On the Modern Means of Locomotion

(Craig Campbell)–

For nothing in fact is more cretinizing for the spirit of man than the speed of modern means of locomotion, nothing more discouraging than those “speed records” that are announced with weariless periodicity. I am willing, for that matter, to accept with me for a moment the hypothesis that it may be possible to go around the world in a single day. How boring that would be! Imagine this to be still further perfected until one could do it in ten minutes — in one minute. But this would be frightful! On the other hand, suppose that, by a miraculous stroke of luck emanating from heaven, one should suddenly succeed in making the trip between Paris and Madrid last three hundred years. What mystery then, what speed! What vertigo for the imagination! Immediately, instead of the train, one would go back to horoscopes. Instead of traveling on the back of an airplane’s carcass oozing with gasoline, one would again travel on that of the stars! – The Secret Life of Salvador Dali

Last Thursday night, I boarded a Peter Pan bus in Amherst Center, ready to embark on a 21-hour expedition through the belly of the Rust Belt to home, sweet home. With 21 hours, you could travel with relative ease to the other side of the world. But I only went as far as Michigan. Half of my decision to take a bus was rooted in the fact that I needed to get home after commencement work, and riding was a lot cheaper than flying. But the other half was this urge to have an authentic, cross-country adventure on a Greyhound bus, experiencing the heart of the nation à la Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” I figured it would be a good experience – one I would only be able to have as a pre-real world adult – and it would give me something interesting to write about.

Don Williams, American poet and novelist, is often quoted about the matter of travel as an allegory for life; he said: “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” But at the heart of it is one of the most trite, cliché aphorisms in the language. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. When a generalization is that sweeping, it can’t help but contain a glimmer of truth. Salvador Dali rendered the same sentiment in a slightly more original way, but conveys the same idea that, somehow, the intermediate steps in an endeavor are more informative and important than the end goal. (Don’t you love the abstractness?) I jotted down that passage the day before I left Amherst, expecting that during the trip something would happen to justify its use in a She-Bomb post. I wanted an excuse to romanticize about traveling the good ol’ fashioned way.

The 21-hours aboard were surprisingly pleasant. Except for the vomit-reeking three hours from Cleveland to Detroit, I was able to splay my limbs over two seats and sleep the ride away. I wasn’t expecting anything remarkable, just something noteworthy. But it was an overnight trip – it’s not even like you could see out the window. I came away with no exciting story to tell, but I guess I still found what I was looking for – America, in all her glory. There I was, a white college kid, indulging in my electronics in the middle of the bus. Behind me was a young Indian woman periodically nursing her baby; to my right was a woman in a burka sitting next to a man in all black with too many face piercings to count; in front of me were two black girls that joined me all the way back to Detroit; at the head of the bus sat a blind woman and her guide-dog. Though my goal had been selfish – I wanted to exploit some incident for writing purposes – I realized in my sleepy stupor that none of these differences mattered at all. We were all going somewhere. There was no glorious ideal of the journey, and the smorgasbord of identities was irrelevant as we were all on our way to somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere far away from where we started.

Today was my first day back working as a lifeguard at the local park. With relatively few saves throughout the season, most of us take the title “lifeguard” to mean resident fun-wrecker. In any hour at the pool, you’ll probably hear “WAAAAAAAALK BUDDY!” echo across the pool deck about ten times. Usually it takes two or three bellows for the culpable child to slow down even a little bit. I always think, where are these rugrats off to that it’s so necessary to be there AS FAST as possible? A favorite response to my warnings is “But Mister, we’re just trying to play.”

Maybe the kids have it right, and we, with all of our hokey idealism, are wrong. Sometimes it IS about just getting there, journey be damned. My ride home was more than manageable, not too exciting, and now here I am! Here, at my destination, with a whole summer of adventure waiting ahead.