North Carolina friends, Maryland friends, let me ask you both a question. I’m going to describe a city. You need to guess which one it is. Readers in other states or countries are welcome to guess as well. Ready?
OK, this city is not large, but it’s not tiny, either. It’s well-known within its larger metropolitan area for its ethnic diversity, liberal politics and funky charm. It has a vibrant farmers market and a disproportionate number of people with Obama bumper stickers, not to mention people our age who still gather at the local gazebo to play drums on a drizzly Thursday evening, as seen below. There are great local restaurants and a lively music scene. Because of its many charms, it faces both the benefits and challenges of gentrification. Oh, and one more thing … Champa and I lived here for many years.
North Carolina readers: The answer is Durham, right? Well, in most respects, yes. But today I’m describing our former home, Takoma Park, Maryland, where we arrived yesterday on the first leg of our journey. Along the way, we stopped at the National Air and Space Museum center near Dulles Airport.
It’s fun to be back. Today we’ll be spending the day at the National Portrait Gallery and other sites in downtown Washington. Tonight we will probably go out to dinner, perhaps at Takoma Park’s latest hot spot, Republic. It takes its name ironically from “People’s Republic of Takoma Park.” As we might say in Durham: Power to the people, y’all.
Suitcases are now strewn across our bedroom as we get ready to load up our car for our big road trip, which starts tomorrow morning. I find myself thinking back to the last time I set off on a major road trip, in 1975. I had just graduated from college and left to backpack around the world with my friend, Mitch. (We’ll be visiting him in Portland in a few weeks.) He and I traveled for seven months across Asia, Africa and Europe. We visited Belgium, France, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Egypt and Italy. The entire trip cost $2,100 each, airfares included. Along the way, we traversed the Khyber Pass, hiked the Himalayas, were arrested by Idi Amin’s goons in Uganda and had too many adventures to count.
That trip changed my life, making me more self-confident and curious about the world. A year after we returned, I joined the Peace Corps in Nepal, which also proved transformative, and not only because I met Champa. Travel showed me the possibilities life offers, which our daily routines tend to obscure.
Mitch and I traveled with only backpacks. Tomorrow, Champa and I set off in a Ford Fusion crammed with clothes, gifts, brochures and snacks. I know she and I won’t see those two Afghan boys who sold me a pair of colorful woolen socks on the streets of Kabul in 1975. But I’m confident something else is waiting to make us see differently.
Champa and I have had a wonderful life, filled with family, friends and colleagues we treasure. We wouldn’t trade any of it. But after more than 35 years of working 9 to 5 — actually, often more than that — we’ve decided to make a change. This past Tuesday, I stepped down from my position at Duke University, where I served as the head of news and communications for nearly 14 years. (The photo was taken at the farewell party they held for us. I don’t expect to be wearing a tie again anytime soon.)
In three days, we’re heading off on a two-month trip across the United States. We’ll be driving across the top of the country, to Seattle, then down the Pacific Coast to San Diego. From there, we’ll drive east across the bottom of the country, through Texas, eventually working our way back to Durham. After a brief break, we’ll depart for another two months, this time to Nepal, where we met back in 1977. And after that … well, who knows? We’re taking these trips to help us figure out the answer.
We invite you to make the journey with us. Are you ready? We are.