Often I find myself caught between two worlds, two sets of expectations. Often this is reflected in the kind of traveling I like to do, and what sort of planning accompanies each event.
On one hand, I am every bit the starry-eyed glitz and glamor jetsetter my minds' eye would like to believe that I am. (I'm not, but have enough credentials and miles under my belt to make it a stretching of the truth versus an outright lie.) (As I write this I am parked in an underground parking garage in Beverly Hills, escorting a screenwriter friend of mine around the various production companies in LA -- as a traveler, I've been to New York, Paris, Monte Carlo, St Barth's and Las Vegas, among other glam destinations. And consumed far more martinis in exotic locations than my liver would care to admit.)
And the truth is, I like a lot of the trappings of that kind of thing. Yeah, it makes me shallow and self-indulgent, but there's something to be said for the luxuries in life. If, of course, you can afford them.
On the other hand, there is a very strong part of my personality which is driven towards the humbler and more adventurous experiences in life -- and in most ways, these can be the more enjoyable and rewarding activities in a lot of different ways. Camping in a tent the day before going white water rafting is the sort of intimately personal and challenging pursuit which tells you more about yourself and your craft than does an evening in a bar tossing down expensive liquor. Give me a beer, some marshmallows and a campfire and I'm good.
All of which drives the decision making each and every time I go to plan a trip. Next years' adventures are already well into the planning stages and are, for the most part, circled around cultural and/or luxurious destinations. But in conversations with friends I've come to realize how many of the important memories come from times when the subject is the adventure of getting your hands dirty, and not in the glamor of a given situation.
|If you ever plan to motor west...|
I have driven or been driven across the continental United States more than a half dozen times. The three most memorable -- those which made the greatest an impact on my perspective and worldview -- involved the settings and events instead of just the participants. The first, with my father in 1971, had a profound effect on my understanding of this country. We alternated between campgrounds and low budget motels, more for the adventure than the cost involved. The car was a bright yellow 1966 Corvair Corsa, earning it the nickname "Chiquita". My father and I would set up tent in roughly half of the places we stopped, while every other night we would check into a Travelodge or Motel 6 or Holiday Inn to wash the grime from our ears and get a good night's sleep. We also experimented with small, local diners versus the now-omnipresent fast food chains which now seem to clog every interstate off ramp and were, even then, plentiful.
|Miles to go before I sleep|
This set the tone for my own future long drives, particularly when it comes to food. Though there are times when fast food is the only option, I find it anathema to the very concept of travel and cultural experimentation. If every meal consists of chain store burgers and fries, why bother packing up and heading down the road in the first place?
The second of my three memorable trips across country occurred a decade and a half later when I set out on a solitary trip from Washington, DC, to attend college in Los Angeles. The car was an aging, green Triumph TR7 -- itself the source of a couple of sideways misadventures during the drive. It was on this particular adventure I discovered my own tendency to push forward rather than stop and rest. It's not a good habit, and in the intervening years I've forced myself to take breaks and stop for the evenings rather than push on.
The worst of these marathons occurred on the first day of this particular voyage. In planning, I had intended to drive for six to eight hours before stopping for the night. Best laid plans, I guess.
I left the DC area at 9- ish in the morning -- I had a final summertime dentist appointment before getting back to school for the semester. By the time I'd reached the southern border of Virginia it was beginning to grow dark. My plan was to make it to just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, before hunkering down for the night.
|The Simple Stuff...so good!|
But I kept going. I passed through Knoxville, following interstate to the South, changing plans and deciding I would overnight in Chattanooga. By the time I reached that town, however, I decided to continue on, stopping for a very late dinner at a little diner in the tiny northwestenmost chip of Georgia. Despite the late hour, and the nearly 16 hours I had been on the road, I pressed on, convinced I could make it well into Louisiana before the next morning. And I likely would have, had fate and a faulty alternator not stopped me for a day in the tiny town of Union, Alabama. (Town is an overstatement.)
Since that point I've made an effort not to be so focused on the distance traveled as I am on the terrain at hand.
The third and final drive was in 1995 with my wife, who at that point had never seen the center of the country -- aptly, if derogatorily referred to as "flyover country". That trip, more than any other, allowed me to see the world through someone else's eyes. To see things as new and different, and seeking to find those things that make each and every place unique unto itself. I don't care how many minimalls or Walmarts or McDonald's may pop up, you can always find something that tells you about the local culture. Of what it might have been, even if it now is no different from somewhere just down the road or across the country.
|The view from ground level|
And it is those things, usually available for a shoestring budget, that full fare, you will never see except perhaps from the window of your luxury hotel. As much as I might love a three star restaurant, I will learn much more about a place in the $2 diner three blocks up and just around the corner.