[read earlier parts of "In Bali With Baggage" here]
My ambivalence about travel probably began in childhood with our family’s summer road trips. They just weren’t fun. Except for the time my father had to pull into a Frontier Town parking lot to urinate and possibly weep in a locked toilet stall, we never stopped any place good. We just drove along, wanting to make good time, our colons clenched as we force-fed ourselves boiled eggs and scorching cans of no-name soda.
At 8, there was the trip to Maine, significant for being the first time I ever consciously realized I would one day die. It was while standing at the cashier’s mint dish in a seafood restaurant and seeing the lobsters piled in the tank awaiting their death when this magnificent, horrible leap occurred: we were all awaiting our death. And no matter how big our tank, at the end of the day it was still a tank. If only we’d stayed home, I remember thinking, this might never have occurred to me.
At 9, there was a trip to Toronto where my uncle took me to the zoo. He bought me cotton candy and stood me on top of the fence caging in the lambs and it was there that I cried out, “This is the best day of my life.” No sooner than I’d said it, I was fretting over my phoney line reading. What 9-year-old frets over a line reading? I did – because I was lying. I found the look and texture of cotton candy unwholesome (like a circus clown’s pubis) and the smell of animals when uncooked, unpardonable. I just thought it was the kind of thing that kids said, that adults needed to hear.And at 10, our family made the biggest trip of my childhood: Disneyland. It was the year Space Mountain opened and we stayed at an old friend of my mother’s in Anaheim. Both families were going to ride it, but when we got there and my father saw the line, our family went instead to a film about “cultures of the world” at a “pavilion.” Afterwards, when we all met up again, the Californian family seemed changed forever, re-invigorated and bonded, whereas our family, aside from learning how to say hello in Hindi, was the same as ever.
Traveling was weird because of the little things. For instance, at home my mother never took meals with us, always hovering in the background washing dishes and boiling yams, leaping this way and that on a continual runner’s high. But when we were away, she took her meals seated – with us. Making conversation as well as eye contact. The whole thing felt off.
For my father, there was always something that ruined each trip. A broken room thermostat. A sarcastic concierge. And the price of everything! Each purchase was an agony and an insult, and so to compensate – to fight back! – we would keep a quart of milk on the air conditioner overnight so we needn’t be robbed at the local diner in the morning. No, we would eat cereal, our fanny packs and money belts cinched so tight we could hardly breathe. We’d spoon our corn flakes seated on the edge of the unmade bed, all in a row, my father repeating all the while, “I’m not so sure about this milk.”
And could we be sure of anything? That the effort was worth it? That we wouldn’t have all been better off, been happier, at home, in our own rooms, left to our own company?
Now an adult, I’ve made my parents worries my own. Swallowed in youth, these seeds of anxiety have sprouted into anxiety apples. And so it is at this point that the one thing ruining every trip is not my parents or lobsters. It is my constant travel companion: me. And tomorrow, the two of us will be boarding a plane bound for Bali, to try, once and for all, to do it up right.
[Photo Credit: Flickr user CraigCloutier]