Travel around the corner

April 2, 2015 § 14 Comments

I get the newspaper once a week, on Sunday. It is filled almost exclusively with things I don’t like and am not interested in. There is an arts and leisure section, for example. My life is already leisurely enough, and I already have some paintings of my daughter’s on the wall.

Once monthly there is a big, fat, glossy, fashion section but I don’t need that either. I already have two pairs of jeans, a dozen t-shirts that Michael gave me, some underwear, some socks, and two pairs of shoes that Michael gave me for Christmas five years ago. And a gimme cap and a green hoodie.

Okay, maybe I do need the fashion section. But I toss it anyway, unread.

There is a sports section. I hate sports, all of them. And no, cycling is not a sport, it is social weirdness masquerading as a healthy lifestyle. There is a book review section that I always read so that I don’t have to buy any of the books. There is a Sunday Review essay section filled with people’s ruminations, none of which interest me. Cows are ruminants; I am not a cow.

And of course there is a Sunday Business section, which I don’t need because I’m broke. What good does it do me to know that somewhere in Manhattan I can get a good deal on a $2 million loft? What I need is a working disposal.

There’s the main section, which I read cover to cover because it reminds me that no matter how fucked up everything is, without investigative journalism we would be even more fucked up, and it’s my civic duty to pay $35 a month so that smart people can get kidnapped and tortured by IS as they try to shine the dim light of truth into the worst hell-holes of the world, like Indiana.

Finally there is a travel section. I hate this section more than all the others combined because it is based on the false assumption that travel should offer exotic experiences — riding elephants and outrigger canoes, sipping delicious coffee while overlooking an ice-blue sea, scaling a craggy peak on the roof of the world, etc., etc.

I’m the worst traveler alive. I won’t go anywhere I can’t understand the language, which means I can go to Canada, but not England. I don’t care about your art museum, your world class shopping, your zipline over a plunging waterfall, your thousand-year-old monastery tucked behind medieval walls, your 5-star restaurant, or your yaks and yurt on a windswept pre-Anthropocene plain.

I just want to talk to people. So today I took one of my many weekday travel excursions to Santa Monica, by bike. After a few moments sitting on the bench outside Philz Coffee, a homeless man sidled up to me. They always do. They can tell I’m broke and won’t give them any money, but at least I’ll listen to their story.

“What do you do, young man?” he asked.

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Well then it’s my lucky day. Maybe you can tell me what to do?” And he poured out his story, which was so sad.

He had worked as a janitor at Santa Monica city hall all his life and bought a small home in Compton that he paid for in monthly installments over 35 years. He retired at age 65, and his wife died a few years later. Then he got in a fight with his son, who swindled him out of his home. The old man and his brother hired a lawyer and sued the son for fraud, won, and got possession of the house back. Then the brother kicked him out and now he’s living on the streets.

“How do I get my name back on that house?” he asked me.

I told him I didn’t know and commiserated with him. He thanked me for listening to his story. Simply telling it made him feel better, it seemed, although I felt pretty worthless. I finished my coffee and rode back home, a few miles down the bike path, just around the corner in global terms, back to the safety of home from a long journey to a place where there was drama, and hardship, and a glimpse into strange, alien, unfathomable worlds.

END

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