Dreaming of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
...does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? -Langston Hughes
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For 30 or so years, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the inspiration for my dream car-house. It only took six months of living in an RV to decide that dream was a sham.
In the case you're not familiar with the illustrious movie starring Dick Van Dyke, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a film from 1968 partially about an inventor’s car that can both fly like an airplane and float like a boat. It leads the inventor's family on tremendous adventures. Chitty Chitty was a car, but I wanted all that and more: a house that could transport anywhere. As a kid, I spent summer mornings watching the movie time after time, memorizing the lines, all the while building Lego houses that could drive, float, and fly over my Lincoln Logs villages.
When we bought the RV, one part of my childhood Lego dream was realized: a driving house. Perfect. It didn’t float, and it didn’t fly, but that could be taken care of. I’m fairly handy.
We had nestled into a large gravel parking lot-style campground on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana sometime in the spring of 2019, yards of space between us and anyone else. We were hours from much of anything: anything but the ocean, snakes, sinewy trees, and alligators. Perfect. Our rig was backed up to a wall that separated us from the ocean, and by six in the evening, we were hanging our legs over the wall to watch the sun set. There was no beach here; it was not a gradual drop into the gulf, but instead, the wall separated us from a great hole of the ocean that was meters deep. The sun set orange over the water, and I grilled a dinner outside with the moon reflecting off the the ocean.
When we awoke that first morning at this campsite, I heard a tiny lapping of salt water on the concrete wall behind our RV. The tide had come in.
A funny thing about full-time travel is you normalize forgetting where you are: what state, what location, what type of scenery, and so on. That morning before looking out the bedroom window, I asked myself, “where are we?” Then, I looked out the window. I did not see the ground, and for just a moment or two, I thought, “I’ve floated away into the ocean." I was not looking at gravel, but directly down into tiny waves.
Here is the problem—the tide had come in, and water had come up below the wall where the gravel met the ground, and let me be clear, I still don’t understand how this happened, but all the solid ground surrounding us was submerged in water. Our tires were inches into the brine. While the jacks were on hard gravel, there was an illusion that we had floated into the gulf.
A few minutes later, I swatted at biting flies while chatting with the camp host. He would warn us that alligators were lurking in the dark edges of shin-deep water.
And that’s when I thought, “I really don’t want to be at sea.” I quite quickly remembered my fear of the deep sea and decided I no longer wanted to have my house float.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was no longer my dream but is simply a good movie from 1968. It’s okay to dream, and it’s okay to change those dreams.
By the next morning, the water had subsided, and yes, we saw a comically cartoon-like alligator rushing away from us later that morning, but not before our dog would be bit by a snake that she would then go ahead and bite clean in half. Louisiana is wild.
Dreams, they’re funny, aren’t they? The way they evolve, the way some really just stick around. I always wanted a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car that could also fly and float, and I’m okay with that dream being deferred. My Lego Car-house though? Well, that dream came true, and I have no regrets about that one.
Thanks for traveling with me,
Down the Rabbit Hole:
I can’t help but think of Langston Hughes’s Harlem whenever I think of deferring a dream.
Louisiana is losing its coast at an alarming rate, which you can read about in this The New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert.