HOW DID I GET HERE? By John Watts

 

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How did I get here? You might ask.  For every mode of transportation takes its toll on the intrepid traveler.

And it’s never like a movie where the hero gets protected by stirring soundtrack music and fast forwards to his exotic destination in the blink of an eye.

No—unfortunately dear wanderer, you will probably face many hours of mind sapping drudgery in the form of waiting in lines.  You will find yourself at the mercy of passing strangers as you feel cut off and removed from the normal ebb and flow of life that the natives know full well and take for granted.

If you leave port via ship across the ocean, it becomes most dramatically delineated to you that you will be far removed from your original homeland.  And depending on the condition of the sea and the length of days, you can also be pretty worn out by the time you reach the other shore.  Still, thanks to the bloated abundance of a cruise liner, the reality of endless ocean horizon can become rather irrelevant as you go back for refills at the buffet and sign up for special entertainment on this floating Vegas like world.

Conversely, if you travel by car, you can see each inch of terra firma pass underneath your wheels to better help you grasp the reality of your relocation and to better adjust to the changes.  And while the highway may fray your nerves and leave you strangely exhausted, you have the advantage of marking every mile go by as proof of your arrival to your final destination.  As a motorist it is completely up to you as to how long you want to take indulging in side trips and odysseys of enrichment.

Are you in a hurry and bound to a wedding or a business meeting schedule?  Or can you actually beat the interstate exit trap and actually plunge into authentic expressions of regional traditions?

If you fly in a plane, you can only hope that the tedium and delay in the airport will make a strong enough impression on you to remind you that you have traveled across the continent.  You shave the most time off in terms of getting to your final destination fastest via an airplane of course, but you also sacrifice in other areas.

Airplane travel makes you think the most of your mortality as well as your own helplessness.  Still, you grasp at the straws of superstition as you read your magazine and overdo your grip the arm rests on take-off.  Flying on an airplane, no matter how disgruntled you may feel at the high cost of air fare and the diminished service, always means that you NEVER lump the pilot in with your lack of faith.  When we are in the process of flight with no chance of backing out, we never allow ourselves to waver in our dependence and devotion to out pilot! The peanuts may taste bad.  The cost of a movie too high.  But our resentment never extends to our dear, highly trained pilot.  We have pinned too many hopes on him and have drawn a strict border at the cock pit in terms of entertaining any thoughts of cynicism or doubt.

Of course you miss the transition of intimacy with the land and water outside of your window on an airplane as one scene unfurls into another one.  An airplane gets you to your meeting or your event in great shape, but it also treats you like a mini shopping area by the interstate.  You are hurtled past any real shared communion with the terrain beneath you no matter how briefly you may nod your head at the appearance of the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains.  It is still just an abstraction.

Nevertheless, you can still get some wonderful epiphanies being that aloof and above it all.  I recall the game board excitement I got from an airplane window as a kid watching all the symmetrical patterns of agriculture and the surprising degree of how a carpet of green tree tops still clings to the Northern Virginia region.  Or how about those dazzling diamond city lights at night when a big city approaches?

Need I also remind you that Joni Mitchell wrote her immortal lyrics to “Both Sides Now” from high over the clouds looking down from her airplane window?  How many rock stars have scrawled down profound, universal lines on their cocktail napkin?  Enough said.

Probably the best combination still available lies in taking a train to your destination.  This offers the romance of private sleeping cars plus the camaraderie of getting to talk with other travelers in the dining car.  The landscape can also be studied much more closely from one sequence to another without the eye strain of having to drive yourself.  You also get to see, as you do on the river, all the many unheralded great American back country and small towns along the way.

Trains are like a moving campground.  You can jot down countless snippets of conversation from being passengers sleeping roughly in their chairs.  You meet fascinating people in the dining car and unload stories about yourself that you normally never would.

And if you are traveling solo, the biggest relocation adjustments are yet to come.  Finding the baggage and procuring a rental car—no mean feat in this era of “in advance” credit payment for our ever shrinking middle class.

You constantly check and re-check the time in your new location.  You urgently feel around for your wallet and identification.

And most importantly—you learn, no matter how fatigued and out of it you feel, to run on extra reserves of endurance and patience.  This is when the glamour of travel is long gone and you are just trying to remain competent and handle the adjustments.

Because, unlike the movies, any kind of spontaneous thrill or excitement you may have started your trip with, soon burns out as you wake up  groggily somewhere in some strange hotel or lobby and try your  best to recall you got there.  In fact you can pretty much forget spontaneity all together when it comes to starting any kind of trip in this day and age of finding the best prices on line and going through all the extra hours of security checks since 911.

As a solo traveler you have many ways of coping with this sense of alienation and rootlessness.  You can take solace in your journal as a safe haven to reflect your consciousness.  You can take comfort in finding ONLY standardized chains like McDonald’s or the lobby of the Sheraton in far flung places like Timbuktu.

And most of all, you become KING or QUEEN of your small amount of belongings in your hotel room.  You sift and re sift your luggage.  You lay out your outfit for the next day by your bed mattress.  You stare at the glow of your alarm clock green numbers.  You rehearse where your identification is and your wallet, and most of all, your KEY reading material for the next day.

Because some day you’re going to forget the drudgery and the doubt and you’re going to discover that you got away with a BIG HEIST in terms of stored treasure in your brain.  In fact the clearest details of what you can recount on your trip will become far less important than the SHADOWY sequences of vague rooms and fleeting views down alleyways and across valleys.  These ethereal vignettes will stay in your heart and soul and pass like shadows across the landscape of your dreams until your dying day.

And we will never get our To Do travel list checked off.  Because we are traveling and evolving constantly in our brains as we unfurl new benchmarks for future trips that become our LATEST claim of declaring “I’ve always wanted to” directed at anyone who will listen. Our brains constantly play tricks on us (witness our ever illustrious past) and our bodies get the last laugh.

For me, right here and right now, the ultimate trip is to get on a Viking River Cruise somewhere in Europe.  Imagine!  You are still encased in the spoiled tourist trappings of too much food and too much protection—ah yes, but you are going the way the RIVERS stretch and bend.  And that means a million little town stops and a never ending stream of church steeples and castles and undisturbed pastures and animals to stare at.  And that’s how I am ending this little meditation.  Until I change my mind and add another chapter. Until then, happy traveling to all of us fellow explorers.  Whether by boat or plane or train or car.  Write it all down in your sacred journal and don’t worry so much about HOW DID YOU GET HERE.  The point is you are here!  And there.  And everywhere!

 

 

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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