After a cold and abnormally snowy winter, the first day of beautiful spring-like weather came calling last week. We answered that call by getting outside and enjoying the fine weather. Even though it was Monday, a day that normally brings dread to cubicle dwellers the world over, we found ourselves embarking on foot for a journey to… a gas station? That rather strange destination, especially given our mode of transport, was sheer pretext to pull us out of doors and into the great urban Wilderness that surrounds us.
It was the most ordinary of mornings in the most extraordinary sense possible. We caught the budding cherry trees just before the blossoms opened. We passed by an empty bird nest temporary vacated or possibly deserted. A recent ice storm deposited scattered hulks of downed branches across the neighborhood’s yards, some already smartly stacked by the sidewalk obediently awaiting a ride to the city yard waste center.
Earlier in the morning before our journey to the gas station, I set out on my own adventure to deliver the kids to school. It was so nice that taking the shortest route back home would be a minor misdemeanor (if not a more serious offense). I was compelled to detour through the park and along the paved trail paralleling the creek. The more circuitous route revealed a narrow deer path on the far side of the creek leading down to the slowly ambling water. A season of wild steps wore the path down to reveal the rusty red clay beneath the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor. Down into the water the path led, straight toward me. Up the bank and across my paved trail a set of wet footprints emerged.
While trying to identify the type of animal that just crossed my path minutes earlier, I took to pondering how many other sets of ephemeral footprints tracked across the trail earlier in the day only to evaporate completely unseen by us human interlopers. Maybe a dog or an opossum or a raccoon left this set, but I didn’t delay any longer trying to puzzle it out. On I walked toward home.
Once home, I spent a few minutes reading some of the wonderful comments you readers left on that Monday’s post about my Financial Independence plan as a 17 year old. Then I cracked open a new novel (East of Eden by John Steinbeck) until Mrs. Root of Good was ready to join me on our main adventure of the day. If our trip is as good as my new book, I thought, then this Monday will be one to remember.
We set out with two year old Mr. RoG Jr. accompanying us on foot as we pushed his unoccupied stroller that doubled as a gear hauler for the day. I hesitate to call it “gear” since it was only a few bottles of water, snacks, and some books we needed to return to the library.
Off we went, making steady headway along the sidewalk. We passed the library about a mile into the trip, deciding to stop there on the way back from the gas station. Beyond the library lays relatively unexplored pedestrian territory for us. We crossed the main road too early and quickly realized the sidewalk stops for a full city block. Years of heavy footsteps on this segment of our path left a firmly packed dirt trail that allowed us to push the stroller with moderate ease until we rejoined the paved sidewalk at the next intersection.
Along the unpaved trail I noticed a future anthropologist’s dream – the discarded remnants of those pedestrians that passed by before us. A small platoon of forty ounce malt liquor bottles next to a quartet of Gatorade bottles. Sun-faded cigarette and cigar packages sprouting through the thin layer of pine needles, already partially hidden from the present world and rapidly becoming part of the past. Beef jerky packages mixed with McDonald’s wrappers served with a side of french fry containers, all patiently waiting their turn to be discovered by that future anthropologist and revealed as the main dietary constituents of the early twenty first century human’s food supply.
Not to leave the anthropologist misinformed about our epoch’s housing situation, some thoughtful contractor left a major clue about twenty feet into the woods. A large roll of fiberglass insulation marked “R-19” would tell our future anthropologist that humans used to live in houses nearby and enjoyed some form of interior climate control.
On we walked, past what many consider trash but some in the future will consider cultural treasure of our era. Before long we could see the bright red canopy sheltering the gas pumps from the elements. Mr. RoG Jr. proclaimed “I’ve never been there before!”. He has a few times, but never on foot. Everything looks different when viewed from a pedestrian scale.
The most epic sub sandwich ever
We enter the gas station as I pull out a small stack of coupons. I didn’t come here to spend any money, but rather to claim my free six inch sub and a free coffee or drink of any size. The gas station (Sheetz, for the gustationally curious) serves a wide variety of subs, sandwiches, and drinks for a very low price. It’s not gourmet, but still a step up from Subway in my opinion. Not many would venture out on foot on a four mile round trip just to get a free coffee and free sub sandwich. But the weather was nice, we wanted to go out walking, and a free sub and cup of coffee at the half way point served as just enough enticement.
I went for the extra large self-serve Cupo’ccino of crème brûlée mixed with caramel brownie. A little too thick and sweet, I cut in a generous serving of Serious Dark Roast coffee. For the sub sandwich I opted for the sliced steak. The coupon stated the sandwich was free, including any upcharges, extra cheese and added toppings. I considered that a personal invitation to make the most ridiculous, over the top, yet good tasting sandwich imaginable.
Sheetz has these cool touchscreens where you place your own order and customize to your heart’s content (or the guy in line behind you tells you to hurry it up).
On top of the steak, I ordered these free toppings:
- fire roasted tomatoes
- boom boom sauce
- caramelized onions
- cooked peppers
- parmesan cheese
- sliced tomatoes
- banana peppers
- pickled jalapenos
- black olives
And these upcharged toppings that were free with my coupon:
- French fries (yes, on the sandwich)
- provolone cheese
- meat and bean chili
- cole slaw
- pico de gallo
I turned a $3 steak sandwich into an $8 monster with 17 toppings that turned out to be completely free. I suppressed a smile as I went through the checkout line and paid in full with my coupon.
Some would look at the resulting sandwich and think it grotesque. I viewed it as a steak and cheese sub plus french fries plus nachos plus a salad. A work of modern art. Though we had to eat it with a fork, it was pretty awesome nonetheless.
With our bellies full of our steak sandwich buffet and neurotransmitters fully turbocharged with caffeine, we started the return trip back home. Don’t worry, we didn’t deposit any cultural treasures along the roadside for our future anthropologist friend to find later. There’s already enough human detritus scattered along the path as is.
We made a pit stop at the library and playground on the way back home. The little guy had to get his rock climbing fix before the day was out. As he played, I visited the library to pick up a few (free) books.
After the park we finally arrived home and enjoyed an afternoon of laying around on the back deck. It was perfect hammock weather, so I grabbed my book and reclined for a few hours of laziness. A nice long walk left me with a slight fatigue and tiredness equivalent to knocking back a beer or two. Not quite exhausted, just worn out enough that an afternoon of hammock-laying feels like a reasonable reward for the morning’s efforts.
Later in the afternoon we had to retrieve the older kids from school. That marked mile number six for me and mile number ten for Mrs. RootofGood for the day (she worked out earlier in the day).
Mrs. RootofGood is taking a day or two off here and there in order to use up her vacation time. This day was a miniature taste of early retirement for her. A day without any real structure and with the freedom to get out and explore.
Letting time slow down
A few months ago I mentioned our possible summer trips to Oaxaca, Mexico or a cross-country road trip to California and back and also discussed the joys of walking around in that article. Whether we are enjoying slow travel on the road or slow travel by foot while on a staycation at our house, there’s always something to appreciate if you slow down and pay attention to what’s happening around you.
Even though we set out on a trip to the gas station for a free sandwich and coffee, it was the trip itself I enjoyed the most. The journey is often an intrinsically valuable end in itself, whether it’s working toward big goals in life or walking to the gas station. Are we there yet? We’re always there.
Spending nothing all day is the biggest expense we have
On that gloriously perfect Monday, we spent exactly zero dollars. That’s not really abnormal, as we don’t spend any money on plenty of days if we don’t leave the house for anything. The strange part is keeping busy and engaged outside of the house most of the day without spending any money. We have months (like last month and last June) where we don’t spend more than $1,000 for our family of five.
It’s easy to keep expenses down when we focus on enjoying the free things first like great weather and the outdoors, offers of free food, free books from the library, and free fun time on the playground. Buying groceries and cooking at home is another expert way to keep spending at a minimum. We religiously track expenses using Personal Capital to be mindful of how much we spend (in real time) and where the cash disappears to each month (hint: it’s not a black hole).
I don’t think happiness is strongly correlated with spending a ton of money. Or at least it isn’t for me. Beyond having enough to provide the basics in life plus the rare luxury, additional consumption doesn’t have a highly positive marginal benefit. I get a lot more enjoyment appreciating what I have rather than expending mental energy figuring out what else I can get.
From an accounting perspective, our walkabout cost exactly nothing since we didn’t spend a dime. But in a symbolic sense, the freedom to roam at our whim on a random Monday of our choosing cost us over a million dollars. A price well worth paying when you can enjoy the ordinary in such an extraordinary way any day you want.
What’s the most amazing completely ordinary experience you have enjoyed lately?
photo credit: coofdy @ flickr
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