Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour de Midwest

As I see it, it probably really is a good thing for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way--hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
--David Foster Wallace
Well OK, that's one way to think about being a tourist. And it is, I believe, an interesting way to begin a post that is largely focused on my experiences driving nearly half-way across the country to watch baseball games. Because I agree both with DFW in both theory and practice about tourism and the effect that being a tourist has on me. And yet, I didn't feel any of this humbling angst on my baseball trip.

I think this may be true for at least two reasons:

1) This baseball trip was not undertaken under any pretense of broadening horizons. Just about the only places we went were baseball stadia and a beer ad masquerading as a beer factory. (There seems to be a lack of consensus on this, but some media experts estimate that the average American is exposed to as many as 5,000 ads per day; this figure always seems way too high to me, except for those days when I visit a stadium which hosts a Major League Baseball team.) So yes, we went to visit places that are already--and, in a way, need to be--spoiled. Case in point: the thing in Cleveland which excited me most was this Nike ad.

So my expectations were set appropriately.

2) Maybe more than being excited about going to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc., I was excited about getting away from the day-to-day of New York/Jersey. I remember not much about the actual games we saw (I remember Joel Zumaya throwing smoke, the Royals late-inning defensive replacement at shortstop booting a play, the Mexecutioner, Albert Pujols being pitched around, and a nice double play in Chicago, and that might be about it). But it was great to be unable to check the ~dozen of job boards I check every day. (Upon checking these websites after a week away, I learned that I had missed maybe one relevant job.) The general idea of going away and keeping a full schedule (complete with a rarely referenced itinerary!) and basically skipping sleep for two out of five nights and not sitting around waiting for someone from HR to call me, felt great. I recommend it.

A few leftovers.
  • We drove 1913 miles over the course of a bit more than four days. This means we averaged 19 miles per hour. For more than four days. Including the times we were sleeping.
  • I slept in a different city seven consecutive nights.
  • I think because I felt nervous about being disconnected from the internet, I binge-tweeted from my cell phone. If you want to read those tweets, you should follow me on twitter here.
  • We took many pictures. You can view the ones I decided were worth saving here.
  • We saw this:

[Update: My friend The Midnight Toker reminded me of this cool graphically enhanced video thing of DFW reading the excerpt quoted above:


1 comment:

Aaron Steinberg said...

Great post. We missed you while you were away.

I like the DFW quote about being a tourist, but my favorite literary perspective on roadtripping is in Steinbeck's Travels With Charley.

I cam easily place a link bc I'm on the iPhone, but that short book is definitely worth reading if you're planning (or debriefing) a roadtrip.