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Keep Me Away from the Hotel California

I can't swim!

by Michael H. Thomson
October 11, 2003

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Keep me away from the Hotel California_Michael H. Thomson-I can't swim! I love traveling. In my fifty-eight much too short years, I have traveled widely and plan on traveling even more if my health, bank account, and The Creator permit it.

There are some places however that I don't want to travel to-for the first time-or again. Here's a partial list: Kampuchea(Cambodia); Newport, Tennessee, New Jersey, Warren, Michigan; Uruguay or Paraguay; Belfry, Kentucky; Turkey; Vidor, Texas; Crawfordville, Alabama; Guatemala; Zaire; and last but not least California. I will come back to my aversion for California later.

I have visited 47 states, 3 territories, and 4 provinces on this continent. Some of these were very quick visits and some were much longer. The one characteristic that I find universal in every place I've visited is that local populations have a great tendency to place themselves in the center of the universe, particularly that segment that has never traveled very much. I was reminded of this very dramatically on two memorable occasions.

The first occasion was in 1966 when I was twenty - one visiting with my dad who was the sports editor for a small town newspaper in southwest Virginia. Pulaski - the town where my dad was located - was playing against Blacksburg, Virginia in high school basketball. Blacksburg was the home team. During halftime while standing in line for popcorn, I started a conversation with this lady who was wearing distinctive Blacksburg colors. I was curious about the town and asked the lady what the approximate population of Blacksburg, Virginia might be? The lady didn't bat an eyelash, or pause in her answer when she replied to me, "About a million." I politely nodded and spent a very thoughtful five minutes longer waiting for my popcorn... I had no idea that Blacksburg, Virginia ranked among the U.S.’s top cities in population...

The second, although sadder occasion, when I was reminded of how limited travel experience can influence one’s perspective was when I went to Maryville, Tennessee for my father's funeral. After the burial I decided to take a drive in the vicinity of the old home place and revel in a little nostalgia. Enjoying the mountain scenery I passed by the home of my childhood friend, "Roger".

Roger by the outward appearances of his home and property was doing quite well. As I remembered, Roger had gone from high school directly to a good paying factory job for the Alcoa Aluminum Company and had later become a foreman. What was particularly catching my covetous eye was the nice, top of the line, Winnebago motor home parked on a dedicated concrete slab adjacent to Roger's house. I had just recently priced the same model and had determined that I would have to be satisfied with my van for a few more years. On impulse, I pulled into Roger's driveway to pay him a surprise visit.

Initially, we were very happy to see each other. We spent some time comparing notes, bragging on our families, reminiscing, and remembering my dad as well as Roger's recently deceased parents. After these subjects were exhausted the conversation begins to drag. That's when I brought up the subject of the motor home hoping to revive the discussion.

"Roger," I said, "I bet you get quite a bit of enjoyment out of your Winnebago. Do you travel a lot in it?" I eagerly waited for Roger to regale me with tales of trips to Yosemite and the Keys. Roger's reply to my perspective was amazing!

He had owned the Winnebago for three years and had only traveled one place with the forty-four foot vehicle-The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and... Had traveled to only one location within the Park, which was the campground at the rustic bygone mountain community of Cade's Cove. Why was this amazing? Roger had made a sizeable investment in one of America's greatest traveling vans and yet only traveled in it twenty miles a year. You see, Cade's Cove was only 10 miles from Roger's house! It was also 10 miles away from the center of Roger's universe. I seriously doubt that Roger has ever traveled to the next county. Some day I might ask him...

In college and throughout life I have heard that America has one the most mobile societies on the planet. Roger and the lady in Blacksburg were clearly exceptions to that general notion, but I still run into people, especially some in their twenties and thirties who have the opinion that Rand McNally is an announcer for ESPN. It could be that some folks, once they learn the way to the bank, the mall, and the doctor, don't really want to stretch their comfort zone any further than they absolutely have to. While I find this type of thinking a bit alien, I can truly understand it...particularly when it comes to California. My closely held secret phobia, until now...

When I was nine years old and had those pre-adolescent thoughts of running away - like all nine year old boys faced with the increasing responsibilities of growing up, California was my destination of choice. California was where Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Gabby Hayes lived. If you have to ask who these people are, then we have a generational problem which I'm going to arrogantly refuse to address. Nevertheless, California was where I wanted to be along with my fellow Tennesseans, Jeb, Granny, Jethro, and Ellie May. Unfortunately, my Aunt Claudia Celeste Tucker brought my California dreams to an end.

My Aunt "Bea"(just like the character on Mayberry RFD) had a very dramatic air about her. She had traveled and was a well read person. More than occasionally however, her reading tastes wandered towards the metaphysical. She was particularly interested in the writings of the "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce. On cold rainy East Tennessee weekends my Aunt Bea and my mother would take turns reading excerpts of Cayce's prophecies to my siblings, me, and my cousins. Most of the time I didn't pay too much attention until, the time she read the Cayce prophecy of California sliding into the sea...

Like Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Sleepy Hollow", Cayce's prediction of cataclysm stuck indelibly in my pre-adolescent brain. Ten years later in a college geology course discussing the San Andreas Fault, I became convinced that Cayce's prediction theoretically could happen. And then... time passed... visits to everywhere else, but none to California.

I have been cajoled many times to go there; most recently when I was in Las Vegas for a trade show. There my loved one, Elizabeth, who has lived in California, suggested we rent a car and drive to the state line just so I could say I had been there. At the last moment, I pleaded fatigue (one of the fringe benefits of being past 55-along with the AARP card!). I still haven't seen California.

This year, I made a resolution to once and for all end my phobia about traveling to California. All was going well and I had decided to travel with Elizabeth on one of her business trips to the southern part of the state. Unfortunately I've had a serious setback to my bold plans...Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Growing up as a Baptist in a mountain church, fundamentalist preachers and deacons have had a great and lasting impact-more than I really want to admit-on my life. Time, experiences, the military, college, libraries, and development of a personal philosophy have greatly moderated that impact to the point that I consider myself somewhat of a sophisticate when it comes to belief systems and dogmas. The Protestant Revolution, Martin Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, John Wesley, The Dalai Llama, Karl Marx, and Pope John Paul are subjects I feel comfortable with. I have outgrown my narrow mountain roots and truly expanded my spiritual cloak. I no longer lift my feet off the floor of the church to escape the hellfire that can be created by a zealous Baptist preacher. Recent events however have caused my childhood fears of eternal damnation to return with vigor. Stories of Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind

You see my California phobia has taken a new turn. I have now decided-this week-that if the voters of California persist in their rush to judgment to elect Arnold as their governor... that they will slide off into the sea. Despite documented claims and self-admission of participation in what amounts to gang rape(the Oui Magazine interview), groping, and personal admiration for Adolph Hitler by Arnold, the Republican and... Democratic voters of California seem bent on awarding this muscle bound freak the crown of ruler over the sixth largest economy in the world. Divine judgment will surely come. California is doomed! Just like my early fears of Hell used to keep me out of beer joints, those same fears are keeping me out of California. Here we go again!

"Honey, I've never been to Oregon, can we go there?"

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