Man Without Purpose

Hello there, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Erik. While we’re sitting here together, I might as well tell you how I got to be in this situation.

I was born of a mother and father that were your standard type A personalities. They were constantly competing to be the best, and it framed their worldviews. I, by my nature, am not an over-achiever, but would rather be more like a cottonwood seed on the wind. The problem with that is my nurture. My parents instilled a competitive and achievement-oriented mindset in me from a very early age. If I made low marks on, say, a test in math, mum would hire a tutor until I made top marks. When I got poor marks in physical education, I was taken to see a personal trainer in the local fitness center. Music? Yep, there were lessons.   The type A personalities had made my parents well off, made me the valedictorian of my class in high school, and made me a miserable prick of a young man.

On the bright side of that debacle, I went to Yale on a full scholarship as part of the rowing team. I didn’t know anyone there, and have never been much for parties, so I ended up making high marks. I was there for my full five years of competitive eligibility, winning the national title twice, and in my fifth year I was conferred with a Master of the Arts in the History of Science and Medicine. Earning the highest marks in both undergraduate and graduate courses was nearly impossible at an Ivy League school, but I felt guilty not trying.

I’ve been out of Yale for fifteen years now, and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I was working for the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company as a personal assistant at his house in the Hamptons during the summers while at Yale. When I graduated, I took a consulting position with a competing pharmaceutical company. I did well for myself, but hated myself for letting money make me a turncoat. I moved out West to take a promotion, and the slow pace of life over there was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the Northeast.

My favorite color is gray; it’s a neutral tone, not so bright as to be flashy and not so dark as to make me look depressed. I don’t think I’m depressed, some might think I am, but I’m fairly certain that I am not. I just don’t have an ultimate goal in life. My parents taught me to always be the best, to use achievement to bring home the bacon, to put career achievement on a pedestal. I have done that, and found that it did not satisfy my craving for an end goal. Is it to die with the most stuff? Is that the goal of the human condition, to go to the grave with more stuff than anyone else? I’d like to think that it isn’t.

Thirteen years ago, when I moved to the West Coast, I landed in Portland. While I was there, I rapidly became disenchanted with my job. I drove a fancy electric car, had a townhome worth a half million dollars, and a house filled with crap from IKEA and Pier 1. I shopped at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and had a lovely wine rack filled with local organic wines. I stopped drinking Scotch because of the environmental effects of peat harvesting and bought locally made whiskey. I got turned into a yuppie Mephistopheles as it was so eloquently put in the movie Thank You For Smoking. That wasn’t me. It was me trying to find a way to blow my money. It was me trying to fit the mold of a twenty-something in Portland with a salary two digits too big. It was me trying to make myself happy there.

I quit that job and started to live off of my savings about ten or eleven years ago. I also sold all of my ridiculous belongings, my ridiculous car, and my ridiculous house. I figured I could make it for fifteen to twenty years living out of a 1981 Volkswagen Vanagon SL. My earthly belongings all fit neatly between the bed in the back and the driver’s seat. I took out the middle bench seat and the passenger front seat; they were replaced with a small dresser and a locking wooden file cabinet. I’ve never met a woman that was impressed by my home, and thus have been single during this journey to self-satisfaction. I’m trying to be the best ‘me’ by my own standards, but I don’t really have the standards set in stone.

I started out just driving north and south along the Pacific Coast Highway, there are a lot of campgrounds along that route that are reasonably priced. I ended up getting annual passes to all of the Federal recreational lands, it cost me $80 up front, but ends up being the cheapest way to camp since I no longer have to pay to enter those areas. I also have an Oregon State Parks annual pass and a Discovery Pass for Washington. All told, I spend about $240 a year on annual passes and my camping fees run me about $7,500 per year. I eat enough to keep me happy and healthy by my admittedly low standards, spending about $2,700 per year on food and drink. I also have to fuel my little home, and that runs me about $1200 a year on average; I budget for $1,500 a year just in case fuel prices go up. I just go from campground to campground, stopping to resupply on food and fuel, and stay at each campground as long as I’m allowed. On about $12,000 I can do most of my living for the year, and I have an extra $3,000 planned out for entertaining myself.

I buy used books and sell them back at another bookstore for credit toward more used books. I also occasionally will buy some new CD’s to listen to in the dreary winter months along the PCH. September through June are the rainy months along most of that route, and I think it rains just about every day. I like it though, it has a soothing quality, it forces you to sit down with a cup of tea and a book. Not much else to do.

[To Be Continued]

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