Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.
— Alain de Botton The Art of Travel
The first time I was introduced to Mike Birbiglia, I was sitting on a NJ Transit bound train, listening to This American Life. The episode? First Contact, which delved into first time experiences with unknown beings. Mike’s story had to do with his first kiss and the rite of passage that is making out with girls. Listening to this grown man recount the story of taking Lisa Bizetti to a carnival and the ensuing hilarity that comes with being a 12-year old boy made me laugh. Out loud. On a crowded train during the morning commute to NYC. Simply put, it was brilliant — rife with the awkwardness that only adolescence can offer with a dash of self-deprecating wit that made me an instant fan. Carnival salsa is all I’m going to say – take a listen, you’ll thank me later.
I think it started when I was young, say kindergarten, and turned into a full-blown issue at age seven or eight. I don’t know whether my parents were worried that I would ruin my eyesight or relieved that it wasn’t something worse.
Whether I was sprawled out on my bed or curled up on our rust-hued, floral print sofa, I always had my nose tucked in a book. I have memories of running away with Claudia and her little brother Jamie from E.L. Konigsberg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, finding my voice with Louis from E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and consoling Peter while I dealt with my own Fudge in Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I’d scour the Scholastic Book Club flyers tagging my selections with the hope my mom would cave and buy me the latest book du jour. Rainy afternoons spent at the public library, breathing in the scent of old books, walking up to the counter with a stack of books tucked under my chin, promising my mom I’d read every last one before the return date while she had to bargain with my brother to select just one book to read.
I’m afraid it’s finally happened.
I have crossed over to the age where you cling to nostalgia and wonder about those halcyon days when life was simpler. A time when we played outdoors until the street lights came on, beckoning us home to dinner. I fear the technological advances we’re now accustomed to have dulled our senses to our natural surroundings. It’s true this happens to all generations, my parents often regaled us with stories of an idyllic childhood similar to the Leave it to Beaver culture of the 50s (confession: I adore this time period of Americana) when we would dare to play Colecovision on a sunny 70 degree day in Southern California.
There is something delightful about air travel. From closing my eyes and feeling my spine gently press into the seat back as the plane tilts for take-off to peering out at the patchwork of fields below, the idea of being in transit thrills me. You’ve left behind one destination and what waits for you is a complete unknown. In fact, as I write this, I’m en route to Colorado, 35,000 ft above the Eastern half of the United States, hurtling towards the Rocky Mountains for my brother’s wedding.
But for me, the best part about the plane trip has to be the concentrated quiet time to read, listen to music or watch a film. When I pack my carry-on bag for a trip I find myself bringing the must-have entertainment items (a.k.a. reading) to keep me enthralled for the duration of the flight. So what did I bring this time around?