There’s a simple, upholstered chair in my living room. It seems to fit me perfectly, just small enough for my feet to reach the ground, and sometimes I imagine it waiting for me as I shuffle out of bed in the morning. I sat in that chair daily for long hours and weeks connected to a box slung over my arm that spit toxic chemicals into my jugular vein, ticking off the doses intended to destroy the cells in my body that just wanted to do nothing more than grow with reckless abandon. Now that chair is where I like to write in the morning, before I am awake enough to censor my thoughts, or conscious enough to feel the pull of the dreaded details that strip me of the delicious languor of sleep.
It takes multiple cups of coffee to break up my nagging morning indolence, until the peripatetic ghost hiding in what’s left of my bone marrow finds my musculature and takes it over. I don’t know how or why I feel driven to roam gypsy-like from one landscape to another, but I imagine that it began when I discovered the advertisements in the New York Times Travel Section that came to our apartment door promising free brochures in exchange for sending in the coupon. I was a lonely kid, and desperately wanted to receive mail, and those big manila packages were delightful and made me feel important. I do think those brochures were my introduction to the world outside the distance between my apartment and James J. Reynolds Jr. High School.
I hid them, for some reason, as though they were pornography, in the box inserted in the wall where you could put an air conditioner if you were wealthy enough to afford one. I had to unscrew the four corners of the metal cover in order to open and access the contraband. In those troubled, pimply and pathetic years of adolescence, travel brochures were my refuge. How I loved receiving mail, even if the sender had no idea or cared not a whit about who I was! The Canadian Travel Bureau, if that was what it was called, did it the best, by the way.
I don’t know if it was the lush photographs in those brochures and the poetic marketing verbiage that fueled my imagination of distant places, or if they merely decorated what was already just a simple wish to escape the drama of my family. I was ill-equipped to handle that drama, so I drove a nail into the doorframe, bent it over the door to keep out intruders, unscrewed the cover to the air conditioner box in the wall, pulled out the travel folders, and escaped into the Norwegian fjords, quaint Old Montreal, and Yellowstone geysers of my mind.
So it was that a love of the places out there and the feelings that they generate grew in me. It extended into high school, when I managed to get my driving permit at 15½.– the earliest age allowed. I got a job washing dishes at Denny’s just to earn enough money to buy a car ($500. did it) and earn the money for gas so that I could drive it until exactly the amount with which I started was left in the tank, turn around and drive it back home. At that point in my life, there was no greater feeling on earth than the cold wind blowing through the open window with the heater on full blast warming my body from the legs up as I twisted up the Pacific Coast Highway at night with the moonlit Pacific on the left and the hillside on the right and the radio blaring Janis Ian singing “At Seventeen” just to me.
Then, after college, and multiple trips across the USA, I bought a Eurailpass (I think for $200.) which gave me unlimited access to the European rail system for an entire month. It was 1975, the year made special when, in a dormitory lobby in Innsbruck, I met the woman who 7 years later was to become my wife. I stalked her (with her informed consent) for 3 days while we traveled on trains singing and gently arguing about whether Sinatra’s version was better than Ella’s.
When my kids were grown, I finally got the opportunity to take to the skies as I had always wanted. Launching off the earth and guiding a ship through the skies is a thrill unlike any other. But it is always about movement, about condensing time so that somehow, magically, it is possible to be one place and then another, very different place, where people dressed, spoke, walked and even gesticulated differently, architects designed buildings differently, and surviving the weather presented different challenges.
Then, there is the thrill that has taken me half a century to appreciate, the singular experience of coming home to the relative safety of the nest, where that upholstered chair is waiting for me in the living room.