by Dave Wheeler
Over the past few weeks, I’ve done my fair share of travel. Not to brag, but since Christmas, I’ve been to Idaho, Wisconsin, and the Canadian province we know as beautiful British Columbia. I’ve traveled by plane, automobile, and, well, charter bus because the train tracks to Vancouver were covered in mudslide between here and Everett. The bus got us there, but the train would have been nice, considering any time I try to read in a highway-bound passenger vehicle I veer immediately toward distressing nausea.
That doesn’t keep me from having at least two books on my person every time I leave my house, though, for those occasions I need to pass the time without letting on that I’m tremendously uncomfortable anywhere beyond my doorstep and would prefer to avoid eye contact as much as possible. The first book is there to keep my company, and the second is there to substitute should I find among my reactions to the first’s qualities boredom, disinterest, and any otherwise malcontented dismissal of its substance.
I can be finicky. My moods are like the wind.
So there I was, on a plane to Idaho, on a plane to Milwaukee, on (ahem) a “train” to Vancouver. I must confess: I’m a terrible travel companion to family, friend, and lover for these moments of transit. As soon as I’m seated, I’m reading. If I’m not reading, I’m sleeping. Probably snoring. Definitely drooling. No matter, I was reading House of Leaves (Mark Z Danielewski) on my trip to Idaho. I was reading How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia (Mohsin Hamid) (on shelves in March!) on my way to Milwaukee. I was reading Every Day (David Levithan) on my way back from Milwaukee.
If I was inclined, I could probably enumerate what I read on last year’s vacations, business trips, and erstwhile comings and goings, back years and years. I won’t bore you with the details too much, but I’ve begun to realize that those experiences in my flashy, jetsetter’s lifestyle are cemented by the particular literature I was reading at the time, as though the books themselves were seatmates on high-flying adventures to here and there.
There’s a funny folktale in my family about my brother. When we were young we’d be driving to a vacation spot, or a relative’s we hadn’t been to in a few years, and he’d pipe up from the backseat: “I remember this place. Last time we were here I was eating…” (gummy worms, Doritos, beef jerky, Circus Peanuts, etc.). Smooth muscle memories. Gastrointestinal mnemonics. And why not? We were an intrepid family on the highway; we traveled with snacks.
That such specific details of location could be established through what seems to me an arbitrary and fickle history of ingestion still remains a mystery, one I find more profound, looking back, than convergences I’ve experienced between excursions physical and literary. Still, it’s nice to know something will keep our histories straight: “No, I must have been in Bellingham at the time because I was reading You Can’t Go Home Again” isn’t all that different than “Remember when we had those peach Snapples going over Snoqualmie?” when you think about it. We grasp whatever stakes we can to nail down those arbitrary, fickle memories we hold so precious, even as we’re climbing aboard a plane, flying off to create the next one.