Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Search of Lost Journeys

My journeys grew longer as the years passed. Bicycles led to cars, and cars led to journeys around the United States. The road was passion, the limitless highway was a meditative relief that in those delightful days was interrupted only by the need to stop for food or gas or sleep. No phone line was attached to you in the car, and when you plunged onto the highway you dove into the great wide ocean.

It was a special time for driving, then. The interstate highway system was grand and opened up the country. It is easy to lament the loss of the US Highways, of Route 66 and the towns and the motels and the travel in the midst of America and Americans. I did not travel to be among such things, though. I traveled to be away from them. To be in motion, to be between points, that was the freedom I craved. When the road was open and I was in motion and the highway offered nothing but slowly growing or shrinking exit numbers then I was released from the tyranny of the moment. Instead of existing as a point, I existed as a line.

To the ancient Greeks, from which so much of all Western thought springs, motion was impossible. Thus the famed paradox, how Achilles could never pass a tortoise, always halving the distance between them, but never actually reaching the point. It required something outside of the Western tradition to correctly formulate beings in motion, existing not only from point to point, but at all points in between. It required algebra. Algebra, like most worlds with the prefix “al” it is drawn from the Arabic, al-jabr, likely meaning “completion.” Algebra allowed the construction of linear equations, the mathematical expression of lines. With algebra, with completion, motion becomes possible, and life becomes more than a series of connected dots.

It was only later that I took to travel as being more than the journey, taking an interest in the points of arrival as well as in the lines of motion. Perhaps it was the childhood vacations that brought out the love of the motion, more than the joy at arrival. Our trips tended, in practice, to have destinations of minimal importance. To my young mind, our few days in Gettysburg were all entwined with our days at Jamestown or at Williamsburg. Was it Toronto or Montreal? Did we go to Busch Gardens or to Hershey Park? Did we drive through the Adirondacks or the Shenandoah Valley? Was it Baltimore Harbor or Charleston Harbor? Once we arrived at these places, it was invariably the same. We would stay in a cheap motel, see as many things as possible, and then, after a few nights, usually about three, we would head back into the car, and drive home. The drive was where the trip was. The destination was just the excuse.


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