By Marissa Simoes
“Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable.”
- John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America
There are two kinds of people. Travelers … and every one else …
There is something unique about travelers — not reluctant travelers, but people who are meant for the road. The modern bums, the vagabonds. It’s nothing obvious. There isn’t a mark or a tell-tale sign, and you wouldn’t know one unless you are one. It’s not something you are born with. Rather, it’s a disease that you catch that will follow you to the grave. Both devastating and incurable, but also wonderful. Like the plague — only with pleasant side effects and a nice view.
It starts with an itch. And once you scratch it – in hopes of relieving it — it spreads, eventually encompassing your entire being. There are treatments — photographs, videos, dreams of future trips. But the relief is temporary. The bug always resurfaces. And when it does, you have to go …
Seven incredibly long months ago today, I walked off a plane at JFK International Airport in New York after an incredibly short four month trek through the Middle East. My feet stopped tapping, my bags seemed to unpack themselves, and the vibrations of my exciting life subsided. And as I settled in to what would be my “normal” life, I wondered if I would ever be the same.
The answer is no.
I thought for a while that I would be able to merge the person I was before my trip with the person I’ve become since — at least lessening the severity of the bug I had caught. However, it’s become apparent that I’ve shed that old shell of a persona and alas – all that’s left is the core of a traveler. I’ve the soul of a wandering bum trapped in the body of a particularly petite woman – stuck behind a desk.
I’m not sure when it was, precisely, that I caught the bug. I had traveled a number of times previously — to Europe and parts of the Middle East. But it wasn’t until my last adventure that I got sick. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it before because, as I said earlier, it can be difficult to spot. But eventually, the signs and symptoms that accompany the adventure plague become impossible to ignore…
For one, I developed the tapping toe. Sufferers of the disease often have a difficult time staying still. I don’t mean literally (although I’ve found that I’m more of a wiggler now), but the idea of a sedentary lifestyle becomes increasingly hard to deal with — if not altogether revolting. Nausea may ensue. The wanderlust is also accompanied by a stiff neck — a direct result of standing for long periods of time, staring forlornly as buses, trains or airplanes pass you by. This also causes severe bouts of jealousy that, if not properly dealt with, can turn violent.
The disease, I’ve found, also makes you somewhat of a recluse. Not only is it nearly impossible to connect with people who don’t understand your debilitating love for the outside world, but it’s difficult to get close to other people knowing (hoping) that someday soon, you’ll be on the lam. It’s hard to commit to things like “plans” when you’re secretly praying that — at any moment — the heavens will open up and down will float an around-the-world plane ticket on a billowing silver cloud.
It’s clearly too late for me, but there is good news for you. It’s fairly easy to avoid contracting the disease. As long as you are content living in a little bubble of self-deluded happiness, just stay home. If you always stay within your comfort zone, never stray from what you know — the bug can’t catch you. You don’t need to know what it feels like to get lost and stumble upon something amazing and unexpected. You don’t need to experience the pleasure of being surrounded by people who don’t understand the language you speak but still understand you. It’s completely unnecessary to ever be that happy, that free.
While I wouldn’t trade my current state of sedentary misery for the ignorant bliss I once enjoyed; it might be the right choice for you.**
I know I’ll find the road again someday, it’s only a question of when. But for now, I’ll remain a tiny little bum — stuck behind a desk.
**It’s not. Get on a plane, train or bus immediately before you retard your brain any further.