Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tiny Planets - A View From the road

Little Prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house.. . .

The suitcase is empty, but it is not. There in the bottom, a small piece of paper with some writing on it.  I read it and I smile.

The bag's opened up, some toiletries spread around the hotel bathroom.  Another day on the road.  I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land, across rivers and towns in whatever way I can, be it dromedary-like transport plane, raggedly land rover or swayback mule.

I have an anchor, over time it's been a large house, a small house, it's been simply a suitcase and someone I love.  But when I'm there, I am thoroughly happy, for that anchor, instead of being a confinement, is simply the base from which I move, a fulcrum that amplifies the effects of my motion, the beat of my heart.

St. Expurey said "he who would travel happily must travel light". And so I did, the earliest memories little more than the remembered feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the dense oily smell of jet fuel lingering on the tongue like smoke. It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug splayed glass that tinted the world bright.


The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some thing things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of ordinary man.

I have spent a half of my life it seems, on the way to somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.


In each day comes another opportunity for adventure. The ride to the hotel was something to remember, in and of itself. A shuttle service, stopping at several hotels on the way. The driver, sullen and demonstrating why driving was his second language. You know how when most people drive, certainly professional drivers, they brake using an increase in pressure on the brake pedal so as to come to a smooth stop. Not Mr. Shuttle. The only brake technique he used was to stomp on the brake, let up, let the car roll, stomp again. It would take four or five of these stomps to equal one normal braking action. No traffic, heavy traffic, it made no difference.

I started to feel like a bobble head doll and the 25 dollars I saved over a taxi was starting to look like one of those small decisions that had great, oversized repercussions. But perhaps I should have been more patient. I guess it was hard to concentrate on braking when one is texting while driving in heavy traffic.

I simply made sure my seatbelt was fastened and then bent down as if into a stiff wind, horns of the impatient exploding into the rain-split asphalt that opened and closed with opportunity. Like all traffic in big cities, we carried on, sharp with speed, and then trickling to a standstill, the road dipping into the fog, like a hand cleaving water, the headlights showing the grey bulk of streams of cars coming down the hill like rain.

 
When the last guest got off and it was just me, he quit texting and had a series of increasingly heated exchanges in his mother tongue with his dispatcher about how he only got 47 US dollars in fares for this trip and he wanted to get a number one spot when he got back to the airport. (Actually, sir, you got 68 dollars in fares, one that you did not log and pocketed. I notice things like that.)
 
The arguing got more heated. I am not fluent in languages. I can simply listen and relate small things in a number of languages that come in handy, Russian, Chinese, Farsi, just enough to know when it's a good time to get out of Dodge or when happy hour is almost over. It comes in handy, the knowing, the looking, I think, as I catch quick glimpses of other drivers in the failing sunlight, faces fixed and grim as they fought to get upstream.
 

The van driver, still yelling into the phone while almost whacking several people on bicycles,  finally stopped in front of my hotel. I paid him the fare plus a 15 percent tip. He did NOT look happy, expecting much more from the American Redhead in nice clothes.

He muttered something under his breath about what he had to do to get a big tip, and I replied -

Вам надо научиться использовать торможения.

He was still standing there, mouth agape when I went up to my suite.



But I had arrived. The hotel bulked long and dark against the city sky, but inside was golden warmth, a bite of fresh apple, a much needed bottle of water. Sitting still for a minute took care of the aching neck and soon it was time to meet my partner for this assignment  while we went over notes for tomorrow's business over a light meal.

After a short walk back to the hotel, my partner making sure I got to my room safely, I made a couple phone calls to loved ones, wanting to let them know I was in and safe. My Dad always worries when I travel, even when I don't tell him where I'm going.  So do friends, and I try and keep in touch. Then I took a long bath in a tub so deep you could hide a Mastodon in it and slept until it was 6:30 in the morning. Unfortunately it was 6:30 in the morning where I wanted to be, not where I was at.

So I got up and made coffee and watched a stain of light snare itself between steel and rain, spreading until the stain grew light and the light became morning.


By choice or not, travel is part of my life.  But travel brings something to you that people who live in the insular world of their home town their whole lives may miss. It pushes your boundaries. When you travel, you can become invisible, if that is what you choose. I like that. I like to be the quiet observer. Walking alone along the edge of another ocean, as it stretches away into space with its illusion of freedom. Strolling through the celestial hush of a square that has seen generation after generation, the sun glinting off marble where the monotonous rain has washed it bright. What stories would that old building tell, what makes these people who they are?

You don't have to understand the language that is spoken, only the language of the streets, the scents, the stone. Without understanding a word around you the language becomes simply a musical background for watching the water flow onto the shore or a leaf blowing in the wind, calling nothing from you.

You may have work that takes much of your time, yet still, in this strange place there are hours open to you.  You don't have a lawn to mow, or bills to pay.  There is only life, as simple and inescapable as an empty hallway, where you can leave behind for a moment, the burdens that you freely asume and carry as bright and ambitiously as brass. For this moment you are simply a creature of choice, free to visit stately buildings, savor a cup or coffee or  simply go watch the trains.  You're open, if only for this moment, as a child to recieve all of the world, not just your own.

It is all there for the taking, multicolored flowers in bright density, the smell of fresh bread baking, laid out like fabric on the ground which you pick up and wrap around you, drawing in breath through the scented cloth. This fabric, this essence of a place, that contains both the dead and the living, the blooms of lush flower, the decay of a building, the smells that are both the death and the birth of a city. You are a historian, you are a hunter free to explore and seek and find, and then return home bringing memories to lay on your doorstep.


From the memories come words.  They may be only in your head, they may be on paper.  But they tell a story, one composed of past journeys on ancient rails, washed clean by wind and rain and tempered by time, written to the mournful sound of a train whistle echoing through ancient memories and newfound dreams.  The words strung out like cars, beyond which wait the world and life, hope unrestrained and incontrovertible.  They recall the memory of it all, moving fast now, wind rushing past like flood, leaving you breathless.

The suitcase is open on a simple wood stand. It is empty, but in it there is so much, the smell of crushed sage as I bounced across the desert in a jeep, the wood smoked burnt woods of autumn, the smell that is untouched ground after a rain, the rich earthy scent of something being lit that had for so long been cold.

 Love - Brigid