Pagan’s use of narrative in this piece is extremely effective because it successfully shows the consistencies of travel culture and human interests from ancient Roman times until now. While a large part of the article emphasizes how different traveling back than was compared to now, it also focused on similarities of human nature. Roman holidays may have been elaborate, months-long educational journeys, but what they left behind and what tourists nowadays search for in the streets of Pompeii, are sketches of male genitalia. Our fascination with doing things we probably shouldn’t extends back to Roman times and probably before then as well. The use of narrative in this article, specifically when the author’s girlfriend is searching for the pictures of penises through the streets of Pompeii, is a casual way to connect the modern reader to the ancient Roman traveler. While they may be separated by thousands of years and several civilizations, there are also things that bring them together and things that have never changed. It’s so easy to get lost in the grand measure of history and culture when looking at ancient civilizations. Sometimes we need a reminder that they were people just like us, with interests, hobbies, problems, and yes, penis drawings.
There is in Europe another popular snobbery, about the parochialism of America, the unsophistication of its taste, the limit of its inquiry. This, we’re told, is proved by “how few Americans travel abroad.” Apparently, so we’re told, only 35 percent of Americans have passports. Whenever I hear this, I always think, My good golly gosh, really? That many? Why would you go anywhere else? There is so much of America to wonder at. So much that is the miracle of a newly minted civilization. And anyway, European kids only get passports because they all want to go to New York.
Like most things I think, the truth is somewhere in the middle. A. A. Gill is right — America’s cultural contributions to the modern world have permeated every connected community around the globe. America’s infamy and pain reaches just as far. For all our pride, we should have just as much shame. On the international stage, we needn’t pay attention to the petty insults coming from old Europe that Gill describes. They still rely on us, which means that these insults, ultimately, are empty.
Spending any time at all on defending against these is simply wasted time, and romantic ode’s to America’s greatness often feel empty, like they leave out the deep shame of America’s past and present.
*This piece is my attempt at a comedic retelling/narrative of the experience that made me hate airports forever(besides the countless other experiences where I was individually searched out of suspicion that I might be concealing a weapon because it’s a crime for a teenage black boy to have a Nintendo in his back pocket)*
Airports don’t often advertise this, but we all know this to be true: airports are shit. To those of you who have had positive experiences in airports, I congratulate your white privilege and generous will from your grandfather. For the rest of us non-white persons and non-trust fund babies, airports are extremely hostile, racist, pee-scattered arenas where only the strong and stoic survive. If you fail to be both, you are thrown into an environment best described as “Could be worse”; that is, of course, till it gets worse.
During the summer going into my Freshman year of high school, I decided that it would be best to spend my vacation in a foreign country studying its culture. I’ve always had an immense appreciation for and infatuation with Spanish cultures, and so I spent 2 weeks traveling the beautiful country of Ecuador. I could drone on and on about Ecuadorian culture: the marketplace in Quito(where I almost got mugged), the rain forest(where I had to sleep with another student because we both were terrified of spiders), the Cotopaxi volcano(which almost erupted during my stay), and Ecuador’s infamous waterfalls(where a group of students almost got ran over by a herd of bulls). Needless to say, Ecuador was a trip I will never forget, but not because of the reasons I just listed. I will never forget Ecuador mainly because of my friend Amaan. Amaan is an Indian American who, if you know him well, is neither strong nor stoic, but rather kind and flamboyant. During our stay in Ecuador, Amaan and I got close and eventually cemented our friendship by way of both being car sick during our departure from Ecuador’s cloud forest. He and I shared many of the same qualities, such as neither of us being strong nor stoic and both of us having a strong condemnation towards airports. To this day, I consider Amaan a good friend and tell this story in the hopes to relay three important messages: one, airports are shit, two, don’t use hair gel, and finally, TSA agents are way too bored.
Rather than having a direct flight from Mariscal Sucre International Airport to JFK, a group consisting of myself, Amaan, 10 or so other classmates, and 3 chauffeurs from our Middle school, had a connecting flight. From Mariscal Sucre International Airport we flew to Miami International Airport, where we found ourselves stranded in one of America’s worst yet best states for two and a half hours. During that time, as teenagers tend to do with time, we did nothing but gossip, complain, and watch YouTube videos while using some poor sap’s Hotspot. Around 45 minutes before our flight, we began making our way to the terminal. Mistakes were made, and we had to, as a group, go through the conveyor belt-thingy again, taking off our shoes and belts and other objects that the TSA considers “threatening”(because, much like everybody else, I can hijack a plane with my size 9 Air Force Ones). As a black kid, going through security is always a risk, for being black is, if you didn’t know, a risk many black people have to take. On this day, however, I made it past security safely and patiently waited for my good friend Amaan to pass through as well. As I viscously attempt to put my shoes back on(it’s always more difficult once you’ve already passed security), a siren begins to sound, emitting from the conveyor belt-thingamajiggy. As I look up from my sorrowful attempt at tying a shoe, I see my good friend Amaan being surrounded by TSA, as they position themselves in the frightening and formidable “we don’t have guns but we are still a challenge for a 14-year old” formation. I audibly gasp (as any good friend would) at the horror of seeing Amaan surrounded, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Over the loudspeaker, an unenthusiastic white female ( I assume) begins to speak. She says, “Travellers do not panic. The bomb squad has just been called and there will be a temporary pause in flight departures and arrivals. We ask that you remain calm.” At this point, everyone is panicked, and after 20 minutes of complete chaos, three men in ABS uniform walk up to Amaan (and yes, these men were white) in a very intimidating manner, sharing looks of disgust at the possible 14-year old Indian American terrorist before them(have I mentioned that Amaan has no relation to Islam?). Without a moment’s notice, they began rummaging through Amaan’s carry-on bag (I thought the bomb squad would be more careful), scanning it ferociously for bomb residue or other bomb-like fluids. This process takes around 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, Amaan was having a panic attack; he was crying, hyperventilating, and was, at times, seconds away from passing out entirely. As Amaan wept, and the 15 minutes of rummaging had stopped, the men from the Bomb Squad began to laugh and walked towards the nearest TSA telling them that all was clear. They said, and even though I was out of earshot, I imagine it was something like, “Man are we dumb. It was just some hair gel! It was nice being needed for a few minutes. You guys have a nice day.” Hair gel. They mistook hair gel, for bomb residue. I am yet to pay taxes but when I do, I want to make certain it is not wasted on machinery and men who mistake hair gel for bomb residue. After 20 or so minutes of apologies from not-so-apologetic TSA agents, we made our way to our terminal where we sat, in awe, of what had just happened. After this day, I never touched hair gel again, and even better, haven’t said thank you to a TSA agent; I imagine Amaan has done the same.
Journey into Night- David Sedaris
Travelling is something that I am fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ve road tripped to neighboring states with car rides up to six hours long. For international vacations however, planes are obviously one of the best ways to travel. There is a very specific feeling of being on a plane. It starts at the airport, waiting for the workers to call your group to board the plane.
“Passengers in group A may now board at this time”
“Passengers in group B may now board at this time”
“Passengers in group C may now Board at this time”
Typically this is when my family and I would board the plane. We walked past the booth, each of us holding our own boarding pass, scanning it as we walked by the booth. As we walked the slightly downward corridor to the plane. When we enter the plane we are instantly greeted by the pilot standing right outside the cockpit, and shortly after by the flight attendants. The people sitting in the upper class seats, the part that screams luxury, are already sitting comfortably in their abnormally large seats. I keep looking for my seat looking down at my boarding pass to find the correct seat and looking back up to find the matching seat. We come to a halt, waiting for other passengers to put their luggage in the overhead compartment. Finally, I reach my seat, I put my luggage away and relax in my chair.
While the rest of the passengers finish boarding the plane, the plane gradually gets louder. Clearly the engines are firing up. As we prepare for takeoff the signal for the seatbelts come on. The plane backs out of where it is parked, we go to the strip where we prepare for takeoff. We start moving forward, gradually gaining speed to the point where everything outside becomes a blur, and eventually the wheels lift the ground and we are in the air, gaining altitude every second.
I pass the time with a movie and with the snacks provided by the flight attendent. But my main thought is about the destination, of what I was going to do and experience there. I could hardly hold back the excitement of landing in a completely new location. The only thing holding me back is the time left on the flight, waiting patiently to arrive in a new place. As cliche as plane rides are, it is a type of travel. A good experience for some and a poor experience for many.
Mimicking David Sedaris’s Essay: Journey into Night
The flight from Charles De Gaulle to JFK takes the same time as New York to LA, but the international destination alters the environment of the plane. With the time difference, the flight takes a full night to get to Paris, but the actual duration is about 5 hours. The airline tries to mimic a full night by serving dinner, dimming the lights and four hours later serving breakfast, as if the time between was a full night of rest.
David, not yet comfortable in Business Elite, watches as people in lesser class seats cautiously file back to their seats. He thinks of their disappointment when they see his normal appearance after expecting someone greater filling a better seat. He thinks of how he was only rewarded this seat for a book tour in New York. He is seated next to a French man, as he drifts into sleep after popping some pill.
The plane departs and the seat belt sign dims. Passengers slowly move about the cabin. Sporting loose pajama like clothing, and methodically lining up at the bathroom with toothbrushes and face wipes. Everyone wades in a similar place, a limbo of sorts. They await for air that smells different or similar. Some, are filled with anticipation of a new adventure. Others groan with exhaust from habitual business. Some more marinate in their past travels as they return to familiarity.
Not long after take off a flight attendant approaches, addresses David as Mr. Sedaris and asks, “There is a man that is causing some other passengers to complain, would you mind if he switched seats? I am sorry for the inconvenience.” David responds “Is he a kid?” When the flight attendant responds with a no, David asks “Is he drunk?” He concludes that it would not matter but her vague description caused him to be curious. She explains that his mother recently passed and people are irritated with his crying. David says, “They are irritated by his crying?”
“Yes sir, that is all” she responds.
David agrees and she disappears to the back of the plane. Moments later the man appears. His eyes red, and head most likely aching form the crying. His face was rough, with strong features and big hands. A man who could casually pull off a hat, and still come off as humble and well mannered. The flight attendant quietly thanks David and returns to her usual duties.
David naturally reflects on his mother’s funeral, while he thinks of this grieving man’s condition. He recalls the heat of North Carolina, and some heavy hearted laughs with his sister. He wonders if he should offer some sort of condolences but concludes that the man wants to be left alone and diverts his attention to the extra amenities of Business Elite. Tuning into his private screen, and mashing the stiff buttons to find the most comfortable position. Dinner arrives and David’s new seat-mate refuses his meal. Though, he assumes the man is envious when he tears the foil off his meal. The man begins to cry again, not in a distracting way, but with a steady stream of tears. David is a little perplexed by the magnitude of grief. A good amount of time must have passed since he received the news. He imagines there must be some regret added to this man’s grief. He pictures an old woman, on her deathbed, pleading for her son to visit, but the distractions of the present got the best of him and he couldn’t make the time. Now she rests in a morgue, pumped with formaldehyde, eyes glued shut, make-up smeared on her face to give it a less dead look. He does feel sorry for this man and begins to reflect on another funeral experience. In high school a girl died of Leukemia. He remembers the unvalidated grief he had until another classmate expressed the same emotional turmoil.
The serious energy and ignorance to the feasible pleasures of Business Elite urges David to decline whipped cream and a second serving. While the plane effortlessly bolts to New York, David could not help but to succumb to his reflections of past grief. His empathy and the lack of distraction peeled away at his normal emotional guards. Slowly past experiences crept out of the deep grooves in his mind, like gremlins crawling out a crevasse into his subconscious. His nose stung and the seams that held his tears inside slowly began to unzip. For a brief moment, not too long so the gravity of this man’s grief did not go unvalidated, they were two men crying quietly soaking in solitude.
Within the first few paragraphs, Going it Alone by Rahawa Haile made me tear up and want to scream at the world. It’s no secret that the United States still has a long way to go by way of equality and equitability across many facets, but one of the most striking is the racial barriers people of color face that white people do not. While the ending of her essay does seem to add hope and instill a drive in continuing through hardship to achieve one’s goals and desires, the entire time I read this piece I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between her experiences and my boyfriend’s.
I am in an interracial gay relationship and my significant other faces drastically more discrimination, even for his sexuality, than I do when we venture outdoors. Like many relationships, we enjoy going on long walks, and hiking trails, and hanging out by the river. However, on these outdoor excursions to escape the everyday drag of our academic and paper-writing lives we get looks and clear judgment of disdain from all types of people. Young, old, white, black, foreign, American, male, female… no matter what someone’s intersectionality could be we have probably experienced some form of negative ~vibes~ from them. Even trips outside to the grocery store, if we hold hands we get stared at by many people (we do it anyway and stare right back) and at least four or five extremely shocked people to see two males, one white and one black, holding hands. Although, noticeably the only people who do stop us to tell us we are a cute couple or they like one of our hairstyles or outfits are younger people of color.
On our hikes around some of the river islands and isles of Richmond, VA (the former confederate capital) noticeably absent from these treks are other people of color and other same-sex or queer couples. My boyfriend, the extrovert, loves to pull me, the introvert, along to talk to random people we see and meet on these hikes yet he not only has to worry about the racism he may come across but the homophobia we both could experience simply because we are who we are. As Haile pointed out people have a sense that black people do not belong in certain areas and this is true, on more than one occasion have we been ignored by someone or looked down upon simply because we are an interracial gay couple. Though, we both experience this in two different ways we connect with Haile’s from-from and black-black experience similarly.
Because we, like she, deviate from the social norms of our respective classifications we too are discounted from everyone else. Dealing with this among the hardships of life in general make it especially hard to find places to take trips and travel. Recently, yes even during the pandemic, we have been planning our next trip (fingers crossed for skiing to be viable in the winter) but there are a few drawbacks whenever we want to travel somewhere. First, we have to look to see if places are gay-friendly because the last thing either of us want to do is have to pretend to be just friends on our retreat. Second, (while my counterpart does not mind) I do not like the idea of traveling to places where racism is worse than the United States because I do not want his experiences on our travels to be different from mine. After these two steps are taken into account, this leaves much fewer options than one would imagine for traveling. It’s crazy to think that in 2020 there are still numerous places where people are disallowed to be people, yet it is what it is and the most we can do is protest and beg for change from stubborn people.
Type of Progym: Narrative
Watching Anthony Burdain eat an array of unique dishes in Egypt is certain to make anyone hungry and extremely jealous of him in the best way possible. I’m sure everyone right now would love to be in a foreign country having a delicious meal they wouldn’t get anywhere else. Seeing him have such an array of food had me reminiscing on all the delicious meals I’ve had during visits to other places. While I would give anything right now to have some cochinillo in Segovia or bratwurst in Berlin, my mind can’t stop thinking about the exquisite food I had at a random restaurant in DC. A couple of days before starting college, I met up with a friend who lives near DC before she left for college in New York. She found a Spanish tapas restaurant called Estadio, which neither of us had heard before but we decided to try out anyway. It was probably the best decision of our entire lives. We didn’t realize it was a tapas place, so we accidentally ordered one dish each. Not only did I make a fool of myself by trying to order a drink and then realizing I wasn’t of age (where I come from it is legal to drink if you’re over 18), she was extremely confused by our small order. I had the garlic shrimp and my friend had grilled calamari, which were both extremely delicious. While we were shocked to see such small plates come back, which we had already been warned about, we still enjoyed them more than anything. After finishing our seafood, both of us decided we wanted to try more things. Still not following the “rules” of a tapas restaurant, which is to order dishes for the table and share them, we both got the exact same thing: a classic Spanish bocadillo, which is just a sandwich with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese. Once again, even though it was a simple sandwich, it tasted like nothing we had ever had before. I’m a huge chocolate lover and dessert person, so I had my eye on the flourless chocolate cake served with caramel ice cream. I’m normally not a fan of caramel, but the way it paired with the chocolate-ness of the cake made it perfect. It was so good, both of us still constantly think about it. The cake had us wanting even more, so we ended up ordering another piece, which may seem extreme, but it was completely worth it. While we left completely full and with a “food baby”, we didn’t regret a thing. To this day, it is still one of my favorite meals I’ve had not only during my time in DC but in general. If I had pictures of what we had I’d include them, but we were too captivated by our meals to even think of photographing them. I may be overselling this place because I’m extremely hungry right now, but it was still an amazing meal we both still think of more than a year later.
“Your life: both meaningless in the grand scale of all that nothingness, and somehow meaningful again; which is to say, it’s nice, real nice,” (Bourdain, 36:40).
Backpacking is the activity of greatest self-reflection that one can engage in. It’s you, maybe a few others, on the trail, carrying all of your food and equipment, for days at a time. Each day is a routine: get up when the sun or the birds wake you up, pack your tent, cook some breakfast, shove everything in your backpack, and set out on the trail for the better part of the day. There is no real complexity to it, no emails, no text messages, generally no access to the outside world, or anything to stress you out. It’s sublime, though of course, this is my opinion.
Two years ago, with the summer drawing to a close, my friend and I planned a trip. It was just a short jaunt out, up and around our state’s highest peak, something to grasp onto those last warm days of the season, before fall and school swept in to ruin it. A two-day, 15-mile round trip, nothing to get too excited about. In comparison to various 40-milers and one 80-miler I had been on previously, this was really nothing. Just a taster to get the feeling of quiet and solitude on the trail, nothing much.
We set off late in the afternoon at the trailhead, carrying what was quite minimal luggage for backpacking, only food, water, rain gear, sleeping rolls, and some clothes. By the time we got halfway up the well-beaten state-park track, the sun was already setting. The cool, woody smell of autumn wafted its way through the forest, carried by a cool wind. We soon arrived at our destination for the night, a minimalist, though quite large, wooden lodge maintained by the Green Mountain Club. These lodges, completely bare on the inside besides the occasional wooden bunk, chair, or table, are havens for backpackers all over our state, as well as up and down the Appalachian Trail. With no insulation and only a rusted wire mesh in the windows, they are only to protect you from the rain, though at the same time they are the most comforting locale you could desire when tired and introspective at the end of a day of hiking.
The sun was breaking the horizon, casting us in a rosy light as we collapsed on the front steps of the lodge, setting our backpacks down with a crash and unlacing our boots. An evening mist was beginning to settle across the broad vista before us, and it was utterly silent. We moved our equipment inside, setting it next to the uninhabited caretaker’s quarters, and began lighting our tiny jet boil stove to cook some dehydrated beef stew, before being interrupted by a knock on the side of the lodge.
It was a friend of ours, Steven, who had been spending his summers home from college as a trail manager for the Green Mountain Club, trekking up and down the trails looking out for stranded hikers or downed trees. He joined us for dinner, and we chatted as the sky turned from red to black and the stars came out. After a while, he waved goodbye and set off down the trail, and we retreated into the empty lodge, arranging our bedrolls in the attic.
We awoke to a misty, dim morning. A thick, grey fog coated the mountainside, such that when looking out the front of the lodge the view from the night before was completely obscured. While going out to use the restroom I stumbled around, unable to see four feet in front of me. My friend and I packed up, apart from a small handheld radio I had, and then sat and ate a minimal breakfast of granola and protein bars. We listened to the radio crackle and play slightly mistuned classic rock while staring out at that shifting, morphing wall of fog before us. While I could hardly see a thing beyond the small rocky clearing before us, it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.
After we finished eating and upon sitting a little while longer we set out, backpacks strapped and ready, shivering from the cold, wet morning air, on the move again. Looking back now, this was one of the most worthwhile trips I have gone on, far more than I could have expected.
Cruise ships are a shameless caricature of American capitalism and a working symbol of how dreadful life can be.
There’s something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes yet simple in its effect: on board the Nadir (especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety ceased) I felt despair. The word “despair” is overused and banalized now, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously.
In what is easily my favorite section of the reading, Wallace sets up his transition from brochure style prose prodding you on the benefits and beauties of cruise life to sober but scathing criticism. And don’t get me wrong, I love American capitalism. I love standing in the cereal section of one of the six closest supermarkets to me, staring aimlessly at the fifty-odd options for empty calories. But I hate cruises. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I don’t have to to know. With deckhands and window cleaners and painters and their curated schedules, like Wallace talks about, cruises work as magicians toiling over their long form illusion. An illusion for which you pay generously, to be tricked into thinking that you’re sailing away from your worries and for a week, as you tour some exotic land, you get respite from your life. But what a cruise truly is is a more confining, more unpleasant, and more demanding version of everyday life that does more to remind you of your own mortality and insignificance than a near death experience can.
[the cruise] presents itself as being for my benefit. It manages my experiences and my interpretation of those experiences and takes care of them for me in advance.
I don’t hate cruises because I think I’m above them in some way. I see the appeal of being released from the shackles of decision making. Life as one of those people in Wall-E. It seems incredibly easy. But what I love most about vacation is getting lost, and cruises leave no room for getting lost in any enjoyable way.
Shipping Out – David Foster Wallace
As a person who loves to be around water, it is no surprise that one of my favorite places to be is a cruise ship. The warm weather, smell of the sea, and the slight swaying of the ship. All of these point to relaxation. The first time I got on a cruise I was only around 10 years old. I remember going on board, seeing all the bright lights in the indoor portion of the ship. It didn’t feel like a cruise, it felt more like a hotel; a long hall with doors on both sides. About 30 minutes after getting to my room, I could feel the ship start to move. I walked out onto the balcony, I could hear the sound of the seagulls chirping. I felt the warm breeze of air push up against me as I looked down to see the bottom part of the vessel slowly slicing through the water. There was a peacefulness in all this. I sat on the balcony for an hour with no specific purpose, no activity. It felt like the ship was taking me away from my world. I was quite literally getting away from everything. Wallace states that “Your troublesome capacities for choice, error, regret, dissatisfaction, and despair will be removed from the equation. You will be able-finally, for once to relax” (Wallace) This is one of the simple, yet unexplainable feelings of being on a cruise ship.