Friday, May 10, 2013

How to Cross a Desert.

Several days ago I went to the local bookstore because that is something I like to do sometimes. I like to buy a small coffee drink and wander around touching all of the books. I do this at the library sometimes too, but at the Barnes and Noble they have cookies!

So several days ago I went and did this and I came across a slim book called “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts. It is subtitled, “An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”.

Several things about this that are immediately interesting: I recognized the photo on the cover (from behind, a man with a big backpack walking away from the camera along the ridge of a small sand dune and with an endless desert stretched out before him) from having seen it on numerous ultralight backpacking blogs. Also interesting because: I like it when nouns get used as verbs and as far as I know “vagabonding” is not a real word, but “vagabond” is. (My friend Mike The Director likes to tell a story that requires him to say, “... elephanting around ...” that’s why we’re friends). Also interesting because: this dude Rolf Potts is clearly the kind of guy I would cross a busy street to punch in the face because he is living the sort of life that I would have enjoyed living. Also interesting because: the subtitle is so audacious that it makes one go a little, “what the fuck are you talkin’ about Willis?”

I flipped through it a little bit that day and discovered quickly that it is not a travel book exactly and not a travelogue exactly, but more it is a book about the idea of travel. And maybe a little bit about how to experience the world. It is a book that understands people like me will be buying it for the fantasy quota and so it is thoughtfully but insistently encouraging. It is a book that not only encourages one to travel, but to travel well; to enter the world on the world’s terms. This is not a book suggesting that you take a prepackaged Carnival Cruise to Mexico (although that has become a much darker sort of adventure in the past year or so), this is a book that is begging us to go out there and be part of the wider world and to maybe even learn from it.

Well I did not buy the book that day (because I have placed myself on a pre-unemployment budget that I am calling the “Do-Not-Buy-Anything-Ever-Again-Budget”) but it has been in my brain since that night. That is how I know something is worth buying; it rides around in me like a dark passenger for awhile.

This morning I woke up and discovered that Barnes and Noble had emailed me a coupon while I was asleep. I took it as a sign and after work I went to the bookstore and made my B-line straight to the travel section and straight to the one copy that they had. I took it straight up to the register and the woman there (who was about my age) took the book and looked at it and said - in a way that I’m not sure I was meant to hear - “Oh, I want to do that.”

And so I told her, “I am quitting my job. I think that’s why I’m buying this.”

And she looked at me and said, “Are you really? Quitting your job?”

And I said, “I have two weeks left.”

And she said, “Me too! I just gave my two-weeks notice! I just need to move on and do something else.”

And I agreed and said, “Yeah, it is good for the soul.”

And she said, “Yes! The soul needs to be rejuvenated!”

And in my brain I went, calm the hell down hippie, but I said, “That’s the idea,” and I pointed at the book she was selling to me.

After she gave me the receipt and a big kindred spirit sort of smile she said, “Well good luck, I know you’ll be fantastic!”

And I said something like, “You too. Good luck!”

I’m not going to make too big of a deal about what a small and wonderful little moment of destiny all of this was, but I just want to take a moment to step back and appreciate that the moment occurred at all.

So thank you Destiny and Mister Rolf Potts and LAdy at the Barnes and Noble. That was a great - small, but great - and random moment of authentic human connection and understanding. Those are sadly few and far between in the real world and so I try to appreciate them when they occur. And what a perfectly elegant harbinger when one is buying a book about how to make one’s way forward in the world and across that wide desert before us.  


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