I love travel and not just because hotel living is easy. A new city, a broken routine, pushes me outside of my head, so I can see. It’s too easy, especially during the school year, to become a passenger surfing the conveyor belt sidewalk, passing momentous moments while time’s momentum carries me on–empty and feeling invisible.
I love to walk strange towns. Trailing my fingers along the pebbled faces of buildings and benches, I imagine a municipal heart. Listening to passing accents, I get a feel for its soul. My eyes gather the tame, landscaped, annuals, and the desperate, defiant, weeds. Breathing in, I sample the air’s water weight, placing it somewhere on the scale between San Diego and Scottsdale.
Hamilton, in my memory is music, but it’s also strolling up First Street, stepping into the gas station where we met familiar faces, before Shelle and I walked back behind it, sat on a broken barricade, and talked about fire. Portland is the walk to Voodoo Doughnuts in the morning and way out on Hawthorn in the afternoon. New Orleans, narrow streets and Katrina art. New York, sudden, soaking, rain.
A new landscape means not knowing what to be afraid of, so you’re brave by default. Some drunk guy stumble-chased us in Louisville, as we were walking back from the Derby Festival. The streets were long tunnels of dark that I would have driven at home. As he neared, shouting, we almost ducked into the Red Alley to hide, but he faded back into one of those tunnels, as prom goers and Cardinals fans thickened the light.
Work pays for most of my travel, filling days and evenings with sessions, keynotes, and meetings. Weaving academic ideas with immediate experience is the most satisfying form of thought. Add caffeine; subtract sleep, and each location becomes its essence in color, texture, and sound. Maybe that’s why I’m always writing the places I’ve been. Dallas is the location for my second novel; Boston my third.
Yet, I’m always aware that the difference is not the city, but that I change when I leave home. I go looking. I carry this fluttery feeling of expectation in my belly seeking the whatness of place. Each minute receives it’s due weight of significance: Time is short; before we know it we’ll be gone.
Really, travel is just an expensive motivation to pay attention.
Check out Looking for It: Part Two next Thursday, October 27th. It will be cross-posted here and on Bill Gaskin’s education blog.