Nobody Said It Was Easy

By Matt Katz

Photo by Michael Montano

The drive from Ventura to Paso Robles starts after breakfast and ends before lunch. Between coffee and sandwich, there’s a brief parody of a road trip: cruise control barely has a chance to take over and by the time you feel any sense of distance, you’ve arrived. And it’s not all that different once you do. The oaks are a little thicker and garlanded with Spanish moss. Occasional dense fog serves as a reminder that you’ve left the cocoon of the Southern California Bight. But in essence, it feels very much like home.

Yet it was on this same drive, in mid-April, that I last felt like a traveler, the last time I wore a backpack and wandered unfamiliar streets poking my head into any open door that grabbed my attention. The first time in a long while I’ve felt a tinge of that unshackled freedom anyone consumed by wanderlust craves.

I’d broken down 10 miles north of San Luis Obispo. After the initial tizzy—the exasperated calls to my wife and AAA, the pointless inspection under the hood—I found myself carless and aimless in a town I’d driven through myriad times but really didn’t know.

Turns out I like SLO. Not just for the hip little restaurant where I ate alone at the counter, or the craft brewery where I chatted with college kids over a tulip glass of fresh saison. What twisted a disaster into a daytrip was the kindness of the people I encountered: the tow-truck driver who went well beyond the call of duty; the mechanic who not only found a simple solution to my truck’s issue, but returned it to me sparkling clean inside and out.

Strange as it may sound, I truly enjoyed my roadside emergency.

And it got me thinking about this issue’s theme. Our neighbor to the north isn’t a particularly exotic destination, of course. Not for people in Ventura County, anyway. But I’ve had similar experiences in dusty pueblos and tropical villages around the world: breakdowns that led to barbecues, new relationships that sprouted from a can of worms.

We tend to discuss travel in terms of the exotic—of striking differences and cultural oddities. Them and us. But at the end of the road, wherever that road may lead, human similarities tend to outweigh cultural distinctions. People are people wherever you go. And in spite of religious, philosophical, financial, political, and myriad other differences, most people will help others in their time of need.

While this magazine typically focuses on the people of Ventura County, our cover story (page 40) this month showcases some of the people of the world—as seen through the lenses of five local photographers.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively: five of the seven continents so far, enough to know that travel is no vacation. It’s easy to romanticize, but travel can be an utter hardship, a test of fortitude. It can be an awakening, yes. But it can also be the blazing frustration of jet lag and miscommunication, of missed flights, delays, and unplanned adventures—aka screw-ups.

Just ask Eric Rigney (page 15). As we send this travel-themed issue to press, he and his family are finally sailing out of Mexico, having left Ventura on an around-the-world trip in early February. Three months of “problems that keep coming up,” and the kids are missing Ventura and the head’s starting to stink and hurricane season is just around the corner. And they hope to find “fun” there, too: “just around the corner.” But around every corner, it seems—there’s another corner.

One day they’ll look back and laugh. Their friends will listen wide-eyed to their grand tales, and the kids, now 11 and 13, will be men with depth of experience. And perhaps that’s the end goal. Travel isn’t necessarily fun, but it does leave an imprint on your soul.


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