Monday, July 28, 2008


Southern Girls - Cheap Trick (mp3)
This Is My Home - The New Frontiers (mp3)

The more scientists dig into the fabric of our humanity, pulling apart our DNA like strings of Black Cat firecrackers, the more our raging individuality seems up for debate. Are we inclined to be fat? Are we fated to be left-handed? Are we born gay? Was my IQ severely limited before I even emerged from the womb? Do I love Cheap Trick because of the way my DNA forced my brain into shape, so that something in the sounds of Rick Nielson's guitars and Robin Zander's screechy vocals fits perfectly into this little craving in my ventral tegmental area like those little shapes in Perfection?

When reading about my partner's exploits in Korea, I wonder if I have a DNA malfunction. When I ventured out for the annual In-Law Family Beach Trip -- my 12th such experience to the same beach, in the same house -- I realized I might have a genetically inherited traveling disability.

Last summer I enjoyed what will likely be the Trip of My Lifetime when I visited Kenya (pre-presidential election chaos), and the entire experience was amazing. I got the good luck of going thanks to a coworker and lucky happenstance, so the entire trip was covered by my school. The people, the culture, the environment, the wildlife. Because I'd never been outside the U.S. except for Gulf Coast exotic locales like the Bahamas and Cancun, I felt like an infant. Every single minute of my day was something new, information to be absorbed and digested. It was exhausting and exhilerating to feel like every moment was a new learning opportunity. I took over 1,000 pictures. I learned some 40 words in Swahili. I admired and pitied and adored the Kenyan people I met, smiling through struggles with poverty that only the poorest of our American poor could even comprehend.

Upon returning, I had that Trip-of-a-Lifetime afterglow, something slightly comparable to the glow that covers a virgin college student after getting laid that first time. I basked in that glow. I loved talking about my trip with people who were truly curious and fascinated about it.

But now? A year after the experience? Mostly I just think, Thank God I didn't have to pay for that. That trip was f*#kin' expensive.

How screwed up is that? It was the Trip of My Lifetime, fer Chrissakes. I must suffer from a wanderlust deficiency, the inability to truly appreciate escaping my humble surroundings and experiencing new places, new people, new worlds. That's the only explanation.

Dollar for dollar, I have more fun sleeping two to a bed with three other guys every year in New Orleans than I did blitzkrieging London and covering huge swaths of Kenya. Dollar for dollar, I enjoy my trips to Tunica, where I sit in one or two large rooms and play 12-14 hours of nonstop poker. Dollar for dollar, I enjoy the annual beach trip with my in-laws in the same exact house, on the same exact beach, with the same exact people year in and year out.

This isn't intended to sound ungrateful for my Kenya experience. I truly appreciate, on the philosophical level, what a true gift and privilege it was. But in my gut? If I even had to cover half my expenses? I wouldn't go again.

WTF? What is wrong with me? Please tell me it's in my DNA.

Part of this must be some aversion to spending large sums of money on experiences rather than items, because I throw enough cash into stupid DVDs and music files to finance at least one international trip every year.

Just how fucked up is this glitch in my DNA code? Two years ago, due to the conspiratorial planning of some dormitory boys whom I oversee, I won a coveted school award. The award pays several thousand dollars to cover travel expenses however we see fit. We're not talking $10k or anything, but plenty enough to enjoy a fantabulous stateside trip, or enough to provide the backbone for a fancy overseas excursion. The only requirement is that I must use every penny for travel. You can't, like, do some Price is Right thing where you just take the post-tax cash instead of the Chevy.

I won this award in April 2006. We still haven't used it. Two other teachers have since won the award. Both had a trip planned and executed within three months of receiving it. August will be the 28th month we've had this award money and not used it. Our school's financial controller said she's never heard of anything like it.

Ireland. Scotland. Venice. Florence. Australia. The California Coast. Hawaii. Vancouver. Prague. We researched all of them. None of them compelled us more convincingly than the others. Instead of exotic locales, we almost spent the money to rent a beach house and invite any and all of our friends to come down free of charge... but we worried we wouldn't find a week when many of our friends would care to come down, nor did we know if all our various friends would really enjoy staying in a house with other friends of ours who might not be their friends.

See, when you never ever travel, and this magic Golden Ticket lands in your Wonka Bar, the challenge is that you only get to go one and only one place. And odds are good that it's the only trip of such magnitude we'll take in the next decade.

BOTG Bob (not to be confused with Bob Barker) has visited all 50 states in 51 years. He loves to travel, to make all the preparations. It feeds his soul.

Billy won't visit 50 states. Ever. I'll be lucky to make 25 states. And when I'm on my deathbed, to bastardize a quote from Office Space, I won't say I've been missing those other 25, Bob.

This defect annoys me only in the abstract. In reality, I don't think much about it. Most color blind people don't really miss the color red (the picture at right is what "ROY G BIV" looks like to many with color blindness). They know they can't see it, and sometimes they wonder what red is like, but most days they just go about life not missing red in the least. Likewise, my apathy toward travel only bothers me on a rare occasion, like when I'm reading about Bob's trip to Korea. Or when I'm writing a blog on the subject. But then I stop writing, go buy the new $0.49 Paul Westerberg album 49:00, and completely forget what the big deal was.


jennifer said...

Sweet Jesus, Billy.

jbradburn said...

There's an old adage - "you don't miss what you don't know." Or something like that.

A trip to Kenya - while amazing and eye-opening and amazing - may not have given you the freedom you'd need to discover whether you have the wanderlust or not.

Like you - I've gone on the same beach trip, the same beach house, w/ the same people for years. Before 1995, my idea of a trip was that beach trip or going to watch my Alma Mater at a bowl game, staying in some cheap Days Inn way too close to Martin Luther King Blvd or going to Florida for Spring Break.

Nothing I was exposed to told me that I was missing something at that family beach trip.

In 1995, my future wife and I took what would be the first of what would be annual trips to Key West. It was there that I discovered that this traveling thing was amazing...we snorkeled, stayed at a hotel w/ tiki bar, ate great meals, drank way too much, went to Hemingway's house, spent way too much and drank way too much.

We would follow w/ trips to Vegas, a tour of the Northeast - (DC, Philly, New York, Boston, Baltimore), Dallas/Austin/San Antonio, Spain (twice), Seattle/Victoria Canada SoCal, Bahamas, New Orleans (the May before Katrina hit) and St. Thomas....Spain was our favorite by far, but I have great memories from these trips that I hope never die.

I was also lucky enough to have a job where I got travel a good bit for a while. Work took me to St. Louis (a ton), Detroit, Albany, Jacksonville, Ontario CA, Tampa, Boca Raton, El Paso/Juarez, Hot Springs and Ottowa. None of these places were a place I'd choose to vacation, but they all had a moment: it could be a sunset, a major league baseball game w/ perfect weather, a great deli, a Cuban cigar, a refreshing pool, an unbelievable special at happy hour or a great pub.

I also think that you've discovered one of things that I've run into in my travels. Once you've been to most places - it may be more fun to go back there.

Finally - I'd just like to add - take some time for you and your wife to go somewhere ALONE. No kids, no friends, no family. Go either some place you haven't been to a while, somewhere you've never been w/ her or never been at all.

Bob said...

Well said and very insightful, Mr. Bradburn.

Fear is a component of travel for me. It's safer to return to what you know, and I do it often, probably partly for that reason. I was even afraid to go to NYC until my wife made me about 5 years ago. One of the things I like about New Orleans is that I've got it figured out.

I do like to make the plans, as Billy says in his post, but I think it's really about becoming familiar enough with a foreign or new place that I become somewhat comfortable. Korea was easy because Tommy had been there and for once I didn't have to be "lead dog." That was a real pleasure. Still, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it was essential that I got on the Seoul subway alone just to convince myself that I could handle the city alone if I had to.

It's kind of like agoraphobia--the longer you stay in the house, the harder it is to leave. Because of the fear.

Jason said...

Mr. Bradburn,

Your post highlighted some interesting differences between people's attitudes about travelling. It also made me think a little bit about many Americans insular attitude about visiting the rest of the world, but I will save those thoughts for another day.

I would like to touch upon your comments about enjoying your time in New Orleans more than a trip to Kenya or London. There are two quotes that I always think of when it comes to friends, Jacques Delille, a French poet said, "Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends, and "Friends are the family that you choose". I don't know where the latter of these quotes originated, this is a quote that has existed with my group of friends for years, but I think both quotes touch a lot of what is quintessentially human about all of us, in that most of us feel better with familiar human contact. I think it is quite human to thoroughly enjoy times with your friends, yet still be able to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of travelling to exotic locales. Factoring in the cost factor only exasperates those differences for many of us who can't afford to spend randomly.

jbradburn said...

Bob - I'm the same way. Fear is a big reason why I haven't done more overseas traveling - and it's not a fear of the people, but rather, a fear of the overall sanitation of these places. When I was working in Juarez, I had those fears realized - and let's just say, it's not a fun way to lose 20 lbs.

One thing to note - a memory of my first trip out of the comfortable confines of our "family vacation". I had gone to Atlanta, GA. If you're from middle suburbia - even if you've in a decent sized city w/ all the problems that come w/ them (they are the same as a metropolis) - it can be pretty intimidating. The first night there was fun, but a little scary. But the daylight felt totally different - and a lot more comfortable. For the first time in my life, I felt the "energy" of a city (nothing though, compares to this feeling in NYC) - you don't get that in Greensboro, Chattanooga, Raleigh or even Charlotte. (Some might say you don't get it in Atlanta either, but there was definitely a feel there that I hadn't felt before.) My friends and I would venture back to Atlanta a couple of times - because I think we were all in the same boat.

For my batchelor party - we tried New Orleans. And like Bob and Billy - we've been going back ever since.

One thing of note Billy - if you like New Orleans - you'll like Europe a lot. New Orleans - w/ the exception of the staggering violent crime and the great food - is the closest city we have to Europe in terms of architecture and a laissez faire attitude. I don't think you'll see as many beads - or the things that generate the beads in Europe - unless you go to a beach.

Tommy D said...

Billy, Bob, John (and anyone else who likes to yell "Physics" from balconies on Bourbon street during a national physics conference, just to get a kick out of a bunch of nerdy scientists looking up to find the source)...lets do Europe for a week during the summer of 2010...Germany, Austria, Northern Italy!