...All Traveled Out? "Never Say Never"
“I’ll have the PANINI!” my friend wailed to me from across the scary, run-down sandwich shop in Fresno, California. We had just spent an hour driving blindly in our rental car, our stomachs growling, through Fresno’s thick industrial wasteland. Imagine mammoth manufacturing plants and ghost-townish strip malls. We were two New York City gals longing for a sign that said “Harlem 125th St.” We could handle the small, crowded, even tough streets of New York City. But this? The vastness of the American West? Iffy. Three days earlier, I had whispered prophetic words to my friend upon landing here – “Things are really big out here. I don't know about this.” And now, after traversing through the vast, majestic, awe-inspiring splendor of Yosemite National Park to attend a friend’s wedding, our situation was getting desperate. I had pulled into the sandwich shop’s parking lot PRAYING for rest and nourishment before our big flight back home. Could we find something good to eat within these four walls? And why were there, like, NO restaurants in Fresno?
We entered the sandwich shop and my heart sank. It looked like a gas station with gas station sandwiches. We’re talkin’ drab. I immediately turned around to walk out, confident that my friend wasn’t going to eat this food. No way. But then, a bolt out of the blue – “I’ll have the PANINI!!!” For sure she had seen my desperate, hangry (hungry-angry) facial expression. This friend was a gem. She was willing to risk salmonella, or a traveler’s stomach bug, or maybe worse, to spare me having to get back behind the wheel and suffer through another round of industrial wasteland. Aw, what a friend. Then there was the time the bride from my first story had, years earlier before her Yosemite wedding day, ordered CHOCOLATE MILK at a trendy Madrid nightclub. Madrid was where she and I had met, both students studying abroad in Spain. Why’d she order chocolate milk? To this day, neither of us knows. We were newbies to Spain and just learning to speak Spanish on a daily basis. Sufficed to say, something horribly tragic had happened when translating – “I’d like a Vodka con Fanta de Limón, please.” Then moving north from Spain, there was the time I took a little puddle-jumper plane called a Fokker from Brussels, Belgium, to Amsterdam, Holland, with my mother when I was thirteen. The plane was so small. The pilot looked so young. And the plane kept weaving perilously close to the many black and white cows dotting the green fairy-tale farms below. I turned to my mom and smiled – “I’m FOKKING scared.” She howled. I then bit into some terrible rainbowish thing that looked like a diabetes-inducing sugar-cube instead of a beautiful piece of Belgian chocolate. What the? I spat it out like a cat. My mom howled again.
And that’s what I love about travel. Traveling makes your hairs stand up – for both good and bad reasons. It forces you to be in the moment, to be aware of your surroundings, to be open to something new. It has the ability to teach, amuse, inspire, and yes – even scare.
It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled. I used to be a regular on the adventurista circuit – back in my twenties and thirties. I even recall that just five days after my return from that infamous Fresno, California, sandwich shop, I was on a flight to Santiago, Chile. There, I was presented with student demonstrations which brought about tear gas and water cannons by the police. My colleague and I had hidden out in a small café, drinking tea until the chaos subsided. Talk about business-trip drama! Where will I travel to next? I’ve had my sights set on Iceland for a while. My mom and I have chatted about it, and the prospect of enjoying a swim in a surreal, electric-blue hot spring, surrounded by snow, volcanoes, and folklorish nymphs, seems like an otherworldly spa adventure just too good to pass up. Our earth is big, blessedly. There is so much to explore and appreciate. Only let’s hope my mom and I DON’T have to take a Fokker plane to get there. Oh no!
This post is in celebration of my mom's 77th birthday today. She is a woman whom I've traveled with to uncountable states in the good ol' USA, and with whom I have enjoyed many an overseas adventure. Happy Birthday, Mom. Lots of love!