Sunday, February 24, 2013


An American Traitor
Traitor's Gate, The Tower of London

The educated young people at my college, when asked about what they want to do when they grow up will inevitably say, “I want to travel and see things.”

It’s a fine aspiration. Traveling is good, is fun, is educational . . . is great for the tourism industry. It’s the “seeing” of things that worries me.

The same educated young people and, for that matter, old people and the in-the-middle-people talk about “seeing things” like it’s a skill that you don’t have to practice before you arrive at your destination. Once you get to the Tower of London or the Wailing Wall or wherever, your eyes will snap open and your brain will start processing the scene like an android high on gigabytes.

“Boy, I’m seeing some stuff now!” 

The problem with this expectation is that it’s crap.

My husband travels—a lot. Once in a while, I drag along with him. Recently, in the Delta Crown Room in Boston (a giant holding pen for nerds set up by the airline so the nerds won’t wander off and fall into ditches) I watched the mating dance of the young and newly enhanced. My husband, the world traveler might as well have fallen in a ditch.

“Babe, are you seeing this?” I hissed, nodding toward a beautiful, blond girl sitting at the bar. “She has picked up and moved three times since we’ve been here.”

“Urg, slurg . . . harrumph,” he said, tapping away at his smallest machine. “Seeing what?”

The other nerds tapped away at their machines, of varying size and power usage.

“That girl, watch her. When she gets up and moves. She faces the room, bends over and displays her lovely . . . bits in a showy exhibition of availability and then relocates. See those two guys?”

Two of the younger nerds had been drawn into her wake and had begun to follow her migration around the room.

“Seriously, check it out.”

The girl stood, bent, displayed, and then moved to a new nesting area.

I finally had my husband’s attention.  His eyes bugged out of his head.

He glanced at me and said, “Good grief, how do you see these things?”

“Practice, lots and lots of practice. That and I don’t know how to text message.”

The Tower of London was historical and interesting, but the trip from Reading, England on the train was where the real sight seeing happened. It was the young girl crammed into the stairwell of the train with her six-year old as she went into hard labor. Auburn haired and pink cheeked she looked like one of my daughters. Her little boy pretended to be Spider Man, shooting his webs at my husband, while his mother’s belly convulsed with a contraction every two or three minutes. I tried smiling at her, but she warned me off with a death glare.

No wedding ring. No one to help her. Hurting and alone on a crammed train, heading for London and sitting on a suitcase, she began to shake and cry. Her little boy reached out to her swollen body, touching her belly gently, shyly.

“You won’t forget me then, while I’m gone,” she said. I don’t know if he heard her. The train’s roar swallowed conversation.

Everyone else tapped away at their machines—sending and receiving, while the drama played out at their feet.

That’s the problem with real life drama verses this notion of “sight seeing.”  Drama frowns and cries and does unpredictable, uncomfortable things—unlike sights, one travels thousands of miles to see, where all the tears have dried and the bodies are long buried.

Looking is not the same thing as seeing.

My best travel advice is to practice “seeing stuff” right where you are. Turn off the machines. Open your eyes. Because the sights are happening, probably right at your feet.

Linda (Eyes Like Headlights) Zern 






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