A question I like to ask when I travel: “What would I be like if I grew up here?”
Our notion of places — which is to say the romances and images we project onto them — are always less current and subtle than the places themselves. […] That disconnect is even more acute because so many travelers have been everywhere (if only on-screen), which in turn means that reality — all that is unmediated and nonvirtual — holds a greater premium than ever.
As I grow older, I hope to become more like my father, who caused much amusement by firmly declining a ride by the White House when we went to Washington DC to visit my in-laws. “It’s the White House,” my mother-in-law said to me. “Anyone would want to go.”
Anyone except my father. Over the years of saying no to other people’s adventures, he has retained his triangularity in a world of round pegs with well-rounded to-do lists. He loved what he loved – the bridges of New York, the Halal street food vendors, the ferry to Staten Island – not because they were iconic but because they pierced his indifference.
I was out on a trip recently, and had been away from home for two weeks. I missed it much more than I thought I would. But then I was finally on the plane again.
I find flights pretty relaxing in general, something about the ambient hum of brown noise from wind and engines, and just enough oxygen to keep your body functioning. I can grab some fitful sleep, here and there, but most of my time was spent watching movies, and the clock. I managed to doze off again for an hour or so near the end of the flight.
I woke up. Too groggy and loopy to think much, but I put my earphones in and put my music on shuffle. I slowly inch the window shade up and squint out as my eyes adjust. It was a fresh morning for me, late morning in California, and I was finally just one more leg away from home. I’d been over the Pacific for about 12 hours, and as our path broke the coastline of California, Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” shuffles on. And then I’m all goosebumpy, smiling, welling up and spilling over with a few relieved, grateful tears. I have no idea what that tune is about, but sometimes a song and a moment just hit you like that. And as soon as I got back I started thinking about what other trips I’d like to take.
My first-ever trip to a very awesome city. I left my house earlier than usual because I’m 150 years old and like to move through the airport like the Dalai Lama. I was sad that after I first arrived, while taking the elevated train into town, I had to remind myself to stay off Twitter, and… y’know… gawk at the architecture. It was easier with my feet on the ground.
I was surprised at how cool The Bean was. Glad I got to catch it at a few different times of day.
Took a few hours to hit the Art Institute. Gotta say, Magritte is not my thing. I’ve rarely been so bored in an art exhibition. By far – by far – my favorite thing there was a collection of Ethel Stein’s weavings and textiles. It just blew my mind. Can’t believe that had that tucked away in a lower corner.
Lake Michigan is absurdly lovely. I wish Atlanta had some water nearby. I get it. While I was making my way down the Lakeshore Trail one morning, I stopped in the Chicago History Museum. I’d totally forgotten they had that Vivian Maier photography exhibit. The rest of the museum was just okay. But that Maier stuff and the Ethel Stein I mentioned earlier were my favorites from the trip. So glad I stumbled on those.
I also got to eat a Chicago-style hot dog before my next museum stop, so that was another huge victory. I’ll probably be making those at home.
The David Bowie exhibition at the MCA was cool… but it also made me realize I don’t care *that* much about his work. I’d never heard that he’d used a Verbasizer (Burroughsian custom software to remix text for lyrics and ideas), so that was a nice surprise. And the final room where there had three giant screens and a loud soundsystem for old concert footage? Very cool.
The Signature Lounge is at Hancock Tower is a total waste of money and time.
I can’t recommend The Experts at iO highly enough. Such a great improv gimmick: invite an outside expert/research/writer to lecture about their pet topic. The audience learns, the performers riff for 15-20, and then a round of direct Q&A leads to a few more shorter skits. Enjoyed it so much we got some more beer and got tickets for another show there later that night. So great.
I’m not much for pastries, but if you put food on a wooden board, you can usually count me in. And so we got a pastry board at Bristol to eat before I ate even more. Walked off the brunch through various neighborhoods I can’t remember and then a movie-nap. Never underestimate the vacation movie-nap.
Later highlights that afternoon were the big dumb Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier and dumb tiki drinks.
We woke up early to watch the Chicago Marathon, which, for a few minutes at least, had me convinced I should do a marathon. I’m about 95% sure that one of the runners was a bouncer at Signature Lounge. Kind of like how I saw one of the iO actors at a bar later in the weekend. Big city/small town. Seems like an amazing place to live. But it’s not my town. But I’m still excited to go back some day.
This is how you survive the airport:
Arrive early. Arrive early? Sounds simple. It is — let me show you.
I remember reading somewhere that if you’ve never missed a flight then you’ve wasted too much of your life waiting in airports. Fair point, maybe. But I have to agree, after a few recent flights, that arriving much much earlier than needed – giving over to what might first feel like inconvenience – can create some beautifully peaceful and productive time to work with.
He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
They undertake one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius says: “Thus ever from himself doth each man flee.” But what does he gain if he does not escape from himself? He ever follows himself and weighs upon himself as his own most burdensome companion.
Wow. Seth Kugel is delightfully self-aware.
Q: What motivates you to keep writing?
A: Not to be facile, but if I don’t write, I don’t get to do the things I later write about. An editor once asked me whether I was one of those writers who liked writing or who hated writing. The implication—that there are journalists who struggle with writing and that that’s completely normal—was a huge relief.
Q: Name three things you still want to cross off your bucket list.
A: Get married. Have kids. Write a great book. Disappointed?
The danger with a digital guidebook, used in isolation, is the same as the problem with all electronic media: You might find exactly what you’re looking for, and not much else.
The question arose as to what we would do differently if we were immortal. […] I answered that I would travel more. Later the question was asked, what would you do differently if you found out you had only a short time to live. I answered again that I would travel more. Click, buzz, whirr…does not compute, does not compute. […] Given that I would travel more if I was to live either less or more, the probability that I was at just that level of mortality that I should not be traveling now must be vanishingly small.
I get sick every time I go home for Christmas, and while it isn’t helped by lack of sleep and alcohol abuse, I’m pretty sure 75% of it is the 3-5 hours I spend on what is, essentially, a flying petri dish.
So thanks to The Wall Street Journal for these tips (which I’ve summarized):
- Hydrate (drink water, use saline spray).
- Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Use disinfecting wipes to clean off tray tables before using
- Avoid seat-back pockets.
- Open your air vent, and aim it so it passes just in front of your face. Filtered airplane air can help direct airborne contagions away from you.
- Stay the hell away from people who look sick
The air vent thing was new to me! Now I’m off to get disinfecting wipes and some saline spray.
Update: thanks to @aweissman for this suggestion: “i do this and it almost always works: basically OD on Vitamin C before you get on the plane – right before. Use EmergenC or a similar product, drink it all up while waiting.”
A crusade in reverse, we marched forth to lose what religion we had and be conquered.
I think we need to keep in mind that the backpackers you’re talking about, who go to new areas and beat new paths by living close to the people and close to the earth and so on, they are in a sense—and this isn’t my line, this is from an old book I came across—the shock troops of the mass tourism industry. They’re the ones who go into a place that has no infrastructure for tourism and basically create the market for other people to come in behind them. And that may or may not be a bad thing. But we need to be aware that that’s actually what’s going on.
dirt & dogs: Mongolia by Mountain Bike. This strikes me as something worth doing.