Making Room For Play

This 2nd post of the series was originally published on Airstream.com

The 1st post in this series is Beauty, Our Retirement Un-Plan.

Posted August 28, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
To listen to the podcast, click the play button

Living in Beauty
This series, From Beauty’s Doorstep, is based on five-years of full-time travel, aka LIB (Living in Beauty)
“Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” 
– Friedrich Schiller

It was April 23, 2016.

The overloaded tricycle pitched, side-to-side. Moving slowly but steadily along, I struggled to keep the basket contents from shifting and hurling me off the sidewalk and onto the street. Nevertheless, it was happy work. Beauty’s key swayed rhythmically on the lanyard around my neck, catching the bright morning light. At last, my super-secret solo mission had launched into full, wobbly motion.

The surprise on Jim’s face would be my reward. Tonight, he would arrive home from work to find our remaining household transferred into Beauty, our new home on wheels.

Tomorrow there would be no need to throw it all into The Beast – our tow vehicle and sole source of transportation – in a frantic, messy rush. We would be able to focus solely on setting up camp at the resort where we’ll stay for the next two months before Jim’s official retirement.

I weaved down the block where our 30’ Airstream conspicuously occupied a choice section of curb on the corner of the public park. Across the street, Stephanie, our mail carrier, squinted in my direction. Recognizing me, she waved.

Then, the faint sound of a bugle stopped each of us in our tracks. Morning Colors. It was 0800. The day begins early in this Navy town. The Village – as the locals refer to this part of Coronado, California – was already in full swing. As the last note faded we resumed our pace.

Jim and I were lucky to call this beach town home for the last twenty years.

Coronado
View of San Diego from the Old Ferry Landing in Coronado

“I will miss hearing that,” I shouted to Stephanie.

“I’ll miss you guys!” she shouted back. “When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow!”

She mugged a Weary Willie frown and waved farewell with a handful of mail.

I glanced around, hoping our exchange didn’t attract attention. Best to stay under the radar. The night before, Jim and I bailed Beauty out of the dusty storage facility, and in the dark of twilight, parked her in the only available space near our house. 

Living in beauty
Beauty, parked around the corner from our house, April 23, 2016

It all seemed so clandestine.

Driveways are rare in Coronado, so feudal wars over parking spots are common, and strict oversized vehicle laws are actively enforced. The 72-hour permit we posted on Beauty’s curbside window only increased the pressure.

Slipping the key into the latch, I caught my reflection on the surface of Beauty’s shiny, riveted aluminum skin. With a stack of hats and caps on my head, shoulders dressed in layers of house robes, overcoats, raincoats, scarves, and a menagerie of colorful handmade baskets dangling like dry cicada husks from my arms, I cast the image of Madwoman of Chaillot.

living in beauty
Trip #1 to start outfiting Beauty

I treated myself to a mischievous grin and turned the key.

No time to waste. I tossed the winners of the Great Divestment of Our Worldly Goods over the threshold. Then, I stepped inside.

That’s when it hit me. Welcome to your new reality, Carmen.

The entire floor, the chairs, and the dining area were covered in baskets – baskets for cotton picking, baskets for berry picking, egg gathering baskets, picnic baskets…

living in beauty

The miscalculation was staggering. And, this was only the first load. And, I was already exhausted.

Last night Jim and I had worked till well after dark. We had repurposed the Airstream’s coat cabinet to make a splendid food pantry. The conversion had been my idea. I felt like a genius of small-scape kitchen design.

But now, that tricky part of my brain which I usually reserve for the important business of denial turned on me, saying, What were you thinking? How can you possibly manage in such a small space?

I launched into an Alice in Wonderland moment, scurrying down a rabbit hole of self-reflection.

On the previous weekend, I had steadied my quivering chin as I said goodbye to my beloved patio plants – even the towering fifty-year-old tropicals, inherited from Mom, rode away in pick-up trucks. 

A month earlier I made peace with the loss of our family library, all three thousand books were sold, gifted, or donated. I accepted this new condition of being plantless, bookless, paperless and – by tomorrow, houseless – as the going price for creating a new reality.

Coronado
Our Potted Backyard Coronado Bungalow Garden

But the baskets …

No, that was the last straw.

The Choctaw swamp cane baskets from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, near my mother’s ancestral home, hold my admiration for the hunter-gatherer life and serve as an ongoing reminder of how the most useful items are constructed out of thin air. These miracles of female engineering weigh almost nothing yet they can bear heavy loads over long distances and endure for decades.

One basket had served as my college book bag – a professor once teased me about it, calling me “a basket case,” not realizing the phrase originated from WW1 battlefield slang for a soldier with extreme wounds.

And another – my favorite – served as my young son’s school lunchbox.

These straw-into-gold handworks adorned my home as market baskets and storage for crafts, blankets, umbrellas, fruit, or whatever needed toting. It had been my intention to hold onto each one. The familiar colors and patterns would carry me through this transition.

But, suddenly I realized that they didn’t belong here. Their dimensions were too bulky, patterns too noisy, and their function superfluous. The Airstream’s cabinetry and lockers with space-saving niches provide more than sufficient storage for two full-timing adults.

A knock at the door interrupted my basket meltdown..

I peeked out from behind the curtains. The concerned faces of two police officers waited to speak with me, their attention momentarily diverted to another police officer as he apparently instructed an idling tow truck driver to circle the block so the vehicle would be properly positioned to haul Beauty away.

living in beauty

A Brief Intermission: Why We Started This Journey in the First Place

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Sunset View of Downtown San Diego from Coronado

Okay. Let’s flashback.

It’s not like we didn’t give this full-timing thing a lot of thought. Our doctors were on board with telemedicine even before it recently became normalized. We had performed several successful tests of our iPostal One snail mail service. Voting was no biggie. We’d been voting by mail for over a decade and would continue as always.

Through Zoom, Jim would carry on as a consultant for non-profits. My audio technician, Deborah Reeves, groomed my mobile studio and tweaked settings so I could produce high-quality audio and podcasts. As a safety measure, our son and my dad were set up to track us on “Find Friends.”

Just like millions of Americans, young and old, we would become part of a growing mobile community and continue as active, informed, and interested citizens, dedicated to our family and friends and connected to our community while living in Beauty.

Technology makes it all possible. In this digital age, living small and mobile is easier, safer, and rewards travelers with more creative time to pursue diverse interests.

Borrego Springs RV Resort, San Diego County

And, people living happily within one-hundred and eighty square feet of floor space precedes the internet. Thousands of trailblazing Airstreamers, old enough to be my grandparents, led the way before I was out of training pants.

Yet, there is a learning curve. When downsizing into any mobile lifestyle every inch is precious, so every ounce of gear must be essential, multi-purpose, or both. Big playgrounds come to those who sacrifice.

Coronado
Pico’s Wall at Coronado Marina and The Old Boat House

Our rule is, if we can’t find an item and put our hands on it in under thirty seconds then we don’t need it.

So, months prior to acquiring Beauty we systematically scaled down our possessions and began practicing. We ditched the food processor for a good set of knives; baked in small batch silicone pans; used a single shelf in our giant side-by-side refrigerator/freezer; designed tiny kits for sewing, manicure, first aid, make-up, and hand tools. Shoes and outerwear were narrowed down to basic essentials.

And on weekends we tested our skills. San Diego County offers almost every kind of environment one might encounter in North America.

So we camped on the bay …

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Fiddlers Cove Marina & RV Park, Coronado, California

on the beach …

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Silver Strand State Park, Coronado, California

in the mountains …

Idyllwild RV Resort, Idylwild, California

and in the desert.

We rehearsed until leveling, hitching, unhitching, water filtering, water conservation and tank maintenance became second nature. Our breaking-in period – though riddled with mistakes and mishaps – was joyful, exhilarating, liberating and addictive. To this day, we cherish every newbie moment as we acquainted ourselves with our future home.

Anza-Borrego Desert

For us, it’s not about aesthetic minimalism, frugality, or glamping.

Going light is essential for sustainable travel. Less stuff facilitates comfort and mobility. But, as we freely shared our dream with others, we recognized that the morality of materialism is personal and complex, and clashes between the world of Belonging and the world of Wandering are deeply rooted in opposing philosophies of consumerism. The old Sapiens squabble about farming life (Belonging) versus hunter-gatherer life (Wandering) still carries over from prehistory, stoking anxieties.

Agua Caliente County Campground, San Diego County

As avid Belongers for most of our lives, we were sensitive to the question, “But, why leave your San Diego paradise?”

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Hotel Del Coronado, down the street from our house

We acknowledged the inadequacy of our answer, “Because it’s time to play..”

san diego
On the Bikeway at Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego

So, quietly and systematically, Jim and I lowered our consumption and preened our dream until, at last, we were fully-fledged and ready to Free Bird.

“If I leave here tomorrow 
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”
– Lynyrd Skynyrd, Free Bird
Rams Hill Golf Course, Borrego Springs, San Diego County, California

As a navy brat, I treated every move like a little death – a state of liminality that deserves a rite of passage. So I would throw something overboard that was holding me back – nail-biting, or a beloved doll which I’d outgrown, or shyness. This helped me to move on my own terms and to celebrate change.

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of human kind can unfold.”

– Joseph Chilton Pearce
Borrego Springs RV Resort

The nomadic Kumeyaay – the first residents of the San Diego region – burn the possessions of their departed family members’ in ritual funeral fires. Sending favorite items into the afterworld encourages the soul to move on.

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San Diego Bay During Fire Season

Jim and I took that ancient wisdom as advice. The future is uncertain, and personal needs change over time. Why saddle ourselves to a house we don’t want to grow old in? And, why hoard a storage unit full of stuff we may never use? As long as we are both on board, together, that’s all that matters.

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Coronado Bridge at sunset

Back to the Police at My Door

living in beauty

Beauty had been reported numerous times over the last twelve hours. The police were merely conducting an investigation with a tow truck. I directed their attention to the parking permit displayed in the window.

living in beauty

A flurry of confusion ensued – radios popped out of holsters; the tow truck pulled up in front of Beauty; a conference gathered around the driver; the tow truck left.

Then, the attention turned to me. No one was allowed to sleep in the trailer, they said, and Beauty had to be moved the moment 72-hours had elapsed or earlier, and the earlier the better. Then, they left me to resume my work.

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Penelope, The Wife of Odysseus, Coronado California

I called Jim, but when he answered I could barely speak – my throat still swollen around words I’d held onto during the ordeal – yet, the whole story of my day eked out well enough, ruining my surprise.

“So,” he said. “That’s why you wouldn’t sell your trike.”

“Yeah,” I sniffled.

Then he consoled me by noting that the trailer might have been towed if I hadn’t been present, causing untold damage.

“Very likely,” I said. “But, another problem is…my baskets.”

“I know,” Jim said. “It’s okay. Let’s deal with the small stuff up the road.”

That liberating nomadic language – up the road – worked its magic. Immediately, my mood lifted because I realized that we had finally earned the right to use those words.

And then I remembered my youth and how, on stormy days, Mama would push the furniture back against the wall to make room for her children to play. The empty floor space became an elastic playground – a fishing pond, a castle, or a ship.

Coronado
Fountain at The Coronado Community Center

The baskets’ work was done. They had carried my dream this far, inspired a simpler and more fulfilling life. Now, it was their time to move on. Eventually, I would let all but three of them go as gifts to close friends.

Japanese friendship garden
Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego

I locked Beauty and dashed to the house for the next load. In the alley, I encountered a new neighbor walking his dogs. “Nice Airstream,” he said. Later, that afternoon he came by for a closer look and revealed that he, too, harbored the dream of an Airstream adventure. He wished us well and still follows Living in Beauty.

living in beauty
Another load to the Airstream

After the last tricycle load, I collapsed on the trailer floor. Every proper sitting place overflowed with household goods. Within four weeks, half of that trove would be gone. One year later, we lightened up again by more than half. The work continues.

A Moment to Relax Before the Journey Begins

Someone knocked at the door.

I peeked through the curtains, prepared to see a tow truck. Jim stood there with two of my favorite things: His sideways smile and a bottle of ice-cold Rosé.

We sat together on the floor and sipped from a single cup because neither of us had the energy to forage for another one. Jim proposed a toast to the last night of sleeping on the floor of the house.

living in beauty

Then, Evening Colors commenced and we stepped out into the sunset to honor the ensign both of our Dads served under, North Island Naval Air Base

… until the last echoing note of “Call to Retreat” retired beneath a feathery blanket of orange and raspberry clouds.

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Coronado Landing

Too pooped for more celebration, we locked Beauty up for the night.

But, if we had known then what we know now – that the best years of our lives had officially begun – we would have clasped hands under the rising moon and danced, light as air, over every blade of drought-resistant grass in the public park until the morning sun arose.

Coronado
San Diego Bay Viewed from Coronado

But that would probably have been illegal, anyway.

The street lights came on and, wearily, we coaxed our aching bones across the street. In the crosswalk two high school boys zipped past us on skateboards.

“Hey, cool trailer,” said the first to the second.

“Classic,” said the second to the first.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.