There are certain ubiquitous characteristics of my life in travel . . .
I’m hitting the road, or rather, taking to the air, on Monday. It brings to mind so many aspects of my own experiences in traveling over the years.
The first, in this instance, is that my feet develop a distinctly leaden quality and my heart begins to follow them, when it comes to taking off sans Sweetie. But no one gets to travel with his or her favorite road-tripping partner every time. At the moment, this is an opportunity to join with my parents and the part of the family currently in western Washington in the adventure of getting Mom and Dad relocated from their home of many years to a new apartment in Seattle. A dramatic change in their lives–in the whole family’s lives–to be sure, and one that promises to be both physically and emotionally challenging but I expect will be at least equally exciting and fulfilling as it plays out. I wish my spouse could share in all of that, not to mention that I simply don’t like being apart. Having connected with each other a tad later in life than many, and just plain enjoying each other’s company hugely, we begrudge any time not shared. But that has to be beside the point at times, when the road calls for whatever reasons. So off I go.
Another constant in my life of travels is that the unexpected is inevitable. I hope more than I can possibly express that it doesn’t ever again include my suddenly throwing up in the middle of the metal detector arch at airport security (SORRY, O’Hare TSA workers! Really I am, I grovel at your feet! It was the flu talking!). I’m quite glad too if the unforeseen doesn’t include missed or canceled flights or lost luggage, but seeing as how I’ve survived all of the foregoing, I will grit my teeth and go along through to get to the good stuff on the other side. There are unexpected gifts and heaps of happiness that come with being out of my usual groove, too. Shared laughter with strangers that turns into a mile-spanning, long-lived friendship. Directions to the wrong place, but one that turns out to be far more interesting and memorable than the intended one. A grim-looking last-chance eatery where the food is miraculously fabulous and the proprietors simply underfunded gastronomic gods. The out-of-the-way garden, happened upon in a blasting rainstorm, that offers a tree so massive and dense in its canopy that everyone escapes the blast under it in warm and dry conviviality.
The monotype illustration above is from a series I made on returning from my very first trip abroad, where my older sister and I spent over three months exploring from England to Norway and back, visiting nearly a dozen countries in between, and there I learned for the first time that there are certain rhythms and patterns to this travel thing. We developed a set of Rules to explain our experience, including the one illustrated here, that All winter trains run on time except the one you are about to board, which arrives just shortly after you have become one with the permafrost (or something to that effect). There were definitions of what to expect from technology (The handrail of an escalator is always set to move at a rate just enough higher than the rate of the steps that if you keep your hand on the rail, by the time you reach the top of the escalator you will be lying face down in a pile of chewed gum), from museums (All museums shall be free of charge and open seven days a week, except the one you most want to visit, which costs the equivalent of six college credits and is open only during a full lunar eclipse), and from bag stowing systems (The overhead racks on trains are designed to fit bags no larger than four bars of soap placed side by side, and may be constructed of silly putty and yarn).
But we also saw that grand benevolent side of what happens when you venture outside of your personal castle. There were relatives and family friends who knew us only through our parents and perhaps a contact or two along the years but willingly took us in and gave us the full visiting-royalty treatment when we’d hoped at most for a chance to meet over coffee. A pâtissier whose exquisite goods suddenly went on sale when he learned that we had come into the country overnight, arriving on the weekend when we had no access to a bank for currency exchange, and were a couple of pitiful looking famished students. The driver of the night’s last bus to town from a ferry crossing, who delivered the handful of after-hours stragglers on board each to our individual destination instead of wherever his route should land us.
I have seen so much more of this side of travel in the years since than that grubbier and less inviting one, that I can’t help having a little buzz of anticipation at any trip, even the seemingly predictable one of heading toward family and to my own old stomping grounds. I know that unexpected pleasures await. That undeserved happiness is always in store. I am going to see people and places I’ve known since birth, but every time I see them with new eyes because the earth has turned just so much, the calendar pages pulling me, us, them all forward into some new configuration. If I’m looking for the exotic, a fresh new hour means that everyone and everything in it have been in some way made different and what I find when we meet up is bound to be in that way a wonderful revelation of joy and surprise.
Another rule of travel: if I look for it, every journey offers something wonderful and new . . .