Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stream of (Total) Consciousness -- 8/18/13: Life on the grass.

I've recently been feeling a sense of regret for not finding this whole caddying experience earlier. In hindsight, it's what I should've looked to do right out of college. Granted, Bandon Dunes wasn't Bandon Dunes in 2000 (the first course had just opened in 1999), but I look back now at that time after graduation, and I was in such a hurry -- to get a job, to get a girl, to get a real, adult life. And honestly, I'm not really sure why; it's probably because everybody else was headed that way, and I simply fell in line behind them, hoping to fit in.

This risk-averse, follow-the-pack mindset weighted me down from that point forward, and whether it led me to take safe jobs I despised or sabotaged me when I dared taking a less traditional route, I never could shake free of it. It stopped me from coming out here in 2006 when my father initially told me about the place, and it stopped me in 2008, when I actually flew out here to see it firsthand -- only to crumble the moment I got off the plane before slinking back home to the security (and humiliating paycheck) of my Administrative Assistant job.

I've always joked that, if you were to look at where I am in my life -- my career, my romantic relationships (pre-Emily, at least), my assets (biggest purchase: a dresser from IKEA), my facial hair (I still can't get anything to grow on these small, symmetrical patches on either side of my mouth) -- you'd think that I was 10 years younger than I actually am. And the reality is that, until a couple of months ago, I just wasn't mentally and emotionally capable of handling something of this magnitude; I wasn't strong enough to hold up against the pressure.

Although this experience thus far has allowed me to focus on two of my passions (golf and writing) while also keeping me out of two of my soul-sucking nemeses (traffic and cubicles), by no means has it been perfect. I despise getting up before 6 a.m. (mainly because I can't make myself go to bed early enough to adequately accommodate such an early wake-up). The social aspect of it has been challenging to say the least, and because my apartment's shower head reduces the term "low flow" to never-before-seen depths, I could probably benefit from The Wolf spraying me down with a garden hose. But in spite of all of that, in spite of the pre-dawn alarms and the lonely times in the caddie shack and the longing for the Commando 450, there's one, special place where things almost always come into focus:

On the grass.

"On the grass," as I'm sure you can deduce, means to be out on the golf course -- and it could be my favorite piece of caddie lingo to date. I first heard it from another caddie while we were killing time before a loop, and like any unfamiliar word or phrase, it caught me off guard initially, causing my brain to come to a screeching halt. What was he talking about? But then I looked around at my surroundings, and I realized it was staring me directly in the face -- once we stepped off the concrete walkway that led to the first tee, we would literally be on grass until we were finished.

And what a magnificent stretch of grass every course at Bandon Dunes is. Being the Texan that I am, I could certainly stand for it to be about 10 degrees warmer, and it's still a little unsettling when the wind starts blowing 30 mph, but more often than not, I feel as if I'm walking around in a painting. The sand dunes, the rugged terrain, the ocean views -- it's just so freakin' pure, a true sanctuary for the existential golfer. Many times, as I'm making my way around, I'll take a second to slow down and check the clock on my phone, so that I can catalog all of the things I would be doing if I were still at any of my previous, undesirable jobs.

Then I smile, switch over to camera mode, and take a picture like the one below as a reminder of what currently is versus what used to be.

That I've added the term "on the grass" to my repertoire is all a credit to the infinite wisdom and all-knowing presence of Drew, the caddie who shared it with me a week or so ago. With closely cropped brown hair and a build broad enough to shoulder two golf bags with ease, Drew is just a few years older than I am, but unlike me, he did manage to find Bandon Dunes during its infancy -- and he's been here ever since.

From the very start of our job, his decade-plus of experience was plainly evident. Whereas I had to examine each shot up close to figure out what advice to give my player, he was handing his guys the next club they needed to hit as we were walking off the tee (still hundreds of yards away from their ball) and reading their putts before he'd even crossed the green to set the bags down. His confidence, his self-assuredness, it was an eye-opening contrast to the doubt and uncertainty that tends to consume my daily reality. It was as if I was studying at the foot of the master, observing someone who was in complete harmony, who was exactly where he's supposed to be.

And seeing that in action was at least half as impactful as expanding my caddie vocabulary.

A true professional looper, Drew works as often as he can from Tax Day through Halloween, stockpiling enough cash to get him through to the next high season -- when the cycle starts all over again. Bandon Dunes is open year-round, but the weather on the Oregon coast turns wet and windy from November to February, and business drops off severely because of it. He told me that he used to go down to Palm Springs to loop during the winter months but gave that up a while back; now, he spends the slow times hunting and fishing, or turning off the TV and reading a book or two a week, taking full advantage of the solitude and tranquility that's inherent to the middle of nowhere. When he does get the occasional bag, he layers up for the elements and introduces himself to his guests on the first tee -- then pulls down his ski mask bank robber-style to protect himself from the rain and cold. Whatever you have to do to get the job done.

It's a simple life he leads, for sure, but also one that, on the surface at least, has a quiet sense of substance and serenity. I may have come all the way out here with a legal pad full of questions, but Drew seemingly already has all the answers -- he knows who he is, where he is, and what he's doing.

And for that, a part of me can't help feeling a little bit envious.

Don't get me wrong...after two months of living it, it's not necessarily a lifestyle I would want. Beyond the fact that I'd be the world's worst outdoorsman (had I starred in "Cast Away," the movie would've lasted approximately six minutes instead of 143, and it would've ended badly), I don't think long-term that I'd want to be so far from my family, or live in a town where Subway is the most viable dining-out option (though my former co-workers who saw me go there for lunch every day would disagree), or, in all honesty, work a job where I'm undeniably a subordinate. I'm 35-years-old, after all, and in many ways, I've already chosen my path. I have goals I want to achieve, dreams I want to pursue, and a beautiful girlfriend who isn't going to wait for me forever. For better or for worse, my window for extended experimentation has long since closed.

But had I found this place when I was 25, who's to say? Who knows how much more I could've benefited from doing something like this? Who knows what would've happened if I had had a little more belief in myself and cared a little less about what people thought about me? Maybe I would've ended up in the same place, or maybe I would've ended up somewhere entirely different.

Or maybe I would've ended up just like Drew -- and it's hard to say that that would've been anything but a good thing. 

As we finished our final round together, we made our way back to the clubhouse -- off the grass and onto the concrete -- where we took a minute to organize our players' equipment and settle up our payments. Before we said our goodbyes to the guests, they told us how much fun they'd had, how much they appreciated our work, and how they'd be sure to ask for us the next time they came out here, whenever that may be. Knowing that a future request for me would ultimately go unfulfilled, I graciously smiled and shook their hands, just to be polite. Drew, meanwhile, had a different response, one that was as confident and certain as it was grounded in truth.

"I'll be here," he replied. And then he boarded the shuttle to head back to the caddie yard.

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?