I hadn’t seen my uncle Alec in years, and I’d forgotten what a wild card he is. He wears a fanny pack with a pistol in it, sunglasses that look like old driving goggles and foam earplugs. He wears the earplugs when he’s on the job (he’s a carpenter) and then he never takes them out. He’s always talking really loudly and never hears anyone else speaking to him.

In addition to the fanny pack with a pistol in it, he keeps a pump-action shotgun in every room and a steak knife in the shower. He suspects that an Islamo-fascist is trying to whack him. (He’s probably right.) Insane as he is, he also knows everything about everything and can finish a New York Times Sunday crossword during a normal-length squat on the pot.

y first two days in Palo Alto we built a deck for a man named Don who trims his eyebrows to the same length as his mustache and calls my uncle “Alex.” It was hard work, mainly because for the first day I couldn’t stand up straight for a good nine hours. Uncle Alec put me to work under the frame while he screwed down the boards. He sealed me into that pit of despair one redwood plank at a time. The next day I got to do a lot more standing up, which was glorious. We finished the deck, Don approved, and I got a cool 300 bucks – enough to pay for 60 tubes of Tiger Balm.

The next day was the 4th of July. Uncle Alec and I went to a chili cook-off and milled around among all the hungry patriots. We argued for a long time about whether sagging pants are a damnable sin. I had a good laugh when Uncle Alec started dragging every pretty young thing he could find to dance the cha-cha-cha with him in front of the live band. When he was done cavorting and scaring little girls we headed back to his blacked-out shack to read and to listen to Mozart on a phonograph. Of course, he has to listen to music on a phonograph because he’s out of his mind and it would be inappropriate for him to listen to music the way sane people do. I definitely dug the sound system.

Towards evening, I thought I would jump on Donatello and ride Skyline Boulevard out to the beach to watch the sun set. Well, cranking around a hairpin curve I hit an inconvenient pile of dry sand. My bike went down and we twisted and tumbled to a stop in a pile of leaves up against the embankment. No really bad damage to the bike or to myself, but I did have trouble remembering the date, even though it was a national holiday. Eventually, I made it back home and was too tired and dizzy and nauseous to do anything but sit on the roof staring dumbly at the fireworks displays.

When I left Seattle I had made sure to pack a few special items to help define the spirit of my journey. A single photo of what I had left behind, a book for guidance, a friend’s rabbi trading card for spiritual power, a homemade nunchuk for protection and a rusty clothespin, which I figured I would understand when I needed it most. The book was, naturally, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, maybe the only book I have ever read twice. When I hit Frisco I took it out for another go. I realized that I’m Sal Paradise but I want to be Dean Moriarty – which, I guess, is also part of being Sal Paradise. So I’m Sal.

On one outing I went up through San Francisco and crossed the Bay Bridge to get to the seemingly uninhabited Oakland downtown district. The streets were abandoned and pristine save for the occasional newspaper tumbleweed. The emptiness spooked me, so I didn’t stay long. On the way home, my copy of “On the Road” fell out of my pocket onto the busy Route 101. As soon as I realized it was gone I looped around, hoping to locate and rescue my unfortunate scripture.

I found it, pulled the bike over and was about to rush out into four lanes of 75 mph traffic when a patrol car came flashing over. A genderless police officer got out and began bullying me. I don’t have a problem with authority but authority always seems to have a problem with me. In this case, I have a feeling “ma’am” was not the address this officer was looking for, regardless of its validity.

After wasting precious moments on a power trip the cop finally decided to help me out. In good form the cop reversed down the shoulder and began swerving to hold back traffic. Meanwhile, my book was being ravaged by every passing vehicle. It flapped about helplessly like a wounded bird until, all of a sudden, my guardian angel, disguised as a Ford F-150 SuperCrew, hit the book square-on. The wounded bird took flight and soared through the air over the traffic. It landed, “smack,” right at my feet.

I wasted no time snatching up what was left of my spiritual text and jumped back on my bike. I rode home to assess the damage. The last 12 pages were missing, but I never liked the end anyway so I considered the loss an improvement.

y uncle and I got on great. He taught me about engines and carpentry while I tried to teach him how to love his fellow man. At night we watched Bruce Lee movies and documentaries. We also did crosswords together – well, he did crosswords while I worked the stopwatch. A large part of me wanted to stay in Palo Alto where I had friends and family and security. But when the road summoned me back I could not help but answer the call. As soon as my wheels were pointed east and I was breathing freedom and possibility again I knew, without a doubt, that it was the right way. My spirits were soaring.

The urge to move will take you hostage. It doesn’t compromise and it doesn’t let up. Either you satisfy the urge or it strangles you slowly. Tough choice, I know. Sometimes we deny the situation because we have priorities and plans and ambitions and friends and puppies and newspaper subscriptions. That’s a lot to walk away from. Which is why, someday, you walk back.

The problem is plans. Plans suck and you should avoid them like flesh-eating zombies. When you think about who you are and how you live, you realize that a rigid skeleton of plans supports you. Plans give your life form and structure. Plans suck because form and structure suck. Being flexible is way more fun. But for some reason we think we have to stay rigid to stay standing.

I say let your future float. Plans will only distract you from what’s important. Then, while you’re looking in the wrong direction, you’re bound to run into something more rigid than you. The irony is that you won’t even know what you ran into because you had your head on backwards. So if you ever find yourself yearning to get away, don’t worry – it’s natural, just go.

Desmond Rawls is a senior in the College and is taking a year off to work as a mechanic for an offshore oil company. He can be reached at rawlsthehoya.com. Wheelie appears every other Monday on www.thehoya.com.

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