Dennis on the Road

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

hmmm... would you stay with this man?

One of the joys of travel is being welcomed into other people’s spaces. Although fitting into someone else’s schedule and moiré is a bit awkward with even the most gracious host, having the door opened to one’s home also opens a figurative door to all that home represents: shelter, respite, comfort, centeredness, family.

I’m currently staying at my dad’s new place. As I write this, I’m on the deck, looking through the pine trees, past the cattails dancing in the wind, to the ripples turning the lake into an impressionist painting. I’m savoring this chance to enrich my relationship with my dad.

Many others have given me a home away from home on this trip. The Nevada dessert was my first host. The land there is nearly as vast as the infinite blanket of stars. My next host was my dear friend L’Tanya and the entire extended family at Eagle Rock School. She made a marinade so delicious I can still conjure up the memory in taste buds.

Two days after leaving Eagle Rock, I rolled into Milwaukee. For the third time, I was welcomed in by Douglass (pictured above). Five years ago, the first time I stayed with him, he was a stranger, now I consider him amongst my closest friends. Douglass is a great guy. Easy going, fun to be around, and driven to achieve whatever goals he takes on. He is a fireman with three college degrees. He bought a house and is gutting it to the skeleton and rebuilding it nearly single-handedly. And he is a hell of a lot of fun!

I caught up with my friend Andy for a night while swinging through Chicago. There is never a dull momment with this guy. He kept me well fed when he worked at Zingerman's back when we were at U of M. Since then we've rarely been on the same continent, but when paths have crossed, whether for a speedy bike ride through urban Chicago or his drunken translation of Serge Gainsburg lyrics atop a chair in my Oakland kitchen, we have had a great time.

Each time I come back to Grand Rapids, my home base is my brother Tom’s house. This trip I had less than a day with him and his wife Janel before driving them off to the airport for a trip to Peru. The quantity of time was short, but the quality was great.

As I look ahead to my trip South in September, I know I’ll continue to be welcomed into homes. I can’t wait to reunite with my “family” in Caracas. I met Rafael and his family through the Hospitality Club, an on-line program that connects hosts and travelers. With the first greeting at the beginning of my short vacation to Venezuela this winter, friendships were built. The warmth of that family and the fun times we experienced are the primary influence of my decision to return for a greater immersion. I have already contacted and heard back from a few Hospitality Club members in Trinidad & Tobago.

Being on the other end of hosting is also a joy. Through Servas and Hospitality Club, plus friends and family, I’ve welcomed over 100 people into my home over the years. (Living in the Bay Area insures that one will often get visitors.)

Thinking about Douglass, L’Tanya, and the Leon family, I realize that there is a common feeling of kinship that I have with all of them. I call Douglass and Rafael “brother” and L’Tanya “sister” words I rarely use when speaking of folks that are not related. They have opened not only their homes, but also their hearts.


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