“Often it takes some calamity to make us live in the present” – Calvin and Hobbes
Three weeks ago, I woke up in my Brooklyn apartment with floor to ceiling windows, an elevator that opens into the living room, and any type of food or drink you can imagine within a 10-minute walk. Today, I woke up on an air mattress in the back of my Jeep, took a bath in a stream in the middle of the woods, and cooked dinner over a campfire. No, I didn’t lose everything and become homeless due to the coronavirus. I’m doing this by choice.
Let’s take things back to a different time in world history: 6 months ago, in January of 2020. Everyone was going about their lives as normal. You know the old grind: Commute to the office five days a week. Dress for success. Be sure not to leave work right at 5:00. Everyone stays until at least 5:30. Try to fit some workouts into your schedule. Network with colleagues and clients. Listen to popular podcasts on the subway ride in so you can understand what your trendy colleagues are talking about. Maybe read a book or two? Don’t spend too much money so you can save for your future, but also go out and have lots of expensive fun while you’re in your 20’s and you can.
Life in the big city, especially for 20 something-year-olds, is all about the hustle to get ahead. I’m still not quite sure who we’re all trying to get ahead of. Our friends? Our colleagues? The level of economic success that our parents had achieved? Maybe we all have a little bit of “save the world” in us and said that we would start doing things we care about once we were “comfortable” but forgot to define what “comfortable” actually meant. Regardless, I bought into this lifestyle hard. Then a little something you might have heard of, called the coronavirus, changed things for good.
For me, there were three stages of quarantine.
The 3 Stages of Quarantine & How They Affected Me
Stage #1: The quirky, charming, almost vacation-like stage. The shutting down of bars reduced everyone’s credit card bills. White-collar employers finally admitted that we could have been working from home all along. People began tackling long ignored personal projects. Tiger King. We all started to look around at the world we had been living in for so long and re-examining what “normal” meant and whether or not we should change it.
Stage #2: The unemployment stage. Being laid off is something I saw coming from 10 miles away and have no hard feelings about it. In fact, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I started to take my foot off the gas for the first time since college. Instead of constantly asking what I “should” be doing with my time (and then inevitably procrastinating and accomplishing nothing), I did what I wanted to. Redecorate my bedroom. Go for sunrise bike rides around Brooklyn. Listen to new music (Recommendation: Check out blues and roots rock on Spotify). It’s embarrassing to admit, but I don’t know if I really had any hobbies for the majority of my 20’s. I was obsessed with the hustle and grind to the point of delusion…and I really wasn’t even that good at it!
Stage #3: Advanced quarantine. The realization that summer plans would be canceled. Daily press conferences by Governor Cuomo on our increasing numbers of infected and deaths. People making masks by hand for our nurses while supply chains failed them. The ghostly sound of Brooklyn falling dead silent at 9:00 on a Friday. A navy ship normally reserved for foreign nations hit by earthquakes and tsunamis entering the harbor. Eventually, freezer trucks on sidewalks and mass burials in parks. Sorry to kill the mood of Shelby’s happy travel blog. But, this dark stage is necessary to explain “what the hell happened to Matt”. In NYC at that time you knew you were living through a history lesson. I could see future students finding a picture of me with my mask on, waiting in a socially distanced line to get into the bodega during their chapter on the plague of 2020.
Side note: While we’re on the topic of living through a history lesson, I do want to note that I’m not numb to the additional backdrop of civil unrest happening in America right now. I am very aware that my ability to take this type of trip, drifting into and out of towns living in my car, is something that seems cute and quirky as a white man but may elicit a different response from certain members of the public if I were black. So, before I continue on with my privileged story, let’s be clear here. Black lives matter, and go vote in November.
To summarize quarantine:
Stage #1 made me question what “normal” was and why I ever cared.
Stage #2 made me realize that the most responsible thing I could do for myself was to be a more selfish.
Stage #3 made me crave a better story of “what I did in the summer of 2020” than re-watching The Office for the 7th time.
Take those three lessons and combine them with the fact that I had been stuck in a concrete jungle for two and a half months and of course I was about to do something stupid.
Getting Away From That “Work until You Drop” Mindset?
So, what do you do when you need to get away, but have a strong desire to not be that moron from Brooklyn who spreads Covid-19 every place he goes? Well, the last piece needed to explain “what the hell happened to Matt” is the Aimless Travels blog that you’re reading. Shelby and I have known each other since we were teammates on our high school swim team. One day I’m mindlessly browsing Facebook when I see that she’s started a blog and is living the nomad life out west in a converted school bus that looks just as nice as my apartment in Williamsburg! I wasn’t prepared to commit to the nomad life quite as hard as Shelby has, but I was intrigued enough to give it a shot.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is how I ended up living in/out of my Jeep, road tripping down the east coast, camping in national/state parks, sleeping in my Jeep at rest stops with only a loose (and tentative) timeline to get back to reality: A little bit of calamity, a little bit of perspective, a little bit of crazy, and a dash of inspiration from an old friend from high school. While I’m not quite ready to commit to this as a lifestyle the way Shelby and her gang of school bus driving nomad friends have, I also can’t deny that there is a certain permanent change happening to me. I might end up back at a corporate job and living in a “normal” apartment someday. But, I don’t think it will be the same version of me that left Brooklyn three weeks ago.
I’ll be sharing my journey with everyone as I go just in case you’re going the same type of crazy I am and want a little inspiration of your own. In the meantime, stay tuned, stay safe, stay sane(ish).