Travel is about expectations if nothing else.
The other day I heard of this lady who quit a good job, packed her family (husband, two kids) up, sold her house, and moved to Tanzania. The trip was supposed to be “the journey of a lifetime.” They were to backpack around the rural countryside and camp under the stars at night. It was the furthest thing she could imagine from her stifled routine, the day to day drudgery of life. Apparently it was all she could talk about for weeks. A philosophy and religious studies major, she intended for this trip to bring her family closer to one another and to the very essence of life itself. “It’s gonna be great” and “What courage you have!” people replied when she told them about it. So they went. They slept under the stars and lived day to day. And it rained. A lot. It was cold, they had to huddle together and sleep with all their clothes on at night. The aimlessnesses eventually got to the kids, who craved routine and normalcy. Beyond the hard ship their nomadic lifestyle became a new kind of drudgery. Life can be hard mo matter where you are and expectations, it seems, are stifling too.
As I write this I sit on a train to New York, one of the sparkliest places on Earth. The City is a case study in expectations: both the realized and the unmet. It opens it’s palms to you and offers up all the wonders your little brain can handle. You reach and can sometimes hold it all in your palm. Often you’re just grasping air.
The City has taught me a lot about expectations- and food and people. As an Upstater I’d take the commuter train or crappy bus in for a night here, a day there. I discovered “real life comedy” (versus on BET) at some nameless place in Alphabet City at the age of fourteen. A comedy club was the only place two teenage girls could sit at a table all night long while one of their uncles “produced for the next Eminem” in Queens. The record never came out and the uncle didn’t find success but I got an honest glimpse into adulthood via the sometimes hilarious but always brave comics at those open mics.
The discovery that food could open you up happened at a Thai place near Grand Central, where I ceremoniously returned time after time to eat the same coconut curry dish because it always, some how, tasted different. Sucking the milk from a lemongrass stalk I’d wonder about the seven year old girl who rang the checks while reminding myself to get to the station in time to get a black and white cookie for my dad.
Experience and expectations are distilled in New York. In the City I’ve seen a guy shit on the sidewalk and a stranger pay for an old woman’s cab. Being a secretly sensitive girl of the rural sort I return to remind myself of lessons learned but sometimes forgotten: life is hard no matter where you are, expectations can be stifling, and sometimes the best plan is to not have one.