July 21, 2013, Chameleon: My life as a West Coast Hippie
The day I fly to Oregon I’m wearing a long purple skirt, a loose brown shirt, a distinctly exotic scarf, and blue Toms. With my long hair and the healthy snacks I’m toting in a carry-on bag I look the quintessential hippie. It’s too early in the morning to feel like anything in particular so I settle in for the wait on an airport chair that has both a view of outside and of the gate kiosk.
After my crossword puzzle is done, a handful of pages read in my book, lots of people-watching accomplished surreptitiously, and the chairs around me filled with other travelers about to head northwest a man takes the seat next to me. He’s nondescript and benign enough. He doesn’t chat me up and I’m grateful for that. I need another cup of coffee.
There’s some delay with the plane and we all listen to the intercom messages from the attendants waiting to see how much longer we’ll be there, how much later we’ll land in Portland. I’m keen for it to arrive and for the other passengers to get loaded on so I’ll know if I have a seat on the plane. I’m flying standby and I’ve been told it’s a full flight. I’m practicing pseudo-Zen by pretending I’m patient and at ease. I even try singing (in my head) Doris Day’s Que sera sera, whatever will be will be. The future’s not ours to see, que sera sera. Sure, I’m one who knows that it’s all about the journey and not the destination, but sometimes, like this day, getting to the destination is all I want to do. I still have the metro to ride, some walking to do, and two busses to catch before I make it all the way.
Well, well, well, I’ve just been profiled. I raise my internal eyebrows and think Vestis virum reddit, a phrase I learned as a child when my older sister and I were taking Latin and which means Clothes make the man.
“It sure would look that way,” I reply, neither confirming nor denying.
“It’s always refreshing to see someone who doesn’t froof themselves all up the way people do these days,” he says and waves vaguely behind him as if to include everyone in the airport and everyone in Dallas, everyone in the world. “And is comfortable with their natural look.”
I’m pretty sure he said froof and I’m imagining what it’d be like if Oregon were really my place of origin. I make some noncommittal noise at his compliment and he goes on to tell me some of his life story. It’s not like I don’t consider myself to be a hippie in the sense of free spirited and as a rejecter of convention, it’s not like my hair isn’t long, it’s not like I don’t use natural remedies, it’s not like I’ve never worn tie-dye. Here it’s a case of feeling like a lizard. Like a chameleon. Because I may look the part, but I don’t belong to it. I’m living out the lyrics to a song I loved when I was a kid. “Chameleon, you blend with your surroundings. Chameleon, no one knows where you come from.”
Since I had the chance to spend some time in Colorado this summer I’ve been thinking a lot lately of the sense of belonging. Over ten years ago I left Dallas for Colorado Springs and when I got there I felt that it was where I belonged and it was home. It became the place where I was from. It was the place I went back to. Then I left it behind me. Heartlessly, adventurously, free spiritedly.
Yet, it doesn’t matter how long I stay away, when I return the mountains always seem to say, “Welcome back, welcome home. We’ve missed you.”
And then when I leave again to resume the nomadic nature of my life they smile, wink, and say, “See you next time. Come home again when you’re ready.” They joke and say what my dad says, “Come back when you can’t stay so long.”
There’s comfort in belonging. There’s reassurance in having a sense of place, in knowing that I don’t have to search for it. I don’t know what this means except that I’m a mountain girl who in this moment looks like someone who makes her own deodorant (I do), owns a pair of Birkenstocks (I don’t), and would date a guy who has dreadlocks and tattoos (TBD).
The plane goes out only ten minutes off schedule and I get a seat in the exit row. I doze most of the way. When I deplane I blend right in. A couple passing by in the metro asks me if they’re on the right line. I don’t ruin their image of me when I tell them they are. I’ve been this way before. I’m practically a local.
I get on the bus and settle in for the three hour trip. The driver Charles, an older gentleman with a charming white mustache and a black cowboy hat he puts on when he drives, is the same driver I had eight months ago. I recognize him, I remember him. But who am I? No one to stand out or to remember.
I’m a spy, a role player, a chameleon.
Just another hippie.