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.
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.
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.