There are two sides to Cook's advice. He is advocating travel, and he is telling us to do it slowly, to "[let] the journey become the destination." And why? For the "[l]essons only the road can teach." Like these things Cook has learned:
. . .the smaller the town, the more grandiose the slogan on the town limits sign. I can give you a first-hand report on the demise of the drive-in movie. I can report that "service stations" have been replaced by minimarts with gas pumps, a boon if you need corn curls and soda pop, not so good if you've go a flat tire or an angry radiator. I can tell you that a lot of the folks who wait tables just don't care whether they get your order right. Having spent one night in Winslow, Arizona, and the next in Scottsdale, I can tell you that the gap between rich and poor in America has grown into a gulf bigger than the Grand Canyon.
But the real road lessons go deeper than generalizations about Life in America. When you head out onto the open road, you leave behind home, job, office, all your toys, habits, rituals and patterns. It's like strippping down to bare skin. Who are you, without all the things you own and do?
. . . . When you sit in an automobile for long hours, the thoughts and daydreams you didn't have time for back home finally catch up to you. New rhythms find you. You try out new behaviors. Shadow selves peek out, blink, and stetch in the sunshine. You take a new awareness of possibilities back to your "real life." You are changed by your journey.
The rest of the chapter is filled with tales of Cook's "meanderings," and the experiences they have brought. He has been to some of the places I have visited in my traveling past, and his stories pried loose some pleasant memories of trips I've taken, fast and slow.
But circumstances, too dreary to detail here, have conspired to clip my wings in recent years. And it's been a long time since I've felt anything like the wanderlust Cook recommends. My husband has been our household's emissary to the world for most of the time we've been together. I have been in charge of holding down the much-besieged fort. As I write this, said spouse is preparing to leave for three days, and then to be out of the country for a month. Browsing through the New York Times this morning over breakfast, he asked me if I wouldn't like to go to Cuernavaca for a month next year to learn Spanish. Of course! As soon as I get back from the moon!
Cook wouldn't approve, but for the time being I believe, my adventures will mostly take place within shouting distance of my home and of my New Orleans family's places. And road trips? With the cost of gas, the age of our cars, and my little freeway phobia, a trip to the south side of town is a pretty big undertaking.
I can, however, take the "little mental journey" he prescribes, asking
This exercise connects me with the gifts of my own journeys past, and the recognition that my own reality can be experienced as a destination, as much as a staging area for departures.
- What does my ideal city, town or village look like?
- How is it different from the place I live?
- How can I make my real place more like my ideal place?
- How much of the ideal is "out there," and how much can I create in the way I think and live right where I am?