Life Lesson #6: Backpacks are a Badge of Honor

Around my hometown of Madison Wisconsin I sported a hefty backpack large enough to pack library books, a computer…and maybe a small child. I wore it mostly for its functional purposes, like picking up groceries or transporting my laptop to the café. But also—secretly—I wore it because I believed it made me look younger. People saw me wandering down the street and I imagined they thought, “Well, that sweet girl must be on her way to the university” or better yet, “I wonder where that young, perky high schooler is off to.”
But to my disappointment, here in Flagler Beach, there are no high schools, no colleges, no universities to give purpose to my backpack and aid in my disguise. In fact, since I moved to Flagler Beach, I feel a tad silly with it on. So, I’ve been shopping around for something a bit more beachy to replace it.
Yesterday, still without a replacement for my bag, I pulled the straps of my old pack over my shoulders and headed down South Central avenue, ready for a mile long walk to the downtown to visit the farmer’s market. After walking about fifteen minutes, a man on a beach cruiser pedaled by me, slowed down, and said to with a concerned tone, “How you doing?”
“Fine,” I said, doing a quick evaluation of my attire to see if I looked particularly down and out this day. Then trying to sound upbeat I added, “I’m almost there!”
“Amen to that,” he said, as if he believed I had wandered through mountain and desert. Without further explanation I watched as he pedaled off.
This was odd, but I shrugged it off. I was in the exact spot that only weeks earlier a man in dreds called me a “cracker ass bitch”—very out of character for this small town, so I surmised the corner of south central and 3rd was just where the weird people hung out.
I arrived at the town square a few minutes later and made a bee line to my favorite stand. I purchased my weekly fix of baked goods from my beloved Armenian baker friend Maria, who knows me not by name, but by my pastry choices.
Then doing my rounds I stopped by the humane society’s stand, and inadvertently got the representative talking about the debate between no kill versus kill shelters. As he talked and I just sort of listened, I pet his feature dog and briefly contemplated turning my family’s life upside down by rescuing this sweet puppy. After hearing all the pluses and minuses of animal euthanasia, I thanked the man, then said goodbye, assuring myself that this dog would find a good home soon.
Deciding sandwiches were a much better choice to bring home than a pet, I headed across the street, towards The Salty Dog Café, where a woman seemed to go out of her way to talk to me. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You look like you’re going on a very big journey.”
I looked at her a bit confused, and realized she was talking about my backpack. It all made sense now. This woman, the man on the bike, (and for all I know the humane society rep as well) saw the backpack and decided I was on some sort of trek.
People here walk on the beach. They don’t “hike” into town for their groceries, unless their bike, car, or golf cart is broken down. To these people, I was either in need of a tow, some sort of nomad on a lifelong quest for a home, or as I’d like to think– part of a great Arthurian legend that involved Armenian pastries.
Flagler Beach, much more so then Madison, is a place for travelers. People of all sorts come through here to have put their feet in the sand and have a taste of small town life, ultimately passing through as a piece of a grander journey. Everyone has a story to tell.
In Flagler Beach a forty year old woman with her backpack on does not look like a student on her way to classes, but instead a person who’s been on a long road, or perhaps on an adventure, seeking out new people and places. If that’s what people think, I’m okay with that.
Maybe I’m not making the most elegant of fashion statements with my over sized pack, but I still like my new image. I think I’ll keep the backpack.

1 comment

  1. Mikemay

    my hometown is Belgium WI, north of Milwaukee. between.Milwaukee and Packer Land
    live in Palm Coast. When I saw the Madison WI I had to read. now when I go to the farmers market on Saturday. I will look for the lady with the backpack…….