I'm at cafe with Wi-Fi, which is why and how I'm writing you. I keep hearing the words "Beijing," "Pakistan," "crazy," "I really loved," "temples," "and so," "overcoming that challenge," "one of these towns," "hundreds of miles," "really," and "so," coming out of this dude's mouth. He has a mid-stage yet manageable beard, a black North Face fleece, really friendly Pacific Northwest or New England smile, and is now intently listening to the attractive woman in front of him as she regales him of her travel experiences in countries with no or bad plumbing. They are on a date and trying to impress each other with how friendly, well-adjusted, homely yet interesting, cultured, and well-traveled they are. They are both drinking tea, and cars behind them on the other side of the glass are moving away from us at approximately 25 mph. A very bad "alternative" song about being depressed is playing on the radio or, more unfortunately, a customer's playlist.
I hate dinner parties when people casually mention where they travelled. This is always initiated by the person who has travelled the most. Then, somebody—at the mention of some place with strenuous politics, weather, or topography—will jump in to offer, "It's so amazing there, did you go to [insert obscure locale]?" to communicate that they've been to the same place. At this point, the people who have travelled will nod in curiosity and hope that such intercontinental bounties will befall them one day. Those who haven’t travelled, humble Americans without a passport who perhaps haven't even seen the ocean, will look down in shame, hoping that nobody asks them where they've been. "Uh, I went to Arizona to visit my uncle once," they will say, into a wall of empathetic yet disinterested ears.
When people come back from India or Thailand, they often bring back these things: a wooden or metal tiny effigy of a God, textile purchased from an old woman without a retail license, possibly a tapeworm, and major attitude. I'm all for bragging rights, but please do it while you're in the shower, where nobody can hear you. I've been across both the Atlantic and Pacific, and I'm not coming from a place of jealousy or resent, simply annoyance at people whose first impulse at vague Eastern philosophy which proposes the loss of "self" is to consume a culture by going on vacation. Eat, Pray, Love is essentially a story about a restless upper-class woman who cheats on her husband, gets a divorce, and uses the settlement money for a year-long enlightened booty call.
I always know when I meet someone who has lived in New York because they are sure to tell me within 10 minutes. The conversation could be about anything, but is usually limited to demographically constrained topics—vegetarianism, indie rock, art, independent movies or political theory—and bam, "when I lived in New York," that hard-earned phrase comes out with an ease I wish weren't so easy. Other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Boston barely have the same allure, but people do mention them as well. I guess I could talk about the irony of gentrification, that those who provocatively propose the term are, save owning land, unwittingly the gentry. Perhaps the city rats, those ambassadors of modern strife, can offer secrets about who these humans are.
The dude who just came back from Pakistan or somewhere and his date got up and left. He awkwardly leaned in for a hug, trying to initiate some form of physical intimacy for a first date (not even a date, just coffee). Maybe he travels around the world to find his true love, and maybe I stay here to not find mine. We carry tightly to our chests our carry-on down the aisle in a plane looking for our seat, perhaps the subconscious hug of a goodbye. The truth is I want to have a tender tryst in a hotel room in Paris with, duh, a Parisian girl. Insert Tokyo, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Barcelona, some good cheese, sex, hikes, drugs, whatever—I'm fairly easy going. The truth is I am writing this from a place of anger in the form of a cubicle, because my life, however lived, has only been briefly punctuated by meaningful moments.
Outside our couple hugs and goes their respective ways, the harsh avenue wind moving through the woman's hair as lovesick hands, making it flutter in a thousand directions at once.