Saturday, December 28, 2013

shoes off

One of the best feelings in the world is the feeling of traveling solo.
[Ed. Note: Author is currently experiencing severe bout of wanderlust]
As you step out into a Big City you discover just how small you are, and that understanding makes you feel so very alive. Too many days are spent sleepwalking, but days when you travel alone you are very fully alive: from the tips of your worn boots to the top of your head, you are alert, alive, on fire.
My small pea coat turns into armor, its deep pockets filled with any number of supplies that might be instantaneously necessary.
As soon as I slide onto the train car as gracefully as I can with an unwieldy backpack and suitcase combination, I slip on a commuter face that mimics everyone else's in the car.
Public Transportation is endlessly fascinating: the boy sitting in the corner is watching something on his phone; the two women enter, laughing and joking with one another; the other girl with the suitcase briefly scans my suitcase/backpack, our curiosities mutually piqued by the similarities of our situation. An accidental kinship.

As soon as the train reaches my stop, I grab the suitcase, and somehow maneuver it down the steep and rather rickety metal staircase.
A man in front of me makes a helpful motion and a joke about steps, and I laugh a solidarity laugh.
An adventurer is never too proud to ask for help, but only in the direst of situations. This staircase is not a dire situation. Right now, we are both two navigators, adept at maintaining our composures while moving awkwardly-shaped burdens.

Once reaching street level, there is a small wind of relief.
There is a modicum of comfort and stability when one finds oneself on sturdy terra firma, instead of on an elevated platform.
There is nothing like being on solid ground on one's own two feet.
The magic of flying machines and elevated trains is all well and good.
But give me a path and a sturdy pair of boots any day.
Once descended from the train stop and finding oneself on the sidewalk, the next important step is to just go.
Move. Confidently, in a direction.
Don't worry about whether or not it's the right one, a quick reading of street signs will quickly reveal whether you must press on or take a sharp and confident u-turn.
There is no point in wandering or wobbling.
If one is to walk, one might as well do it with purpose.
If directions are needed, a quick and assured inquiry will provide the needed correction.
A solo sojourner must always look as if she is confident, prepared, and assured of the direction she is taking.
And one of the most exhilarating moments in the world is when you follow a hunch, or the vague guidance of the compass in your head, and find, after a quick glance at the street sign or a landmark, that you are indeed headed in the right direction.
Take that, confusing city streets, my Keen Adventurer Instincts and Hunch-Making Intuition have bested you.
U-turns, although often necessary, are hard to make while retaining any façade that you know where you are going.
They are a blatant admission that you had not, in fact, known where you were going.

When you locate the bus stop (its location obfuscated by the lack of street sign on the cross street), you join the crowd of people waiting for the bus, a herd of fellow adventurers.
You compare your suitcase with theirs, hoping that it is not too large and does not scream: here stands an amateur adventurer, who has not learned the art of leaving things at home.
It does not appear to do so.
A sigh of relief.
And, with much discipline and practice, you have trained yourself out of the habit of wanting to arrive an hour early for buses.
(Buses and trains are not airplanes, and I have learned this the hard way.)
To reward you for your self-restraint, the bus arrives only five minutes after you.
As you begin to board, a burst of déjà vu arrives: you have ridden this bus before.
You smile at your past self, who had not learned the art of leaving things at home.
And you realize that when your past self boarded that bus, she had never been a small person in a big city before, for she had never traveled on her own.
If you never travel on your own, you never understand just how small you are.
And if you never travel on your own, I don't know that you can fully appreciate the comfort of home, where you can shed the protective layers of armor like your winter coat and jacket, and rest your traveler's feet.

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