TravelWriting

road-trip
"Whether or not anyone ever actually arrives anywhere
remains open to continued speculation."

Travel writing seems the very most dangerous sort, more seductive than the most seditious political screed and often more misleading than a Chamber of Commerce promotional brochure. A good travel writer seems rare and rather unlikely, since that writer holds a deeply vested interest in self-promotion of the Look How Fortunate I Am And You're Not variety. But travel, real travel, only very rarely lives up to its touted promise. Behind every romantic evening strolling along the Seine, lurks a cobblestone-twisted ankle or a bout of explosive diarrhea, neither of which will warrant mention in the resulting glossy magazine spread, nor should, but which results in a work of partial fiction, what Disney's Imagineers labeled Modified Authenticity: A Frontierland absent horse shit and thereby reeking of its absence.

The Muse and I are traveling
, an activity, as I've catalogued before, which I engage in with considerable dread. Once engaged, The Muse insists that some otherwise hibernating parts of myself come out to play when we're on the road together, and while her observation seems absolutely correct, I remain hesitant to open that cage and let that alternate me roam free. The traveling, in this latest case, driving, almost always seems worse in anticipation than in actual execution. I can muster up a half million catastrophic possibilities before we hit the road, but I calm considerably once The Zoom Car gets moving. My last minute attempts to wash the windows might leave them smeared in the early morning light, and I will initially complain like Mr. Magoo himself, but after a hundred incident-free road miles, I've settled into the easy monotony, feeling almost masterful.

Yesterday's route promised five hundred and forty four mixed road miles taking us up and over The Continental Divide, down the quite-a-bit-less-than-mighty Colorado, out into genuine desert, down one of Utah's wonderful Wasatch canyons, and then along the scenic (at eighty MPH, almost bumper to bumper) Salt Lake corridor into Ogden, a drive purposefully planned to take from an hour after first light until about an hour before last. We came in right on time, which is of no particular benefit if adventure was the purpose, but nonetheless reassuring if mere passage was. This travel served as a medium to get from there to here and not as some transforming catalyst, but the roads lead us into what Bradford Keeney calls Big Rooms, vast spaces relegating our passage to the very edge of insignificance, and thereby somehow expanding our perspective. The Muse gazed out the windows in rapt astonishment as I navigated down, always down, the nearly empty roadways.

Travel writers can seem so smug. They inhabit the terribly curious territory between observer and judge. We cannot help but observe, but since even the very best of us must inhabit the observing body, our preferences and prejudices warp our observer's objectivity, for objectivity requires the absence of an observer rather than the active intrusion of one. I drag along my frames of reference, which I unavoidably peer through seeing easily as much frame as object. Nothing I see is as I see it and nothing I might report carries anything but the slim possibility of entertainment value. Travel writers see the world that they are rather than the one arrayed before them.

Still, something magical seems to happen when we arrive somewhere. The planned pedestrian entry shifts slightly when The Muse wonders if we might find a book she's hankering after. I find a nearby bookshop and we commence to diverge from the original plan. The book shop seems particularly delightful and welcoming in the fading afternoon light. The proprietor tries to find the title and fails, but we meet a local author there for what I recognize as a typically lonely book signing. We chat about the business and agree that the only logical justification for writing seems to be an obsessional can't not do it. He's written two sci-fi novels, garishly covered, the only genre, I explain, that I do not read. We seem to enjoy each other's company anyway, and part with warm good wishes. I can report that this encounter would have been unlikely had we not been traveling.

We anticipated supper through the long road-humming day. Expecting a familiar place at the end of a long drive can properly ennoble an otherwise tedious run. Our old familiar is more crowded than we expected and we must wait at the bar for a table. The beer's fine, but something feels off. The food tells me that the chef that used to reside there, resides there no longer. The menu does not promise what we'd been anticipating. The plates do not hold what was advertised. We leave half our supper uneaten and I wait out on the street while The Muse settles the bill.

We route ourselves around the smokers huddled in the narrow brick secret passage back to our hotel. I'm asleep on my feet but cannot quite sense my feet. I'm sound asleep ten minutes later, suddenly awake to the fact that we face five hundred and forty four more road miles tomorrow. It's clear to me then that the familiarity I'd anticipated through the day no longer resides here. We had some history here before we arrived to collect on it. Like that marvelous cook at the used to be restaurant, that history moved on, just like this latest little bit was likely leaving just as we entered. No travel writer ever knows the places they visit and no place described by any travel writer ever exists out there for you to come and collect their experience for yourself. Not even the travel writer could pull off that impossible outcome. We are, it seems, traveling through, and not simply to, someplace. Whether or not anyone ever actually arrives anywhere remains open to continued speculation. I'm reasonably sure we're moving on this morning.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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