Originally posted on my past blog. September 29, 2006
There is a song I associate with traveling. The entire process of traveling, the reasons why I travel, etc. It is an instrumental piece called Perpetuum Mobile by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Emotions are spun from a few basic threads and thus, I wonder if anyone else feels the imagery I do when listening to it?
[the opening] Walking through the house, thumbing through the house sitter’s list as I sip coffee, zipping and unzipping the backpack, checking to make sure everything is where I need it to be. It’s the pace at which I close the front door, hear the lock click, touch my back pocket for the ticket, do a double check for the wallet, and smile sadly as I see Siddhartha and Pea gathered at the door. Close the mailbox lid, walk down the stairs, close the front gate. Stop to take one last look at the place…
And then it begins…
A cab waiting at the curb in the dense fog. Rainy streets at night. The sight of a city skyline lit up…lights from the street signs flashing, being reflected in pavement’s water puddles. Snowy train tracks stretched out behind the Amtrak station, hotel rooms that all look the same when your flight has been cancelled. Too many sipped scotches in Minnesota. Making merry at Christmas time with fellow travelers, or just making quick get aways from others. Making the redeye out of SFO just before the fog sets in. Smiling at the gate attendant “No, please, I don’t want the free ticket. Please, I just want to get home.” She doesn’t need to know it’s semantics. Home is where the heart is, and at that moment, my heart was on the east coast, waiting for me.
Running across the neon tunnel at O’hare, takin’ steps two at a time on a hope and prayer that I will make the connecting flight. My heart pounding as the flight takes off and my hands are curled around the armrest. Collapsing into the seat as the train pulls out of the station…digging through my bag looking for the ticket. Relieved but cursing myself…next time, Garrison, buy the ticket before the Americano. Noticing the Alleghenies in March resemble snow-covered buffalo as I am lulled to sleep by the sound of the train moving along the tracks, carrying me closer to…
Walking on the moving sidewalks, the intercom overhead, large TV screens showing me the news I’d missed. Turning on the cell, checking messages, receiving the voicemail from an old lover two hours too late, not knowing if I should cry or laugh outright at our poor timing. Navigating to my favorite spot, remembering when I was last in this terminal, coming or going—heading home. Smiling at a stranger as I sip my first decent coffee in hours and see them smile back at me.
Waking up on the floor in St. Louis’ airport on Valentine’s Day with a stranger’s coat placed over my shoulders. Holding my breath, pressing my palm against the seat in front of me trying not to cry when the plane touches down. Amusing myself at baggage claim—all those funny ribbons tied to luggage handles making the mayhem more colourful. Smiling ruefully as they say “we’re out of ice.” How can you be out of ice? It’s 110 outside in Phoenix. How can Starbucks be out of ice? Wearily, I take it hot.
Coming up the stairs of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and seeing the angel statue. Its magnitude and poise stuns me…every single time. Stepping outside, lighting up a smoke, and taking a moment to steady myself. Adjusting to the weather. Squinting at the sun or shivering in the cold. Digging through carry on luggage for warmer clothes. Snow falling in Cleveland and my cousin waiting to take me to hospital to say goodbye.
Hartford’s sticky night air in early fall and seeing my friend come running through the terminal doors afraid she’s missed meeting my flight. Running through those same doors a week later, calling goodbye over my shoulder as I bolt for the final boarding call. Sitting on the tarmac, outbound, wondering if my flight will ever take off, listening to the man beside me tell me when he first met his wife, he could see his future children in her eyes. “That’s when I knew,” he said. “One day you’ll know too.” Really?
Flying out of Logan, watching the ground crews de-ice the wings, missing Wildlands but wishing I had a reason to stay. Landing in LaGuardia, my sister hailing the cab, just enough time to make the World Series game 1. Climbing into a cab after a long redeye. Awestruck by the sunrise against the Philadelphia skyline on a cold October morning, whispering to myself “welcome home, kid” knowing I’m going to lose it the moment I see Carrie at the top of the stairs.
Numbingly hot air of Las Vegas in summer. The Saguaro cacti wrapped in tarps to keep them warm in winter. Watching lightening bolts bounce off the landscape in Houston and wondering why the place smells like a high school boys’ locker room, listening to the slow drawl tell me“We take security very seriously here at Bush International airport” and trying not to laugh. Seeing my sister walk through the crowd, weeping because I look like a “fruitcake Californian” while she looks the quintessential New Yorker in her black head to toe garb. Buying tokens for buses, passes for the BART or the METRO, juggling my luggage from shoulder to shoulder, hopping on the subway. Rubbing my eyes. Squeaky yawns. Momentary peace.
All the anticipation…that swells inside of me between the moments I spend locking my front door until the second I see them and begin to move faster, time slowing down and speeding up, until I’m swept up and encircled in the arms of the person I’d traveled all day (and sometimes all night) to hold. The sleeping on the floors, the smiling at the strangers, the flat out runs for the gate. All of it for this moment when I feel those arms and smell their scent, the scent I’d missed every day since I’d last been right there.
For you see, dear Reader, I am a nomad whose heart is tied to the landscape. Those places call to me in dreams and waking moments so ardently, I cannot refuse them. Yet when I “travel,” it is not to places, but to the people I love. They always call me Home.
Photo from www.philart.net. Angel of Resurrection in Philadelphia’s 30th street station, a statue of the angel Michael lifting a fallen soldier from the flames of war. A memorial for PA railroad workers who died in WWII.