Friday, April 20, 2007

John M. Scalzi's Weekend Assignment #161: The Longest Trip

Weekend Assignment #161: What's the longest amount of time you've been away from home on a trip? By "trip" I mean things like a journey taken for pleasure (a vacation, cruise) or for business (business training, conventions, workshops, facilities tours) and things of that nature. Things that I would not classify as a "trip" for this assignment would be something like a military assignment or a long-term work posting, or going away for college. All of those will certainly keep you from home for a while, but they're of a different nature than when you're living out of a suitcase (or backpack, or whatever).

Extra Credit: What's the furthest you've been away from home?

Dear John,

I hope this finds you hale, hearty and healthy – you're going to need to be, if the life of a “road warrior” is to be yours for the next month or so. It can take an awful lot out of you. Particularly something like a book tour, with new cities almost every day with multiple venues in each – there lies madness. And while you have posted a nice picture of your suitcase, I don't see an accompanying garment bag. Surely you will have more than one suit coat or blazer with you for a month?

Anyway, I had to think long and hard about this one. The specific caveats regarding work, military and similar endeavors eliminates most of the things that came to mind. I was never one for vacations, once I was involved in raising children, simply because we just didn't have the money to spare.

I once made a five hundred mile journey from a suburb of Philadelphia to Bangor, Maine. This was accomplished in several stages. First, I was sent off with my maternal grandmother to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania from the tiny hamlet of Gardenville in the same Commonwealth. Seems my poor mother had had enough of me and my two siblings, so we were farmed out to Grandma, via our very special Uncle Howard, who drove us all down. Then I, and only moi, in the company of the aforementioned uncle took a local commuter train into town to be met my father's old college buddy and “little brother” (in the fraternal sense of Sigma Alpha Epsilon) in downtown Philadelphia at Penn Station, whereupon we boarded a north-bound steam clipper for “New York, Hartford, Providence and Boston.” This would have been accomplished in a couple of stages, the first being the trip to New York's Penn Station via the Pennsylvania RR. We then had to disembark and make our way to Grand Central Station, where we then boarded a New York Central – New Haven consist north to Boston. On that leg of the trip, I was so wound up on this hot, hot July day with no air conditioning that I very quickly puked the chocolate milkshake and bologna sandwich I'd eaten at Grand Central all over the lap of my father's friend. We were a mess, the pair of us. We only had day loungers in the smoking car, so we were both miserable and odiferous. Finally, late that afternoon, we pulled into South Station in Boston and had to make the mad dash to North Station in the “early weekend get out of town rush hour.” There we met up with my father, whereupon “Uncle Stan” gladly relinquished my sorry little ass to my pater and Stan went on his merry way (no doubt to a cold Martini in a hotel bar with air conditioning and beautiful gals for the picking. He was that sort. Why he'd ever volunteered to escort me northward, I never learned).

Meanwhile, Dad and I had embarked on a Boston & Maine train pulled by a streamlined diesel engine at North Station and claimed our berths in a sleeper car. I was starving once again, but in the whole rush hour dash across town my empty belly had been sorely ignored, so I was a cranky, pissy kid by the time we'd gotten settled aboard. Father thoughtfully ordered some snacks via our car steward while he put me through a bath. This had the salutary effect of cleaning me up, cooling me off and calming me down at the same time. I was soon back to my old, adventurous self, so it was off to the dining car and a steak dinner fit for a King! After, I was soon tucked into bed and watching the North Shore of New Hampshire whizzing by outside my window. The next thing I knew I was being awakened as we slowed to come into Union Station in Bangor, Maine. A short taxi ride to Grandmother's house later and I'd reached my destination for the summer. Over five hundred miles traveled in twenty-four hours by a five year old boy. Whew!

Two months later, I reversed the route. This time, it was Uncle Stan who accompanied me out of Bangor down to Boston and then we met my father at North Station. Dad took me the rest of the way, but this time we took the train from New York to Lambertville, New Jersey, where my mother picked us up. She seemed awfully relaxed... Then again, she'd been without kids for the better part of two months as she recovered from surgery that I didn't know she had undergone until years later...

There you have the tale of my earliest journey in memory (fading fast). As these things go, it wasn't all that far. But for a little boy of five, it was far enough and long enough to make an impression on this mind that would rather remember my first dog, my first brush with death in a personal way, or the time I gave my brother Richard a cake tin “helmet.” Funny how memory works.

I hope Krissy and Athena have a wonderful time together, just mother and daughter, as you wend your way across the USA and Canada hawking your wares. And I hope the reunion upon your return is so bittersweet the tears that flow from your eyes unstoppable. Then you will truly know you have arrived home, my friend.


P.S. My furthest trip from home would have to be the South China Sea. My longest trip was a sojourn around the United States and Canada for seven months in 1973. That trip was also my highest trip, in more ways than one...

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