There’s something strangely comforting about hovering in a giant metal tube 35,000 feet in the air, sipping single-serving bottles of cheap Merlot and wondering when the polite, heavy-set woman from Mozambique next to me is going to realize she’s been drooling on my shoulder since we left Addis Ababa.
And so here I am again, penning from planes and picking through piles of tattered in-flight magazines and dry peanuts, halfway to Nairobi and starting to wrap my head around the full extent of I’m about to get myself into.
People keep asking me in very serious, grown-up tones, if “I know what I’m doing” or if “I’m ready” and I constantly lie and say that I do, and I am. The honest truth is that I don’t think I’ve ever really been ready for anything in my entire life and I’ve definitely never known exactly what I’m doing, other than the fact that I’m doing it. That’s usually always been enough.
There’s a weird kind of personal confidence that can really only be gained through a certain sense of reckless self-abandon, a kind of head-first dive into fuck-it-all and general oblivion. No nets, no wires, no pads, no scores, just balls.
Maybe that’s also half the fun of writing in transit, the knowledge that each time I put down my pen and close my eyes I’m a few inches farther from where I came from and a few closer to wherever I’m going. Moving at inhuman high speeds through thin air also reveals the inherent lust for danger and adventure I think is hiding under the surface of most people’s comfortable smiles and generally repressed in favor of white picket-fenced dreams and early retirement plans. A plane skids off the runway in San Francisco. A commuter ferry sinks off the coast of Zanzibar. A train derails in Spain. A bus topples over in Italy. An old man dies alone in bed somewhere. And all the while here I am, sitting miles above it all, watching the wide world riot, pen in hand, trying to come to terms with life, the universe, everything, and my place in all of it.
I love how the world keeps finding new ways to surprise me. Every day I learn something new and I’m reminded about how painfully ignorant I am about everything around me. There’s so much I want to do, so much I need to learn and every night I can’t help but be reminded about the world around me as it swirls and turns so remarkably out of my control. All I can do I hope that the things I do somehow ripple and radiate in a positive direction, even if I never fully understand the great scope of what it all means.
Am I really creating a tangible change? Who the fuck knows. Least of all, me.
What I do know is that what I’m doing is at least a semi-altruistic alternative to sitting behind a computer screen in Canada sharing horrifying, self-gratifying, guilt-ridden links to browser views of a world that’s more nasty and brutish than I want to believe it really is.
I’m too young to embrace a fully naïve view of the world in which I can change everything around me, but I’m also not old enough to fully forego and fuck the world quite yet. Despite all the senseless and savage disparity I see around me, I don’t think I’m done being an optimist. A time may come where I hit that point, and I expect it somewhere close around the bend, but not yet. Maybe no one’s offered me the right price yet.
The woman next to me is still snoring as we hit a small fit of turbulence. She barely budges. On my lap is an old blue paperback copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that’s seen better days. I’ve had it on permanent loan from an old friend for years. “Read it when you need it,” she told me, “you’ll know when.” I close my eyes and I’m splitting a pint of whiskey with Sal Paradise, talking about the great journey of life and the open, endlessly inviting and enveloping road that seems to effortlessly intertwine itself into every part human experience for those bold enough to notice it. He disapproves of my means of travel but seems to be okay with it; it’s a long way to Africa and just a tad too far to hitchhike. Bodies in motion and nothing but cool, calming comfort and lukewarm uncertainty.
I hear a crunch and my eyes snap open as a small packet of cutesy, airplane-shaped crackers lands on the tray in front of me. We’re miles from Nairobi and out the window I can see the sun rising over the Sahara in the distance.