Travelin' Man

Happy New Year!  This month, I'm spending a couple of weeks with the folks at Hattery, a start-up in San Francisco.  They've hired me to help fit out their brand-new office, constructing some conference tables, desks, chairs, and brainstorming about how they can use their space.  One of their employees, Mark Wills, is a friend of mine from Alabama.  

In the space of a week, I have crossed the continent.  Seven days ago, I was in Baltimore for the holidays.  I drove back to Chicago, with a layover in Ohio, spent a few days in the Windy City, and then continued on my way.  Yesterday afternoon, I got in a bus and rode to a train station.  I got in a train and rode to the airport.  I got in a plane and flew to Phoenix.  I got in another plane and flew to San Francisco.  I got in a pickup truck and drove to the couch that will be my bed for awhile.

The toolkit.

A few observations along the way:

1.  Travel was once a glamorous, exciting affair.  We moved through grand train stations with terrazzo floors and granite steps.  Seats were wide.  Bar cars were full of cheer.  Jetliners were sleek, silver affairs.  

Airports have evolved into shopping malls where planes sometimes park.  Swarms of unhappy, exhausted people cross acres of sick carpeting, wandering from one faceless fast food joint to another.  Each airport is anonymous, a microcosm of America; a country where everyplace looks like everyplace else, and so everyplace looks like no place at all.  There is never a sense of having arrived, only the sinking feeling that you've been deposited.  What happened to civic design?

2.  Phoenix is beautiful from the air.  It is a perfect grid.  The roads look like seams across the landscape, as the intermittent blotches of yellow from the streetlights look like stitches sewing up the desert.  The distribution centers are black blocks, with a sharp grid of glowing skylights.  Malls become sprawling, abstract shapes surrounded by splotches of light and seas of moving pinpoint cars.  The baseball diamonds look are lit so sharply you can make out the bases from thousands of feet up.  

Phoenix at night, via Abstract Influence.
3.  The speed at which we travel is amazing, but also disorienting.  Since my cellphone automatically changes with the time zones, I don't have a way of measuring how much real time has passed, only the flicker of passing imaginary lines.  And, given the aforementioned anonymity of these places, it is hard to tell one place from another.

4.  I find myself wondering, as all the faces file by in these crowded places, if I've seen that person before.  Everyone begins to appear vaguely familiar.  Did she go to my high school? Does that guy live up the street from my parents?  Is that kid the same one I saw laughing next a gas pump outside Toledo last week?  

5.  Airports remind me of Wall-E: the pre-recorded messages dribbling out of hidden speakers; the vaguely robotic carts shuffling luggage around; the moving walkways for those of us too tired to walk.

6.  I still love to drive.  It's more effortful, as with biking and walking on a smaller scale, you are able to sense the passage of time and space, allowing mind and body to adjust.

7.  Despite the strange portals I've passed through, I love to travel, and it's great to be here! 

The city by the bay.