Way back in March of 2017, I totaled my sweet little Kia Soul — Aretha Franklin. At just over fifty-thousand miles, she was only halfway through her warranty, one of two major deciding factors in her purchase. The other, and biggest, push to buy was found in the pages of the brochure — a glossy image of a young guy camping out of the back of his car. The trunk was open and he was curled up with blankets, seats folded flat, looking out with a soft smile at a crisp, cerulean ocean view. For the briefest of nanoseconds my heart stopped. This is where I want to be.
Three days later I was the proud owner of a brand new black 2013 Kia Soul — the three miles on her were put there by my test drive. And for almost five years, we learned how to nomad together as she saw me through one of my deepest transformation periods yet!
And then she gave her life to save mine.
We started out together trying to climb the corporate retail management ladder. She waited patiently in the parking lot while I learned how to properly utilize my own power, delegate tasks, and lead with a strength and kindness that wouldn’t be screwed over. I remember feeling the itch to travel, fantasizing in the luggage department doing markdowns. I was good in retail, the higher-ups always told me, but just the thought of that life made me nauseous — everyday before work I needed a handful of tums.
So I quit. My first job out of college — pre-Aretha, pre-retail — was as a babysitter for some super cool kids from Iowa who ended up moving back to their home state. I had really enjoyed the work and as so quickly found myself a new family to work for, settling nicely into my new role as Nanny Poppins. For awhile, I was fulfilled. My Kia was racking up miles shuffling grade schoolers all over the county to various extra curricular activities; chess on Mondays; Spanish and piano on Tuesdays; on Wednesdays, one kid had horseback riding lessons on this side of town while her sister had her lyrical dance composition class on that side of town; Thursdays were Chinese classes and tennis lessons and every Friday was a potpourri of various instruction for the growth and betterment of a young mind.
The second graders started to crack under the pressure, and so did their nanny. I had experienced a large number of sudden deaths, many surprising, all at once in my very large and very Italian family. My mom’s chronic pain condition worsened. My own health suffered a very personal blow I had trouble accepting. I couldn’t get into grad school and was losing faith in my ability to be a writer, to be my true self out loud, to chase down my dreams! My light started to burn out after countless hits landed squarely on my jaw.
It was at this crucial moment, I discovered The Florida Keys — my poetic heart has never been the same.
The bright, turquoise waters. The crisp, salty breeze whipping between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The freshest seafood. Unique beaches and parks and a main highway that stretched for miles upon miles over the water. A baby shark once swam up to me as I was wading in some shallow pools. A ray jumped out of the water to celebrate a toast with my friends and I the night we discovered my favorite camp spot. I met a psychic with a lazy eye who got me set off on my own card journey. The Keys filled me with such magic and power that I caught myself wishing — one night, in a hammock, under the Perseid meteor shower — that I didn’t have my perfect job or my perfect apartment or any of the perfect roots I worked so tirelessly for. All they did was keep me tied down when my Soul ached to be on the road.
Well, Oddballs. We all know what happens when we wish upon shooting stars. Three days later, I was let go. So Poppins and her Umbrella (Miss Aretha Franklin the Kia Soul) packed up and tried to become nomadic.
My first attempts were thwarted by my fears. Not of failure but of succeeding — of the mass of responsibility that comes with achievement. With perfect timing, along came a charming man to exploit this fear. He got under my skin the way charming men do, effectively distracting me from my goals. He, too, had dreams of the gypsy life (albeit in a fifty-five foot yacht and not a Kia Soul) and the part of myself that felt lacking thought it might be easier to wait for this relationship to bloom rather than try to accomplish it myself. This way the responsibilities that came would be his, all I would have to do was be the obedient housewife and/or sex slave.
While I waited for my plan to unfold, I found a job working in a kitchen and made some friends who taught me how to freestyle rap. I was reminded of my love for wordplay and my fire was reignited in a flash! They also got me reacquainted with my spiritual side. Magic, too! I got weirdly close with these guys, embedding them into my life completely — Aretha spent most of her time parked in front of their house while I worked for free as their practically-live-in-nanny and wrote lyrics that went nowhere before they unceremoniously disappeared from my world.
Just when I finally felt ready to roll, Mister Not-So-Charming-After-All came back around, his practical, logical approach to life prompting him to keep me from my dreams of living free in my box-on-wheels. He tried tirelessly to convince me that I would be a failure at life without his guidance, my desire to be essentially homeless was evidence of it! He pressured me to reclaim all that I previously decided I didn’t want like my apartment or my “normal” career path — all those roots I’d worked so hard to chop away!
I was never keen on authority. I wasn’t one to obey a husband and keep house. No, I was wild. I had always been rootless and a tiger won’t change her stripes, will she?
And that’s when tragedy struck. In one horrendous crunch, my sweet Aretha was totaled. Her engine completely obliterated. I was devastated but got up and walked away from her smoldering wreckage with no more than some misaligned ribs. I am so grateful Aretha gave her life for mine, ushering me safely to the other side of transformation into the nomad life.
I got a new car — a sporty little Honda Fit named Pearl. Her seats fold nice and flat, just like Aretha’s. I even officially ditched the traditional 9-5 once-and-for-all to opt for a slew of freelance gigs that make me feel incredibly happy, fulfilled, and utilize all my strengths and skills. I’m ready to go full nomad.
And motivated, too! On September 10th, 2017 category four Hurricane Irma smashed through my home state and devastated my precious Keys. Many of the islands in this archipelago were completely under water or reduced to rubble, and the entire community will need to rebuild. But The Florida Keys — like myself — are resilient. Their close connection to the sea and the natural world around them means they have the right attitude to bounce back. But they have a long road ahead — how can I not give back to the string of islands that have given me so much?
Pearl and I know just what to do.
And this time, I won’t be swayed by romance or fear because next time I might not be so lucky — mother nature doesn’t care that humanity is here and all that we love can be taken away in a blink. Do I really want to deny my heart’s desire? No! I am only in this specific lifetime right now — why waste it?
(I kicked off the nomadventure with best friends on a road trip to New York while Queen Oddball tasted my shoulder in the bottom left corner.)
So come along with me as I get the Mermaid Mobile 2.0 up and running. I’ll take you through every step — every success and misstep, every peak and valley. I’ll have crafts, product reviews, lists, tips and tricks, and tales from the great open road. I’ll tackle some nomad noshes, the do’s and don’ts of stealth camping, and round up a collection of super cool spots to call home for a night.
Ready to jump in?
Good. Then, let’s go!