It occurs to me – tooling down the highway tends to make things occur to me – that in my current journey, with my dog, across America, mooching off friends and family and, given the opportunity, complete strangers, I am, in ways, taking on the role of dog.
(When things occur to me, there are usually a lot of commas involved.)
Since Ace and I pulled out of Baltimore, two weeks ago, we’ve only spent two nights in motels – thanks to my mother putting me up two nights, and my ex-wife and her husband putting up with me for ten days, a most gracious gesture and an arrangement that barely felt weird at all.
More important, it allowed me to spend some time with my son in his last summer before college, get to know his family dogs, suck in plenty of air conditioning and take part in recreation real and virtual.
We played some Frisbee golf (Wii and real), tennis (real), ping pong (Wii), regular golf (real), made side trips to Memphis, Tupelo and Oxford, and over the weekend gave the dogs baths.
Ace has gotten along famously with both Molly, a two-year-old beagle mix, and Huey, a scruffy little terrier who’s 15, and, on walks, squirts his pee straight sideways, to amazing distances. One must always remember to walk behind Huey.
Ace immediately became part of the pack and adapted to our temporary quarters, but then that’s what dogs are best at, adjusting. I’m not entirely sure he wants to leave. Nevertheless, the time has come to move on.
We’re thinking south, towards New Orleans, but we’re not sure.
In the days ahead we’ll probably be spending more nights in motels, and, once we get to cooler climes, camping – but we still plan to mooch when the offer is made, avoiding motels whenever possible.
(Two good things about friends: They don’t impose weight limits, or require non-refundable security deposits. At least none have yet.)
I’ve gotten a few lodging offers, even a couple from strangers. More often, they are from friends and family – some from people who want to see me so badly, they will tolerate my dog, more yet from people who want to see my dog so badly, they will tolerate me.
Traveling with dogs, though it can be restrictive and inconvenient, can also open doors. My ex and her husband, I’d guess, after 10 days of me sleeping in their den, won’t be too sad to see me go, but they’ll miss Ace. Although she informed me upon arrival that Ace is overweight (correctly, I realized), she then went on to treat him to, among other things, pancakes, bacon, cheesecake, hamburgers and hot dogs.
I’m learning a thing or two from my dog about the fine art of freeloading — not surprising, given dogs are probably society’s ultimate freeloaders.
We feed them, shelter them, teach them, groom them, entertain them and sometimes go to far more ridiculous extremes. They get, pretty much, a free ride.
Unlike your average parasite, though, they give far more back in return — unwavering loyalty, unconditional love, companionship, affection, better health, smiles, laughs, serenity, comfort, exercise and, oh yeah, that sense of purpose and fulfillment that they add to our lives.
Since I’ve hit the road, I’ve been offered shelter, fed meals and found companionship (family variety) – everything a dog gets, except maybe a scratch behind the ears. I, in turn, try to be amusing, refrain from barking, not drool when dinner is served and avoid shedding on the couch.
In reality, I don’t uphold my side of the freeloading bargain as well as dogs do. I’m not quite as loyal and steadfast, as dependable or entertaining, as cute, soothing or stimulating. But I try.
Not wholeheartedly, like a dog – I won’t be licking any hands, for instance — but I try.