get up and go.

My mother left this morning for St. Louis. She’ll be gone for just three days, attending a conference, meeting with editors, and pitching projects and proposals. But as she packed last night, folded two changes of clothes neatly into the space of her carry-on suitcase, and filled miniature bottles with two showers’ worth of shampoo and conditioner, I was surprised at the thought that came to my mind:

I want to travel domestically.

I had a sudden desire to buy luggage built to the precise measurements of 22″x14″x9″. I wanted to trade in my bonus sizes of body wash and hair spray for the 3 oz. versions you can buy for a dollar. I felt suddenly weighed down by having to carry my life with me every time I move.

Awaiting my family in the airport after arriving home from six months in London

Is this some far-fetched, overdrawn metaphor for my life right now? That this summer spent at home has shrunk my world, a reality augmented by the fact that, without a car, I can stray even less from the immediate surroundings of my neighborhood? I walk to work, bike to babysitting jobs, and pester my brother to borrow his car when the need arises. Has the reduction of my life to a one-mile radius suddenly made travel to the most commonplace of US cities seem like an escape?

But perhaps a recent viewing of the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air has romanticized the notion of domestic travel in my eyes. George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, makes flying into locales like Omaha sexy…although I suppose there isn’t much he couldn’t. When he meets Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, in the bar of a Hilton hotel in Dallas, the lounge seems dark and mysterious, even swanky. I work in one. It isn’t.

As banter flies and the chemistry builds, Ryan and Alex compare their “elite-status” lifestyles, flinging around US airport abbreviations like multiplication tables and flipping through their dozens of loyalty cards, the elite traveler’s equivalent to a proud parent’s concertina of school portraits. From Des Moines to Miami, from Detroit to Las Vegas, a series of voiceovers in Clooney’s cool tone unfolds the unusual patterns of his life:

“To know me is to fly with me; this is where I live. When I run my card the system automatically prompts the desk clerk to greet me with this exact statement – “Pleasure to see you again. Mr. Bingham.” It’s these kind of systemized friendly touches that keep my world in orbit. All the things you probably hate about traveling – the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi – are warm reminders that I am home.”

A deleted-scenes version offers an alternate script that opens with the same line:

“To know me is to fly with me. I’m the aisle, you’re the window – trapped…Fast friends aren’t my only friends but my best friends. Sad? Not really…We’re a busy bunch, I’m in my element here. I suppose I’m sort of a mutation, a new species. I live between the margins of my itineraries.”

I had this crazy smile on my face as I watched him, falling in love with the way he passes through security with the swift and familiar motions of routine, of showers and driving and setting the alarm. Bingham’s every move is marked by perfect precision – grey bins laid out, jacket folded just so, slip-on shoes deftly removed in two quick steps that resemble a moonwalk. Throughout the film, he clicks the pull handle of his suitcase up and down with such purpose and I think to myself, I’m tired of checking baggage (not to mention having to pay to do so). I’m tired of carrying my life on my back. I want to live within the limitations of the TSA.

Bingham teaches Natalie Keener's character to streamline her belongings into a carry-on.

The hotel I’m currently employed at caters to the Ryan Bingham’s of the world. Just down the street, an “evolving technology corridor” in the city (as described by a news release here) has attracted such names as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and even the US Joint Forces Command, which in turn keep an ever-steady stream of military and businessmen flowing into the area. These are the majority of the guests we serve, so much so that the presence of a family, especially if there’s small children involved, now seems out of place in the restaurant.

Talking to these business travelers day in and day out, men and women who hail from undistinguished places like Baltimore, Tampa and Minneapolis, makes me want a breather from the global galavanting I’ve undertaken as of late. To return to what it’s like when traveling isn’t always such an ordeal, when every departure doesn’t require a week of goodbyes, a month’s worth of packing, and a lifetime of dreams…when there isn’t so much riding on each journey. To fly in on a Monday morning and out on a Thursday evening, knowing the job’s been done and your work complete.

Yet even as I write this, I’ve started to accumulate a pile of autumn clothes, a duvet cover, favorite trinkets, all on hold for life in London later this year. The large duffel bag that is soon to carry this growing collection rests under my bed, as if on sabbatical or home leave, taking a hiatus before being re-commissioned when the summer ends. My backpack, as well, won’t go unused…and what about my guitar? I may bemoan the bulky collection of “stuff” I can’t do without – here, there or anywhere – but that’s not to say I don’t live for this, for this shifting of  the stuff that is our lives. Even still…

Sometimes, I just wanna get up and go.

What I'll look like one day... (photo courtesy of iStock)

First night home from New Zealand...and how I'll most likely look departing for London again in the fall.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “get up and go.

  1. I am sitting here in my beautiful hotel room (courteous of Marriott money earned through years of using my credit card) in St. Louis SMILING from ear to ear. Yes, this mother’s heart is glad you want to lighten your travel load, i.e, stay a wee bit closer to MUM and home! This post is SPOT ON and sooooo good. But, I forgot to tell you that when I was going through security in Norfolk, the TSA asked, “Do you have any liquids in your carry-on?” Oh, yes, I do. I forgot. Let me get “them” out. “Them,” he says. “Mam, you are only allowed one zip lock of liquids. You have five.”

    “Uh oh,” I said. “I totally forgot,” I smiled (you know that southern smile), as I put FIVE little plastic bags of 1 oz. bottles in the bin. Well, not all five had liquids and I am sure I could have switched them ALL into one zip lock, but OH, did I feel the fool. Decked out in my subtle BRIGHT MANGO linen jacket w/BRIGHT MANGO decorative flower pins, white sateen crops, white lace ruffled top and BRIGHT MANGO floral sandals–I wasn’t really blending in with the rest of the travelers. All I could think was IF HE TAKES ME GEL and CONDITIONER I am in big trouble! (smile) No, seriously, total wreck of the hair for important interviews. BUT, by the divine favor of GOD–who knows I only want to use my liquids as hair products–I proceeded through security. My whole RYAN BINGHAM packing success slammed by my excessive use of hair products and other lotions! So, dear one, I will be leaving my new purple 3oz bottles here in ST. LOUIS. I cannot go through Atlanta’s airport looking so high maintenance. Because, you know I am not! I must admit that the AirTran gate attendant sealed the experience as she checked my ticket. “Good morning, mam. Have a nice flight. And, by the way, GREAT JACKET! YOU GO GIRL!” I laughed all the way to my seat. So, I do believe I made Ryan Bingham proud with my little carry-on neatly packed and I am very happy, albeit I know it won’t really happen, that you might WANT to stay a wee bit closer to MUM and all things familiar. Keep writing.

  2. Rob

    As I ponder my years and look in my rear view mirror, I think I have figured out, to gaze foward through the windshield and strain less on what lies behind. Taking a laissez-faire approach to the ebullient occupation of our planet is tantamount to living in a grotto and having a pooh pooh attitude toward your Abba father. Keep writing and keep traveling. May your writings and travels be a cache of well preserved memories.

  3. Carissa

    It’s funny, when I think of domestic travel, all I think about is the road – I kind of forget that people regularly fly between relatively short distances. The ridiculously bad coffee choices along interstate highways, the excitement people on Rt. 66 express when they see a NY license plate…now that I’ve road-tripped from New York to Phoenix, AZ, I can’t imagine traveling any other way. Which is crazy, because that was a LONG trip, but when I think of traveling for the sake of seeing the country, I wouldn’t want it any other way. In that sense, it was actually a lot easier traveling across China than my travels across the USA.

    Of course, to contradict myself, I just flew from Seattle to NY on the way back from China, but that flight wasn’t much different than the flight from Shanghai to Tokyo. And time isn’t always on my side for having 4 days to drive across the country.

    Sorry for rambling, but having just gotten back from a big international trip, this resonated with me – I do want to travel across the US – but I don’t want to pack up a little carry-on! I want to bring a tent and take my time 🙂

    Excited to read more of your excellent writing!!

    -Carissa

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