03 February 2011


I've become "the traveling type".
The type that does not stand still.
The type that, on a whim, takes to the road.

So many windows I've looked out of. Windows of trains, of cars, of buses, of vans, of planes, of hotels, of hostels, of coffee shops, coffee shops, coffee shops. My favorites are the view from the front window of my car as I approach Boulder: the star on Flagstaff lights up at night, the Flatirons glow like gold during the day. Denver as I approach it on the way back down from Boulder or from the mountains, out of my front window, or my mother's passenger side window, or the window of the BV/BX/BF bus. Southern Illinois and Indiana in the colorful months of fall, crossing rivers after river. Minneapolis from the window of a plane, the landscape is like a work of abstract art, with rivers and lakes swirling through the land, the houses, the roads. Iowa from the window of a car, the hills of black dirt sing tunes of lovers that will someday be. Connecticut from the window of Amtrak on the way from New York City to Boston: when you've come to New England, you feel it; the beach, with sailboats on the water and children on the sand flashes before your eyes for just a few moments, and then you keep moving. And, of course, cities. Chicago from the 50th story condominium window of a family I babysat, New York from Rockefeller, Central Park spreading beneath, a rectangle of green in the city, and in DC, don't bother with windows, just stand on your feet on the National Mall. My least favorite are the flat plains of Nebraska, and the frozen hills and sleeping forests of Wisconsin in the winter. The wind is strong, yelling with terror, the landscape is barren, but you keep moving. Always keep moving.

I wake in the ungodly hours of the morning, and curl up to sleep in those window seats. Us traveling types, we can't afford the luxury of a reasonably scheduled trip. I caught the red-eye from Hawaii on Christmas Eve with my family, when the plane was nearly empty. I've caught the red-eye to DC, and spent two hours during the break of dawn in Charlotte's airport, waiting for my next flight. I've emerged from a friend's place in DC at four in the morning, after two hours of sleep and still drunk from the previous nights festives; it was so early, the Metro wasn't running yet, and I took a bus to Union Station, sitting beside the poor wretched souls of morning going to work. I braved the Monday morning NYC subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, only to brave Penn Station at 8AM; a man apologetically, but without hesitation, cut in front of me as I was buying a bagel, saying he was late, and I just smiled at my first New York Moment. I caught the 5:22 Metra from the Chicago suburbs to downtown, once again searched the faces of early morning commuters for any sign of life (I found it), and jumped over snowbanks with my suitcase as I rushed to catch my bus; it was the morning after Chicago's third largest blizzard ever, and I knew that just miles away Lake Shore Drive was crowded with those abandoned cars we saw on national television. But I kept moving forward, always moving forward.

My laptop remembers the WiFi I've used, in coffee shops, hotels, and airports around the country.

I learned how to see the best of the city: you follow the used bookstores, they'll guide you through the best neighborhoods. Stroll near college campuses, the neighborhoods built for the youth are always full of life and hope. Google "anarchist bookstore", "anarchist coffee shop", "progressive bookstore", "radical bookstore", "radical coffee shop". You'll feel like a sell-out, but I promise that it will be worth it. That's how I found Red Emma's in Baltimore. Take a look at the back of your Slingshot planner, it will also give you a hint. That's how I found Women and Children First in Chicago. Of course, your best source of information are locals. Reach out. Message people on FetLife, on OKCupid, on Tumblr, on CouchSurfers. Ask your friends and family: they have friends and family, too. Don't be afraid. We're all just looking for a chance to reach out. The typical tourist attractions? Visit them, but in moderation.

Learn to navigate public transit: in the end, it's the same in every city, and you can get anywhere if you learn to read a subway map, and you'll get there quickly if you learn to buy a subway pass. Keep small change: most buses and many subways and trains don't give change. Pack light. Fall in love with your suitcase, but keep a small duffel bag around just in case. Fall in love with your backpack. Keep your laptop in your suitcase, it'll tire your out if you carry it on your back. Fall in love with your water bottle.

Don't be afraid to be alone. Don't be afraid to speak to strangers. Don't be afraid to make a friend. But if you are afraid, listen to yourself.

Since moving out of my mother's house twenty months ago, I've lived in Boulder, Washington DC, and Chicago. I've traveled, with friends, to visit friends, or just by myself. I've driven from Denver to Washington DC and from Denver to Chicago. I visited Washington DC, Grinnell, Iowa City, Washington DC again, New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Albuquerque, Lincoln, Omaha, Des Moines, Grinnell again, Iowa City again, parts of Chicago I've never been to before, and, today, Minneapolis.

I've become the traveling type, writing this as I sip a coffee, looking out another coffee shop window.

1 comment:

  1. This is inspiring, not to mention chalk-full of good advice. <3s