Travelers are supposed to feel like they are at home everywhere–
…clink-clink-clink, went the little pebbles you tossed at highway fixtures. Then there was the roaring and screeching of the next wave of large vehicles. Whoosh. They passed. “I think that truck stopped for us.” Then thump-thump-thump along the road under your pack for several minutes until you reached the semi-truck some 250 meters away. Rumble-rumble, and a blast of warm air. You pulled the door open–cli-clank!–and began climbing the steep steps, saying, “You stopped for us, right?” The truck driver had already spread open a map over his steering wheel. He pointed to his final destination. “Brilliant. Perfect. Great,” you said, and chucked your pack onto his bed. You noted how little tongues of dust spurted from your bootlaces as you pulled at them: little phantoms of travel that would haunt the cab long after you were gone. You’d kicked off your boots before Katie had even settled into the passenger’s seat. “Drink?” the driver asked, holding up a 2-liter bottle of Fanta. “Yes, thanks,” you replied, and snatched it out of his hand. Your driver spoke almost no English, so you turned you threw your legs up on his bed and went straight to sleep, rocking and rolling with the rhythm of the vehicle as it rolled along roads in poor repair. You dreamed the dreams of the semi-awake.
–and maybe they do.
But being a “lifestyle traveler” isn’t easy. Another city. Another address. Another key code. Tramp-tramp-tramp go your feet up a crooked old stairwell; tap-tap-tap on another door. Another face. The places and the faces shuffle in your memory like a deck of cards. Here, a seven of clubs, there, a ten of spades. You pull jacks, queens, and kings often enough. The odds aren’t exactly in your favor, but the cards are still common. You are usually dealt a pretty good hand, and you play it as well as you can, placing your bets on beers, smiles, gestures, and shared stories.
But you always think about the aces you were dealt. Those were the cards you wanted to keep.
When you travel, you get to sample people in little slices of time. Try them on for size. Now and again you meet someone totally excellent. They brand themselves against your heart so that you’ll never forget. These are the people hope you will see again… you know it because leaving is hard.
But travelers know how to say goodbye.
Someone once said to you that a real friend is someone you can ring up after 10 years and have it feel like yesterday; that friendships don’t turn off and on with time. They are a continuum.
* * *
Traveling is all about making connections.
Think about how many destinations you have reached, leap-frogging from person-to-person. Car-to-car. Truck-to-truck. Flat-after-flat. Step-by-step. Connect-the-dots. You look at road maps and recognize the arteries of connection. Traffic flows. Trucking routes. Pit stops. Shops. Filling stations. Roundabouts. Ramps. Shoulders. You know where to find people. Sometimes, you can point at a vehicle and say, “That’s our van,” as two people can recognize a spark of connection across a crowded room–like neurons firing over a synapse.
Getting from A to B is as simple as your central nervous system willing your body to move; it just takes longer.
You frequently find yourself in awe when you’re in the passenger seat of another car, staring down the highway. You imagine the wheels of the vehicle lurching forward, rolling greedily upon the cement. You’re galloping. You’re firing.
And if you sleep, you’re traveling through time. Wake up. New place. In the continuum.
* * *
These connections are everywhere. But they are merely little touches, ushering you along, just as someone taps a spinning bicycle wheel. Someone messes up and jams their hand in the spokes. The wheel stops spinning, and for a moment that person can see the three-dimensional features of the tire.
You desire closeness with people. But its hard to get. And when you do get it, you realize its only temporary.
Spin along, little wheel.
* * *
You pass the quiet moments of conversation by spinning your old wedding band on the table. It’s flat and broad, made of white gold, and it spins like a top, almost soundlessly. Spin, spin, spin. A perfect orb. A perfect impenetrable sphere. A tiny, self-contained universe of love and memories.
The ring slows down. Wha-wha-whhaa-whhaaa-whhhaaaa… It falters, loses its spherical shape. Briefly takes the shape of a cylinder, and flop. Whap! Over. Just a two-dimensional circle: like a chalk outline at a crime scene.
Something used to be here.
* * *
“Are you depressed or something?” Katie asks after reading your draft. It’s noon, and you rub the sleep from your face, shake your head around. Boot up your own computer. But it stalls. You drop your head back down to the pillows, wrestle the blankets, and resist the day.
‘No. I’m not a depressive person,” you say. “I’m an anxious person. It’s just that I’ve been re-working some seriously dark material, lately.” Until 4 o’clock in the morning. You show her another private draft in a word document.
Katie sighs and jesuses and gods her way through the text.
* * *
In the continuum, there is no beginning and end, but your mind is always trying to define boundaries, which are just increases and decreases in tempo. Your perception of time and places changes.
From the House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski:
What is exciting? While the degree varies, we are always excited by anything that engages us, influences us or more simply involves us.
That permanently foreign place does not excite us. It bores us. And that is that, except for the fact that there is no such thing as boredom. Boredom is really a psychic defense protecting us from ourselves, from complete paralysis by repressing, among other things, the meaning of that place.
He was, of course, referring to endless repetition.
You’ve carried that quote with you for almost five years, waiting for it to call back to you–wondering when it would.
* * *
“There seems to be a limit to most of human imagination,” Mico says.
It was in response to your question about whether he psychologically profiles people based on their tattoos.
“Yes. Definitely. I did that a lot. People come in and say they’ve been thinking about this idea for a very long time. And it’s very special and meaningful to them. And I ask them what it is, and they pull up a picture of a butterfly. You have no idea how frustrating is is to tattoo fucking butterflies day in and day out. I nearly quit tattooing all together.”
* * *
“How does it end?” you ask Katie.
“I don’t know,” she replies. “What are you trying to say?”
“Forget what I’m trying to say. Tell me what you take away from it all.”
“It’s the same. It’s all the same. It’s the same deck of cards. It’s like even when you’re doing this, you still get bored, and you’re in a different country every few days, but in the end, it’s all the same. It’s like, how do you fucking deal with that?”