Throughout our meal at the Himalayan Grill, the new CEO, Scott, was unable to wrap his head around my logic. He would clasp his head in his hands, be silent for a few moments, and then repeat the same exasperated questions.
“You’re moving into your VAN? You’re quitting your job to MOVE INTO A VAN?”
Throughout the conversation he had other win-win ideas that seemed more logical.
“Here’s what you should do,” he said, as if he had finally solved the problem. “You want to drive your van around the world, right? And it’s a hunk of garbage on wheels, right? Right. So look, just go home. When you get there, completely disassemble your van, what do you call it? Nacho? Disassemble Nacho down to the last nut and bolt and spread it out on the floor of your garage, right? Then reassemble it all. That should be very frustrating, and it will take care of your dreams of mechanical conquest. Next, take three months off, buy a bunch of plane tickets, and fly to every place in the world that you ever wanted to visit. Then come back and get back to work. Right? Can you do that instead?”
As Scott went through his suggestions, interspersed with clasping his head in his hands and laughing hysterically, I could see the former CEO, Dixon, sitting back, not saying much, with a hint of a smile on his face. Something was going on in there. Finally, right after he suggested that I see a shrink, Scott sat back in his chair and threw his hands up and said, “What do you think, Dixon? You’ve been awful quiet!”
At this, Dixon leaned forward, his gray mustache curved into a comforting smile. He looked at Scott, and then he looked at me.
“I get it,” he said. “I think he should go.” He leaned back, smiling, and then continued. “When I was about your age I wanted to travel, too. Of course we didn’t have the money, so I got together with some friends and we wrote a proposal to Volkswagen. We told them that we wanted to drive a VW van down to Central America and back, and we wanted to film our trip for a VW commercial.” Scott squinted disbelievingly at Dixon, his mouth slightly agape. “Volkswagen liked the idea, so they gave us a VW bus and a video camera and some money. For six months we drove around having the time of our lives, and when we got back we sent our film to Volkswagen, and they turned it into a commercial. So I get it. Life is short. When you get back you’ll have no trouble picking up right where you left off. Go out there and have the experience of a lifetime while you’re still able.”
When faced with tough decisions, I often ask myself which path will least likely result in me looking like a dumbass, my arrest, or my early death. After passing that initial screen, I get to the second level of decision making, which involves me imagining what other people with more sense, and who have achieved a higher level of success, would do in my situation. Sometimes I think about my friend Jay Baer. Other times I think about Dixon.
“What would Dixon do?” Usually this gets me on the right track. He’s risen through the ranks to become CEO of a division of Ford Motor Company, and of Scott Paper Company, among others, and he’s the one who hired me to the job that I would quit to embark on this trip. And that’s exactly what Dixon would have done.
The speed limit was 25 miles per hour, but we sailed through the rain at double that, hugging the shore of Damariscotta Lake on a winding road through the forest in Maine. We were late, owing to Sheena having been unable to pry herself away from a roadside antique shop selling all manner of shiny frippery and books whose smell can only be described as historical. We rounded a bend and skittered onto a dirt road leading to the water’s edge, which we could hardly make out in the downpour. Two figures approached us wearing heavy duty fisherman’s rain suits. One approached my window and looked out from under his hood and I could see that gray mustache.
“Dixon! It’s been a long time!”
“It sure has! So this is Nacho, huh? Park this thing and follow me to the boat. Meet my son, Alec.” We followed the two of them out of the trees to where a small motorboat waited. Once we were aboard Alec fired up the engine and we set off into the driving rain and waves toward Dixon’s island.
I had long known that Dixon owned an island, but never knew much beyond that. People at work would mention it from time to time and it gave him an air of James Bondian enigma. He worked hard and traveled often, always smiling and beaming confidence and positivity, meeting with investors and business partners and trying to crack new markets for our company. And then, when the Energizers finally needed a recharge, he would disappear for a few days to his island, reemerging later at full tilt, all smiles and forward momentum.
Our first two nights in America had been spent in Walmart parking lots, which had only compounded our reverse culture shock, causing us to question how advanced our home country really was and to ask why, exactly, we had voluntarily returned. We soon learned our lesson and began wandering off down logging roads to camp in the woods. Our plan was to drop by Dixon’s place for dinner, and then be on our way. The rain began to let up and Alec swung the boat around in a well-practiced arc as we reached the dock.
The island was roughly four acres, flat, and a near perfect circle. From any point on the island one could see the end of the trees and the water emanating outward. A campfire ring and some walking trails provided the only evidence of man’s existence on the island, with the notable exception of two cozy wooden cabins at its center.
“The one on the right is our place, and you two get to stay in the Ritz. That’s what we call the guest cabin. Stay as long as you want, but in a couple of months you won’t want to be anywhere near Maine!”
Inside the Ritz was comfortable and tastefully decorated with views of the lake from the three windowed sides of the cabin. A pillow with our initials embroidered on it had been placed at the head of the bed. A nice touch, we thought. We had only planned to stay for dinner, but could we really pass up an offer to stay in our own cabin on a private island? One with our very own monogrammed pillows? I considered what Jay Baer would do, then I considered what Dixon would do. It was unanimous. Just one night would be okay. That night after dinner we crawled between clean sheets into a comfortable bed, a fresh breeze flowing through an open window, and fell asleep to the sound of singing frogs and lightly lapping waves.
One night turned into two and then three, and each day we felt less urgency to move on. Alec and I would take the boat out to go fishing, and then the five of us—Dixon, his wife Gail, Alec, Sheena and I—made trips back to the shore to explore the quaint village of Damariscotta, or to visit the summer camp where Dixon had gone as a kid. We took ourselves on a margarita cruise, and prepared paella over the campfire for guests and drank sangria. We contemplated Dixon’s half-joking offer to stay until the lake froze over and we could walk back to Nacho.
On the morning of our third day I decided to dust off a kayak that was kept under the Ritz and go out for my own fishing excursion. I grabbed a fishing pole and dragged the boat to the water’s edge, and then pushed off. Once clear of the land I made a short cast, and then continued out across the lake en route to a hidden cove, trolling a lure behind me. Just as I reached the middle of the channel between the island and the hidden cove, I was surprised to see a Game and Fish warden way out here in the middle of nowhere pull up beside me in his motor boat.
“Good morning, sir. Please hold onto the side of my watercraft.”
“Oh, hello, and good morning to you!” Perhaps I’ve grown naïve with so much time away from American soil, but it didn’t occur to me that anything was amiss. I just figured the guy was bored and needed someone to talk to. I gripped the side of his boat and smiled up at him.
“Where have you come from today, sir?” he asked. I pointed to the island a few hundred yards away.
“From that island,” I said.
“And to whom is this watercraft registered?”
“I don’t know, probably the guy who lives on the island.” I thought back to all of the homemade floating crafts I’d seen while driving around the world, and it seemed a bit absurd to require the registration of a simple kayak.
“Is that right? And do you know the individual that lives on that island?”
“Do you have a fishing pole on board with you, sir?” I looked down at the fishing pole sitting right next to me in plain sight.
“Yes, I do.”
“I know, I saw you cast back there. So you’re fishing and you have a pole on board, we’ve established that, because I just saw you cast and you just admitted to having a pole on board this watercraft.” At this point it occurred to me that some people have a rather socially retarded way of communicating with other people.
“Yes, it has been admitted and witnessed that there is indeed a fishing pole in use aboard this watercraft, sir,” I said.
“And do you have a fishing license in the state of Maine, sir?”
I finally saw where he was going with this. My mind jumped into action. What would Jay Baer do!? No response. What would Dixon do!? Again, no response. I imagined that neither Jay nor Dixon would have gotten themselves into this mess to begin with.
“No, I don’t. It just hadn’t occurred to me that I needed one I suppose.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Arizona.”
“And in Arizona, are you required to have a fishing license to operate a fishing pole?” I scoured my memory, and then responded.
“Yes, I believe it is.”
“Then why didn’t it occur to you that you should have a fishing license in the state of Maine?”
“Because I haven’t been to Arizona in a long time. I’ve been living mostly in South America and Asia. I just forgot.”
“Well do they require fishing licenses in South America and Asia?” he said, sarcastically.
“Not in most places. People there fish to survive, and charging someone to fish for survival would be unthinkable.”
“Interesting. Well here in the state of Maine we mostly fish for sport, and for that we require a fishing license. I’m going to have to write you up for that. Now tell me, do you have a life jacket aboard this watercraft?” I wished he would just call it a kayak. I looked around and didn’t see anything I could convincingly call a life jacket.
“No, there doesn’t appear to be a life jacket aboard my watercraft.”
“Well sir, it is required by law in Maine that all watercraft have a certified life jacket on board. What do you think would happen if this watercraft were to capsize?”
“I think I would just swim back to shore. Or maybe I would try to roll the kayak back over and get back on it. I guess I’d have to see how it all played out and make a decision when the time came.”
“So you’re a pretty strong swimmer, eh? You think you could survive a rollover in this watercraft?”
“I guess so. I mean, I surf without a life jacket, and that usually involves me getting repeatedly pummeled by giant ocean waves. I guess if I can survive that, I could probably survive a rollover in this watercraft.”
He stared at me for a minute, not speaking. I imagined that he must be admiring me for what I certainly described as superhuman water survival skills.
“Look, I’m going to write you up for the fishing infraction, but I’m just going to give you a warning for the life jacket infraction. The fishing penalty will be one hundred and forty dollars. Now, do you need a ride back to that island?”
“No, I think I’ll manage.”
“All right, well I’m going to wait here and watch you until you’ve reached the island just in case your watercraft capsizes.”
He wrote me the ticket, which I put in my pocket. I thanked him for correcting my bad behavior, and then began paddling back to shore.
“Sir!” he shouted after me, “please reel in your line!” he slowly shook his head, mimicking the reeling in of my line. As I paddled myself back to the island under the supervision of the fish warden, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten just how rule-driven life is here. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with a strict adherence to law and order, we just haven’t been exposed to it for a while.
That evening we all sat around in the living room of the main cabin chatting, Sheena and I having decided to finally leave in the morning. Alec, a prodigious photographer, swiped through photos on his tablet that he’d taken at a recent horse race. After a while the conversation turned to Nacho.
“Doesn’t uncle Sam have a van like Nacho?,” Alec asked, referring to Dixon’s brother. Dixon thought so, so Alec pulled up his uncle’s Facebook page and verified that in fact Sam did have a Vanagon.
“You should ask him if he’s ever heard of Drive Nacho Drive,” I said. The Volkswagen community is pretty tight knit, and most people with the patience to keep these old vans on the road are in some way involved in the community. He sent Sam a text, which Sam quickly returned.
Of course I know those guys, I’ve been following their blog for years!
At this, Dixon’s eyes lit up. “Give me your phone, Alec!” he said, and quickly dialed Sam’s number.
“Brother Sam, you’ll never guess who’s sitting right across from me out here on the island…it’s Brad and Sheena from Drive Nacho Drive…Yes, I’m serious…No, why would I make this up?” He held the phone out and handed it to me. “Brad, Sam wants to talk to you.”
“Hi, this is Brad.”
“Yeah right! How can you prove to me that you’re really Brad? Tell me something that only you would know.”
I thought about it for a minute, as nobody had ever requested this of me before.
“Um, our transmission failed in Colombia.”
“Oh come on, everyone knows that! You could have gotten that from reading the blog!”
“I don’t know. I promise it’s me. Can you hear Sheena squealing here in the background?” Sheena squealed a hello. After a while he was adequately convinced that I was me, and I promised to stop by for a visit when we rolled through the Seattle area. I handed the phone back to Dixon.
“You guys just scored me some major cool points with my brother! He told me he couldn’t believe that I know real people!”
In the morning we loaded our things on the boat and crossed Damariscotta Lake to the dirt pullout where Nacho was parked, said our goodbyes, and snapped a photo to send to Brother Sam. As we drove off I looked back and saw Dixon waving, his gray mustache curved up in a comforting smile.