This past Friday was Simon Bolivar’s birthday. In case you don’t know, Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader who was critical to establishing Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and a couple of other Central and South American countries no one in the United States cares about as independent of Spanish rule. He's the Southern Hemisphere's equivalent of George Washington. La Libertador! I read a biography about Simon Bolivar when we were in Ecuador in 2008 and when I came back to work I put an annual reminder for his birthday on Outlook. June 24, 1783. I don’t know exactly why I did this – I haven’t done it for any of the Kardashians or U.S. Presidents. Washington and Lincoln have that day in February, but it’s not their birthday and I don't know when their real birthdays are; I think that Federal holiday is designated mostly so department stores can have sales to boost corporate profits.
This year when that Outlook reminder popped up reminding me that it was Bolivar's two-hundredth and thirty-second birthday, which also believe it or not by some coincidence happened to be my last day at work for the year before we drive through Mexico and the Americas, I used it as an opportunity to get a little bit nostalgic for our time spent in Quito when I knew that if I needed shoelaces I could buy them from the woman in the plaza.
I also used it as an opportunity to think a little taller. See, Bolivar was inspired from a young age towards liberation of Latin America from Spanish rule and not only did he nail it, but he managed to get a country named after him. (Hint: it's not Simonia.)
Other than an early fascination with the Hells’ Angels, which I eventually ruled out as a career option because I didn’t own a motorcycle and couldn’t stomp on someone’s face with a jackboot, and a desire which I can't seem to shake to abuse my knee joints and back alignment by hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail, my life aspirations have been fairly traditional: job, marriage, mortgage, kids. Satisfied in that order.
I don’t know whether my vision of life inside a white picket fence sprung from the stable and loving home life provided by my parents, from watching countless re-runs of the domestic bliss embodied by The Munsters, or just from a lack of imagination. But that was the path I was on and I probably would have been very happy in living it, or at least in my ignorance of the chance I had to live some other way, but for that ingredient which has showed up at all the important junctions in my life – dumb luck.
I think I've already introduced you all to R, my wife. She's behind all of this with little resistance from me. So, let's just accept that I was lucky that she called my name and I was smart enough to call her back and that we got married and had two children (daughter, Coconut; son, formerly Rooster but heretofore referred to as J), and that we purchased an affordable house, and leave work at 5 each night, and aren't hooked on caffeine or cable TV, and have saddle bags on our bicycle so we can grocery shop and borrow books and movies from the library, and that we decided that an overland trip to South America was about the best thing that we could do right now when Coconut was 12 and J was just about to be ten.
Without getting into why the doctor thinks it's crazy how we got here, I want to give myself a little bit of credit because I think I may have been leading you all to believe that I am an unwilling passenger in all of this. No Siree Bob! I was actually looking for a smart, good-looking girl with her own wok and holes in her Birks to lead me to this point in our "Admirable Campaign" - sitting on sagging IKEA Henriksdal dining chairs for the last six years because we needed to put the $480 that we could spend on new chairs and better back support into this trip. And now we are on the verge of turning the wheel south on a trip around the world.
I wonder what Coconut and J think about life right now. Before we stuff them in an aluminum box and drive off. They haven't told me, in spite of my threats to perform Flashdance on the school playground if they don't. Do they want what we've given them so far - a rainbow ice cream treat of a palace? Or would they care to make different plans? Because whatever itch R and I are scratching from realizing whatever it is we've been hoping to realize over the last bunch of years, this is when Coconut and J may get swallowed whole.
They've already been bit - Coconut is twelve and has been on four continents and spent time in over ten U.S States and paints her nails black. Think she's going to do what everyone else wants her to do? Opening her eyes to the world in this way may buy her a lifetime passport. J has starred in a very informative and entertaining documentary on the hot water spouts of Iceland and likes to lie face up on a mattress placed directly under darts stuck into an asbestos tile ceiling and turn out of the way of the falling dart at the last second (well, not yet really, but I can see him doing this in college.) Basically, he's up for anything, and he may realize on this trip that anything is possible.
It's like this: are Coconut and J going to be happier knowing that they scored in the 90th percentile in standardized testing, or that the oil pan wasn't cracked after Pop took the tope, which is Spanish for giant Mexican speed bump, too fast? It's like this: maybe the captives didn't think they had it so bad until El Libertador rode to town. And this time, he's embarking on his Admirable Campaign hand-in-hand with La Libertadora!