Her nametag read “Karen,” and she was our cashier at a Wal-Mart in a medium-sized city in central California.
The Man and I had popped into Wal-Mart to get a few supplies before we headed back up the mountain. The Man had a 12-pack of socks and a comb, and I had a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of bleach. We usually go through the self-check line, but that morning I wanted my cash back partially in ones so I could feed the water dispensing machine. I knew the self-checkout machines would only spit out twenties, so I needed to deal with a human to get the bills I wanted.
Karen had completely white hair styled in a way that seemed old-fashiond even for a woman I presumed to be about 70 years old. She asked me if we needed to buy a bag, and I said no, we’d just carry our purchases out in our arms.
We’re not from California, I told her, so we forget to bring in our own bags.
(In much of California, stores no longer provide flimsy plastic bags for free. Shoppers can bring in their own bags or purchase paper bags or slightly more sturdy plastic bags at the register.)
You’re lucky you’re not from California! Karen exclaimed.
I told her we worked in the National Forest, and I must have told her we traveled too, because she asked me What’s your favorite place? I told her I’d just been to Moab (she looked confused, so I added Utah) and I’d liked it very much, and I said I really like Taos, NM too.
What’s your favorite place? I asked her.
She’d never been out of California, she told me.
Well, what’s your favorite place in California? I asked.
Home, she replied with a laugh.
Where would you like to go? I persisted.
I’m 82 years old, she said, much to my surprise. I thought she was a dozen years younger. I’m scared to go anywhere, she told me.
I’m always shocked when I meet people who’ve never ventured even into a neighboring state. I suppose California is big enough to satisfy a lifetime of wanderlust, but I wonder if Karen traveled even the state of her birth. I just hope she was content to stay at home instead of being held there by fear.
In my youth I wondered about my home state (Indiana) and ventured to near by states (Kentucky and Ohio, Michigan). In my late to middle ages I find it difficult to drive over fifty miles from home.
My friends and family encourage me to venture out and wonder around. I just need to do it.
Well, Dave, maybe you could explore everything up to 50 miles from home. Then if you enjoy that, you could venture a little farther. If you want to go longer distances but only want to drive 50 miles at a time, you could do things that way too. And if you go 50 miles from home and decide you hate traveling, that’s ok too. People like different things. Some people don’t like to travel, and that’s ok. What makes me sad is when people don’t have/take the chance to find out if they do want to explore.
It does sound like you did some traveling in your younger days, so at least now you are making an informed decision if you decide you’d just rather stay home.