Still in my towel, my body now feels heavy and dumb. Useless body. Stifled body eating its own urges. Anger replaces areas that used to feel sensation. Numb body. This is logical love, love that begs me to justify it time and time again. Nakedness feels dull. We bicker while I dress.
I can’t tell you what day it is and I’ve forgotten from whence we’ve come or where we’ve been. It’s all been the same experience. Starbucks, Marriott, Starbucks, Marriott, Starbucks in the Marriott. Years from now I will hardly remember where I've traveled. Even now if you ask me, I will not know. I will force myself to remember other things, the things in between Starbucks and Marriotts, but even then, my memories will blur.
I cannot tell these things to The One of Us that is a Scout because this is how he stakes his life, on order, on lists. Without those lists he says, he could not function. Those lists make me feel dead inside. The Scout says nothing would get done if everyone lived the way I live, list-free.
Maybe I overestimated what adventure meant. Relaying monotony made slightly more tolerable by the fact that we're driving across the U.S., stopping in every state we can, was not the idea of adventure I had in mind. This should be more exciting than it is.
I can tell you stories of dozens of Minor League Baseball stadiums, hundreds of pitches, base runs, and men in tall socks. This sport has become my life, too. These players mark moments in my memories so much so that when The Scout asks me to recall this player or that, I can, with surprising accuracy.
Pinch my cheek, assure myself this is me living my life, but I’m not so sure. Find a cafe and write. I know once I translate to words, these stories will become my own.
Before me, before I decided to follow The Scout, to him a Marriott was just a Marriott. Get in, get out. Make sure it’s near a Whole Foods, Starbucks and Chipotle. This reads like an advertisement, but no matter one’s distaste for corporations these are The Big Three: a conscientious scout’s secret weapons. It’s hard to stay healthy on the road. It’s hard to find a good cup of espresso. It’s easy to pick a bad hotel. One must have some form of consistency, community, where people might know your name. Marriotts are a form of consistency and year by year they know one of us better and better, the one of us that wears his charming smile and friendly face like I wear tattoos. Outwardly, I am the picture of intimidation so I rarely receive the same treatment. I’m an alligator smile and I cry alligator tears. Inwardly, I’m soft as baby alpaca fur.
Find a Marriott, collect the points, use the points. Points, points, points. We fight about the little things, only the little things. We fight about the Marriotts. We stop off on large shoulders along the roads and take pictures of deep valleys and mountains that wear trees like skin; lush and green or spotted with bright yellow. Sometimes there are great chunks of trees that are all dead and brown. Sometimes the trees are cacti. At times there may be a single sage brush watching over vast stretches of warm red earth where mountains wear stripes and flat hats instead of pointed; mountains that jut out from the ground in spectacular shapes or stack upon themselves like petrified droplets. Landscapes for every season. There’s a world out there away from the The Big Three and baseball stadiums. I’ve seen it all pass by my window. My window has passed many things.
And my face shouldn’t look like it’s frowning, but it is. All I want is to slow down, take my surroundings in one breath at a time, inch by inch by inch. We can’t slow down because of those damn lists. Miguel allots a time for arrivals and departures, food breaks, bathroom breaks, pulling off on the shoulder to take pictures breaks. Every action has a compartment and is defined by the necessity to get to a hotel room and work. This isn’t a vacation, he reminds me, it’s work. We were supposed to be on vacation, I remind him, but his work never stopped. Every minute is a dollar and those dollars are feeding me too so I can only complain so much. For now, pulling off on shoulders in the road will have to suffice.
One night in Utah, we ignored the lists. I remember that night vividly. We were so far from cities and the world was so black we couldn’t see our faces two feet from the other, but we could see the stars. There were so many stars. They spread like a blanket that rippled and waved. We were late to that evening’s Marriott but even The Scout couldn’t resist the spectacle. We lay on the hood of the van, parked by the shoulder of the road, staring at shooting comets, pointing to the milky way. We tried to name the constellations and guess which planets were staring back at us.
Venus is the big bright one. I’m sure of it.
Sometimes work needs to be forgotten. Earth’s beauty may be endless but it ends somewhere. It ends as soon as we reach that next Marriott so I try my best to prolong the stretches in between.
Beyond the border of Idaho, an American Bald Eagle flew overhead. The bald eagle might as well be a T-rex. It’s a bald eagle but for reasons beside me, my head says it’s the incarnate of T-rex. I don’t wish to explain, I only wish to press my face against the glass with all the wonder of a small child, so I yell to stop the van.
“Haven’t you ever seen a bald eagle before?” came The Scout’s voice to me. A touch of impatience lining his tongue.
“Yes, but not this close and so what. I just want to watch.”
He let me watch and then drove slowly onward. Slowly, because he became enraptured too.
“Look at those mountains!” he cried.
“Those are hills,” I corrected.
“Well they look like mountains to me!"
Tan hides and the definitive white markings of Antelope were spotted at the base of these hills and to our left a large river ran dark blue, the kind of dark that feels like the blood of planet earth, exposed, alive, pumping and tumbling over rocks as black as coal. We parked along side to get a closer look but this detour had a time limit. The Scout reminded me we’d already stopped once, for the eagle. Must remain on schedule. But out of spite and uncompromising pleasure I dallied in the rushing water as long as The Scout’s smile lasted on his face, stretching him to the limit of those lists so that I could hop from one stone to the other, challenging my balance, wishing in a small way to fall in, forgo my human body and become that pure mountain water that lapped at my city folk sneakers.
From that river I have a large black rock and a photo of me holding said rock. Both objects will have said I’ve been here and there, but I’ll know we never left the van very far. Do we need to hike the trails, fall and bruise to say we’ve experienced this State or that? Maybe not. If I had cuts and bruises to go along with my stories, those rocks rolling around in the trunk would still hold the same value. And that photo? It will tell whatever story you like best, especially when I am dead and gone.
One thing is certain, a healthy dose of fear and uncertainty make the best memories. We all have stories like those. I remember these types of adventures without much trouble. They usually start with me getting lost.
On this trip, if we get lost we bicker about it. Embracing “lost” is not an option. We are not scientists, we do not gather data from chaos and call it research. When it was dark and neither of us could rely on the electronic map “lost” is only a platform for primal outbursts of rage. We devolve.
Marriotts are platforms too, like boxing rings.
Miguel threw a banana.
Miguel threw a shoe.
I screamed into pillows and punched them too.
Words help me cope. I’m making light of our fighting because truth be told, this traveling life is not easy. We are stronger than you think, but we are often on opposite pages when it comes to travel needs. If not for this loveseat, we would spend many nights on opposite sides of the couch.
Opposites attract, opposites repel. Opposition by nature is to oppose. You might ask, what is love if not duality? But we are stalemates.
I take a shower, a long shower, I can't tell you how many times I've done this to get away from the fighting in a Marriott. Do I make it sound so dire? It’s not. Monotonous, yes, but not dire.
In the shower I am able to change perspective. The water creates different thoughts and I feel like I’ve evolved back into a more understanding human. When I come out all wet and fresh and I tell him I’m sorry, romance novels swirl in my head, the erotic kind. This is the point where he should grab me, discard his stubborn pride and make passionate love to me. I’ve said I’m sorry. I’m wet and fresh.
But this is not what happens. With my apology Miguel only wants to recap where the misunderstanding went wrong because that’s just his way. His way kills the romance. We're fighting all over again, still about the Marriott, about plans that I don't want to have, about his lists. Still in my towel, my body now feels heavy and dumb. Useless body. Stifled body eating its own urges. Anger replaces areas that used to feel sensation. Numb body. This is logical love, love that begs me to justify it time and time again. Nakedness feels dull. We bicker while I dress.
Later he comes to me with another list as a compromise to the old list and I have to marvel at his organizational skills. He's reading to me scenarios, at least five different routes we can take, different Marriotts we can inhabit along the way. I can only remember the first route, but by the fifth I can't even remember that, so when he asks me what I think, I pick up the magazine I’ve been reading and hold it in front of my face because maybe he’ll see there’s irony here- “Why Do You Travel?: A Philosophers Guide to Travel” — and I say, behind veil of said magazine, “I don't want to go anywhere anymore. This traveling is no longer fun.”
“Miguel,” I say, “I can no longer remember where I am and seeing those mountains and that river becomes as commonplace as these damn Marriotts. Rivers of Starbucks. Mountains of Marriotts.”