Accentuate the Positive
I am preparing for a trip to Greece, trying to hold onto the why of going.
Staring at our dogs like I’ll never see them again. Creating a watering schedule for friends and neighbors I’ve tricked into keeping our tomato plants alive. Stress full. So, I momentarily withdraw, to appreciate the privilege of being able to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want. Instead of dwelling on circumstance, I try to remember motivation.
Travel, for me, has always been about hunger. Taste something new. Go somewhere fresh. Make the world a little bigger. You don’t even have to leave home to travel. Most people’s only visit to the Alps will come from The Sound of Music. I haven’t spent seven hours in China, but I’ve seen Seven Years in Tibet. I’ve yet to be trapped alone in outer space, but I have seen Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
No matter how it’s accomplished, travel makes the world more exotic. I grew up in Wisconsin, so exotic ain’t that hard to come by. Illinois was a revelation. South Dakota, sublime. I don't mean to brag, but I've been to Nebraska.
Omaha adventures left me hungry for more.
So, I agreed to meet a man I’d been dating with via posted letters. Snail mail Grindr. A courtship like Aunt Nancy and Uncle Philip during WWII. Running to the mailbox in anticipation. Going somewhere cozy to hang on his every word, until we finally were to meet in person.
Let's call him Astaire.
We arranged to rendezvous at the wedding of the friend who introduced us. Afterward we headed to the PCH on our way to San Francisco. One of those wonderful trips where the journey matters as much as the destination.
We drove up a steep hill in his two-seater convertible. The road crested and I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I cried, because until that trip, I had no confidence I would ever see it. In that nearly perfect moment, I had a familiar thought.
Astaire was perfectly nice. Handsome and bright. Talented. Stylish, beyond reason. Truly. He lived in a house designed to showcase portraits of Depression Era starlets. Everything in his home was black & white, including his opinions. He wouldn’t even play music recorded after WWII.
Poor Astaire, passing as a charming eccentric when in truth he was hiding a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If he’s bothered to think of me in the last 25 years, I’m sure he has his own version of why we weren’t a match.
“Greg Triggs? A bullet successfully dodged. One day he came to breakfast in an orange t-shirt. Orange! That’s for juice, not fabric! It was madness I tell you. Madness! Now, what’s say we turn on the wireless? The Jack Benny Program is on.”
During that trip I suggested we go to the Castro. He rolled his eyes and said, “Don’t you think that’s a little stereotypically gay?” He was sitting under a portrait of Joan Crawford. He was wearing white silk pajamas and what I'm fairly certain was a smoking jacket.
Yep. The Castro was the stereotype.
Alas, Astaire and I were not meant to be; but, when I think of him the first thing that comes to mind is not his presidency of the Bay Area Jean Harlow Fan Club. What I remember is him being the guy who first showed me the Pacific Ocean.
For that I am grateful.
By dwelling on what is not, we miss seeing what is. Whether you’re in Paris at sunset with an Astaire-type or with the person of your dreams in Ottumwa, Iowa, you're better for having made the trip.
Travel isn’t easy. Airport security is annoying. Flights are delayed. You’re not in control. You might end up flying coach between a linebacker and a crying baby. There’s no choice but to pop a Valium, put on blinders and get where you’re going. As one of Astaire’s favorite songs by Mr. Johnny Mercer, circa 1944 tells us, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive.”
Travel leaves you with wonderful snapshots that linger and teach you something unexpected. Memories may return, but the context will be different. The foggy Delaware River fades away and suddenly you’re on the shore of Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds, with a guy who has never seen The Birds because it was filmed in the 1960s. No matter. You’re together, for that moment, staring out at the beautiful and perfect Pacific Ocean.
One of you sees in color. The other in black and white. Despite differences, you both know the best choice is to stay in the moment and enjoy the view.