I lived. New York probably doesn’t feel that way to those who live there. Then again, maybe it does. I have never asked them. But for me, it was my first real experience with really feeling like there was more to the world than my limited view.
Another cliched example-Visiting the crater that once was the World Trade Centers was incredible. Before going there, it was easy for me to dehumanize the experience, seeing it only in a very politicized perspective. Standing just off the street, reading the posters that gave an hour by hour account of the events, I was struck by the pure human element of it. People just going to work, helping others injured after the first plane struck, people living their lives just like me were killed. For that moment it didn’t matter who had done it, or why. I did not have a huge wave of patriotism wash over me. Instead it was a connection with the people of New York. I could not fathom the experience, but I could feel a deep sorrow for what they went through. It was at this moment that I looked around me, saw others reading the words, seeing the pictures. It was totally silent in this place, which is an amazing thing in a city like New York, where it is never silent. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.
I have not been back since 2007 and that is not a good thing.
Well, that’s all I have today. Seems like it is time for another trip. Maybe to someplace I have never been. Maybe out of the country for a change.