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27 November 2016

Road Trip

I'm back (actually, have been back since Wednesday night) from a trip to Wisconsin.  I've been living out of my backpack since late August, with most of that time being spent in Florida and Georgia. Seeing as it's almost December, and now that I'm far enough north again that winter actually means colder air, it was time to head north to get some warmer (and the rest of my) clothes. I also needed some computer related stuff-- extra monitors, my backup laptop, network gear, etc to set up some things. I can do a lot with just a laptop, but at a certain point it becomes more work than making do is worth. Finally, I needed to get a title and registration and plates for my new truck, and since I don't know if I'm staying in Georgia I decided to do all of that in Wisconsin where I technically still live.

So, 940 miles up, 15 minutes at the DMV (which is pretty impressive) to get my new title and registration and plates, 30 minutes at Wal-Mart getting a license plate holder and some tie wraps to secure my new front plate to the grille of my truck and replace the plate on the back. A night's sleep in one of the motels down the street from my first ever apartment in Madison, then up at zero dark early and back on the road again, southbound.  Another 940 miles and a whole lot of coffee later, back to Georgia.

I didn't tell anyone I was going to be in town, and in fact didn't even go anywhere near downtown (where I used to live) or campus (where I used to work). I had enough reasons for leaving that I had no reason to want to go back to visit, which felt really strange. Going back to Wisconsin after I'd moved away the first time was always going home, in the Motley Crue "Home Sweet Home" sense. Now, Wisconsin is still where I'm from but it's just another place. I didn't really want to be there, but that's where my stuff was/is.

I wasn't sure, given the age of my truck (it's old enough to vote), if I'd even make it all the way up to Wisconsin and back without some kind of problems. It was involved in a front end collision at some point in the past, and so I had to J-B Weld the front grille back together and reattach it with the aid of a handful of tie wraps. The GA license plate was outwardly valid until January 2017, but if the plate number had been run I'd have been in trouble because it belonged to the previous owner who had canceled it a few months ago.  So I had some concerns, which faded away as the miles did. My truck and I are now inseparable friends.

There are still a couple of decals on the back of the truck from the previous owner-- a logo from an NFL team that isn't the Packers, so that has to go, and a university sticker from some college that I didn't attend so that has to go too. In the past, I'd already have a Packers decal on the back from the trip to Wisconsin. I've been hesitant to put one on.

Wisconsin (and probably other places, too) is really two places-- there's Wisconsin proper, which is the real Wisconsin when you live in the state. Then there's the other one, the Wisconsin that you choose to see when you live somewhere else. This other Wisconsin is cheese, brats, beer, the Packers, the Badgers, and whatever else you miss about the state. It's the image you keep in your mind, and it's the image you project when you're somewhere else. It's a lot like the scene in a snow globe, always there and always the same.

In the military everyone is from somewhere, and where you are from matters because it helps give you an identity when everything else is green and two-tone brown. I was (I am) Opus from Wisconsin. You can always go back home, and in fact you always have a list in your mind of all the things you'll do when you get there. Someday you'll be a civilian again and return 'home' a much better person than the crazy or frightened or broke (or all of the above) kid who ran off and joined the Air Force all those years ago.

That my truck has Wisconsin plates might imply that I'm not from Georgia, if anyone's really paying attention. Where I am in Georgia is certainly "the country", although it's close enough that I just say "Atlanta" unless I'm talking to someone that's familiar with north Georgia. I don't think anyone's paying that much attention when I drive down the road I presently live on, or down the highways that connect places here. Maybe, if someone's really bored, they'll see my plates and just for a moment think "huh, he's a long way from home". If they're really bored, or as hyper vigilant as I usually am, they'll wonder what someone from Wisconsin is doing stopping for snacks at a country store in BFE Georgia on Sunday night.  As an issue, it's never really come up. If anything, my accent gives me away when I talk much more than the plates on my truck.

There are a lot of good things about being from Wisconsin. I'm still hesitant to advertise it. It's hard because the past seventeen years (!) I spent in the state weren't all the easiest. A lot of really bad shit happened to me in the state, and while logistically it's easier for me right now to still be a resident I'm not so sure I want to be proud of the state where I was a homeless veteran. That "other Wisconsin", the one in the snow globe, is just a mirage now. As much as I'd like to see that state when I look at a Green Bay Packers sticker on the back of my truck, it's just not real.

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That I was able to make such a trip at all was because I have a truck now, which means a lot. I haven't had a vehicle of my own since 2012 (!), and while I didn't really need one in Madison I do need one to get anywhere here. It matters that I was able to pay cash for my truck, that I own it and don't have a payment to make every month-- I'm not beholden to anyone. It's a Truck, meaning there's room in it to Haul Shit. Having a Truck and being able to Haul Shit helps bring a certain sense of normalcy to my life that I haven't had for quite a while.


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Some of the stuff I brought down from my storage unit was stuff I haven't seen since I packed it up in the summer of 2012, when I was being evicted from my apartment in Madison. So it matters a lot too, to have those things again.

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I've been back and forth about including this last section; but in terms of sorting out where I'm at vs where I'm from, it matters.

Up until the election, I kept an eye on Facebook just to see what people in Wisconsin that I knew were doing. It was, perhaps, a virtual link to that "other Wisconsin". A lot of people that I know that are either from Wisconsin, or attended UW (or both) said a lot of shit when Trump was elected. To even imply an ounce of support for Trump (or an ounce of non-support for Clinton) is enough to be called a racist or a bigot or worse. 

There's not much else to say about the election that hasn't been said by someone already, so I'll just say this: I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone a few days after the election. I haven't missed it. It doesn't help my PTSD to see people standing around a fire taking turns throwing Molotov cocktails into the flames. So I walked away, even from that link to the "other Wisconsin" (which is a mirage anyway, but it'd be nice if it existed).

Avoidance? Certainly. Justified? I believe so. I'm not going to go (more) crazy just because other people do.

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