Just the other day, I stumbled across the following article, almost lost in the endless feed of one among various social media sites to which I’m mildly addicted:
I do not post this merely to entice you to read it – which I do, for it is an eye-opener – but to provide the source material that inspired what is to follow.
It is no secret that the familiar and the repetitious have a tendency to fade into the background, that the commonplace quickly becomes invisible. However, this is probably a far more common occurrence than we realize and its effects are felt (or not felt!) not only in terms of place and moment, but also in our comings and our goings. Furthermore, the very mode and purpose of travel dictates ones relationship with both space and time. In illustrating, I speak mainly to the solo traveler, but those who journey mainly with companions are likely to commiserate to some degree.
I, like most, have traveled often and in a number of fashions. Upon hindsight, I realize each has provided a different manner of seeing and relating to the world. At first glance, there is much that is similar in the experience of a going by passenger plane, train, bus, or even a subway. Where one might feel some of the comforts of home in their own automobile or that of a friend, one feels, to some degree, a stranger among many on mass transit. There is an insularity to it and even the extrovert might seek solace in a book, laptop, or whatever in-flight movie. Still, the longer the journey, the more likely you’ll get to know the person or persons beside you – at least until the inevitable transfer point, where Palahniuk’s single-serving friends sever all ties.
But there is more to take into account. For reasons of speed and efficiency, train-tracks, including those for subways, monorails, and Ls, are generally laid in tight quarters. The scenery outside might hold beauty and variety, but it is presented so close as to be rendered meaningless. It whizzes by, blurring to vague streaks implying motion through space without sense of journey or place.
In contrast, consider that marvel of the modern age: the airplane or jetliner. Such vehicles are still new enough to evoke wonder in all but the most jaded traveling businessperson for whom monotony has robbed the flight of all its glamour. They evoke fear as well. Being strapped to a cushioned seat, several miles high and rocketing through the thin air at hundreds of miles an hour, with only a thin wall and a flight-crew’s skills for protection, that fear seems completely justified. I, myself, have several far-less-reasonable phobias of my own (Really, how many species of spider are actually deadly?). However, if given the option, I will take a window-seat on a plane, every time.
There is nothing quite like seeing the wide mosaic of our world stretching into the bend and haze of the horizon, from a vantage point that only a small percentage of those who’ve ever lived have gotten to see. You can really get a sense of the bigness of this planet and a deeper sense of connectedness to it. You feel simultaneously like a god and an ant. As I have not traveled over the ocean since I was too young to remember and have never flown over other countries, I only speak secondhand when I say that the sensation is even more pronounced over most other parts of the world. For the astronaut who watches the horizon bend to meet itself and the haze turn to black vacuum, I suspect the idea of bigness is transferred from globe to universe, as ant becomes mote and gods become distant and unfathomable.
Allow me once more to drag things back down to earth. Busses also offer decent – if less divine – views, though miles of bland highway broken by unimaginative billboards can take their toll. If I pick a window seat on a bus, it is because the ride will be long and the corner between window and seat makes a somewhat convenient place to rest a pillow. And be it plane, train, or automobile, sunlight and the hum of an engine always make me sleepy.
I could go on comparing the particulars of every mode of possible travel, from camelback to parachute, ad infinitum, but I think you get my point. I wish now to focus on my favorite mode of travel: walking. I am, of course, not speaking of walking around your house, the office, or the mall, though touring any of these places for the first time or two is certainly in the ballpark. I am also not talking about rushing about downtown, trying to find someplace at which you have an appointment. Nor do I exclude those who have an impairment confining them to a wheelchair or similar device. The kind of walking to which I refer has less to do with specifically bipedal locomotion and more to do with a closeness to ones surroundings and a deliberately slow pace. In fact, it can even be accomplished on a bicycle and I have done so myself, though moving that slowly on a bicycle can add a degree of self-consciousness quite counterproductive to ones goal. To put it bluntly, you look funny, and maybe a tad suspicious, creeping along on a bike.
Let us call it deliberate walking, then. It is something that I do often and have done since a child, in all sorts of weather and environments, morning, noon, and night. There is nothing quite like it and if you are of the observant inclination, you will find that it can connect you to the world – and everything in it – in the most surprising of ways.
(To be continued…)