What follows is an excerpt from my email travelogue, which I send every week or two while I’m on the road. To subscribe to the mailing list, follow this link. This was originally sent out on September 28, 2015.
I. THE DAY OF DEPARTURE
My adventure officially started the morning of September 22nd, a Tuesday. Tuesdays are exceptional days, alone in the whole week for not having an important symbolic position. They are neither beginning nor end, not a mid-point, not penultimate. Holidays tend to avoid them. Nobody’s given Tuesday a cute name like “Hump Day,” nor has Rebecca Black mentioned them in a song. About the only special thing we do on Tuesdays is vote, and I suspect this is due precisely to Tuesday’s lack of prior commitment or symbolism.
I used to loathe Tuesdays for many of these reasons. The end of the weeks was still a long ways off, and it was my busiest day, including an hour-long violin lesson that I secretly dreaded because I never practiced enough. Additionally, I was often up past midnight with homework that night, and the mechanics of the week meant it would be a long time before I caught back up on sleep. So instead I built up a private cult of hatred for the day, dreading its approach and cheering its passage. I’d try to explain this to people, but they mainly treated me the way they normally treated me, as if I were a little nuts.
One day my junior year of high school I was standing in my corner of the school quad, hands in the pockets of the women’s pants I’d taken to wearing, when my eyes fell on something on the ground. It was a small button, perhaps an inch across, like candidates give out before an election. On the front, in black capitals against a white field, it said “TUESDAY”.
In that moment and for reasons I don’t precisely understand, my feelings about Tuesday switched polarity. It was immediate and permanent: Tuesday was my favorite day. I don’t know if other people even have favorite days — the concept seems arbitrary and unnecessary, like a favorite color — but I clipped that pin onto my jacket and told everyone who asked that it was my favorite day. My violin teacher, Via, was in particular confused, especially by the part where I explained that it had formerly been my least favorite day. She didn’t quite understand the dread that preceded the joy of my actual violin lessons.
One day I noticed the pin wasn’t on any of my jackets — it had at some point left, the way of things — but Tuesday has remained my special day ever since. For this perhaps longwinded reason I found it auspicious that my flight to Hong Kong left on a Tuesday. Compounding this numerological good tiding, we moved out of our house the Tuesday prior, and I turn twenty-five the Tuesday next. It was a good day for an official start.
II. THE FLIGHT
Having found my seat and left solid ground, I realized I was not ready for the trip, had no idea what I was doing, and was terrified. This is to say I had the reasonable reaction to beginning a long trip with only vague plans in a country where I don’t speak the language.
Airplanes and -ports form a strange country of their own, a true interspace that nevertheless has its own customs, visual language, and population. The vast departures halls, the crammed and sterile fuselages, the baggage claims — though scattered in cities and overhead, unmarked flight paths across the world — they have much more in common with each other than with any other nation or territory. In this unprecedented last century they have come to monopolize the beginnings and ends of our journeys. This is at least partly a good thing; the time spent in this 197thcountry gives us space to psychically let go of where we’ve been and somewhat brace ourselves for the shock of eight or twelve or twenty hours later walking out into a completely new and changed world. Sometimes far-off friends and I have engaged in the fantasy of teleportation, of instantaneous travel. It’s a sweet idea when you really miss someone, but I say even a half-day in airportlandia isn’t enough. The natural pace of human travel is walking or perhaps riding, and anything more is a shock to the psyche.
It was a strange consolation then that my plane’s flight path carried it just off the shore of California. It was a clear day on the North Coast, and from my blessed window seat I could see my old house, my old town, the places where for so much of my life my soul has resided. Except I was looking at it from 20,000 feet, with the Sierras in the background. The Postal Service sing, in one of my favorite lines, that “everything looks perfect from far away.” But in this case it didn’t look like much of anything at all. Just a few smudges of river and a crinkly coastline. And then, five minutes later, it was gone, and there was only ocean, and clouds, and the roar of the jet engines.