Don’t Forget the Fluoride Treatment
“The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is, are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
I’m not quite sure if it is a universal human need, but it is undeniable that some of us demand to be the president of a one person nation. Whether it is in search or in escape, we buy the ticket, we pump the gas, we raise a middle finger in the air, because we know to the bone, no, to the marrow, that we will risk everything that was, for everything that could be. Because anyone worthwhile knows that nothing looks better on a person than several layers of experience and a great hat (I’ve always been a sucker for hats).
What is it that is so exquisitely alluring about not only travel but the travelers themselves? Let’s be honest what’s not alluring? All these self defining, James Dean rebels, wandering the world, heckling with salesmen in foreign languages, rafting rivers, and surrendering all control to chance, to circumstance. Waking up in the morning and letting the day itself prescribe one’s own fate, and this is all happening while you are at the dentist’s office. Your car is outside, the temptation is overwhelming, you think to yourself, “Hey I have no cause, I want to be a rebel too!” but the only place the road leads is to the grocery store, where you buy your whole grain flour, to make your whole grain bread, for your whole grain life.
So maybe one day you wake up and you say, “Fuck it.” You are sitting in the dentist’s chair and you make the decision to finally get the hell out of dodge. You get in your car, you never even call into your job, no more ass kissing, no more grocery stores, no more blouses or pumps, no more email or TV. There will be no preservatives in your food, no conservative agenda that you have to digest; you don’t have to worry about touching up your roots, or paying your bills. Oh hell no, because today you are the master of your own domain. You race as fast to the edge as you can! This world is full of too many ideas, you think. There are too many god damned architects and not enough brick layers. So here you are, free! How does it feel? You can chain smoke, and listen to your music as loud as you want. Remember what a hassle it is to shower every day? You don’t have to anymore, grease up baby! You read excerpts from great authors that absolutely understand where you are coming from and where you are going. “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a super abundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life” (Krakaur, 15). You think to yourself, “Damn Tolstoy really knows what he’s talking about, that’s so good I’m going to highlight it!” Then three months later your meticulously highlighted pages are found in a bus right alongside your decomposing corpse in the Alaskan wilderness, and your last thoughts inside your emaciated, completely “free” skull were, “Wow, I wish I wouldn’t have left the dentist.”
There are a million universes to discover every day, and a thousand new realities to discover every hour, and all that you have to do is make a left when you should make a right. But maybe the thrill is in the choice, not in the outcome. Are we really searching for experience and gained knowledge or, in those exceptional moments of impulse, are we reclaiming control over our immediate reality? Why as humans do we force ourselves out of our comfort levels in search of the unknown? Why is the open road such a glorified refuge?
Personally speaking, I know why I hit the road. It’s because I think far too highly of myself. You know how teachers and parents always say, “you can do anything if you set your mind to it”? They also say things like “you are the prettiest and smartest girl I have ever met!” Well, I am the girl who bought into it. Pair this overly nourished ego with a healthy dose of curiosity, and there you have it… a traveler. So all winter long I am fattened up by comfort and compliments, and then spring comes. This is when I start planning for my next adventure, the world is my oyster! So I get in my car, “oh the possibilities are endless, I am so self sufficient and brave!” Then twenty six hours later I am lying on the floor of a cabin in the back woods of Tennessee. The only person who talked to me that day was the toothless maintenance man who offered me homemade strawberry wine. It was after another one of the river guides told me that there was no kitchen and I’d better get used to cheetos and tuna for dinner that I began to think, “Huh? Maybe being a river guide in Tennessee, site unseen, wasn’t the wisest of decisions.” It is only when I am openly weeping on the phone with my mom at three in the morning, stranded, where I don’t know a soul or even where I’m at, that I officially become the poster girl for the “who in the fuck does she think she is?” national campaign.
That’s the beauty with travel, at some point every one has to be humbled. You have to bow down before circumstance. You have to either run home, where the bed is still warm from when you left it, or you have to adjust. You have to take in the experience, and all the lessons that it has to offer, and completely surrender your preconceived notions, because you are now the “other”. And there is NOTHING more humbling than being the other. I mean sure, we all may pride ourselves in being such unique individuals, but let’s face it; the majority of us are part of the majority. We relish in our routine. We photocopy one day after another, because there is no threat in the habitual. Day to day life is a well worn pair of jeans, and we all know how hard it is to find a good pair of jeans.
Then why is it enough for some of us to arrive and depart this world in the same zip code, while others burn off the soles of their shoes before finally collapsing? How far are you willing to go to defy routine? Will you rape? Will you kill? In the business world there are many individuals who act in ruthless, immoral ways to move up the corporate ladder. Why is it so starkly different to use the same tactics to move not up but out? Written on the wall of a Hell’s Angels party it said:
[There are lots of untruths to
They are not so merciless as that;
The stool pigeons, spotters and
They class them as cold-blooded
They say they are heartless and
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright
and clean.] (Thompson, 194).
Hunter S. Thompson in no way tries to hide the disgusting acts that the Hell’s Angels commit, but he simply states that “…[T]hey are not so different from the rest of us as they sometimes seem. They are only more obvious”(193).
I may be resistant to authority, I may carry a boom box with the soundtrack of “a different drum” on my shoulder, but I’m not going to kill anybody in opposition to paying my taxes. I’m also not going to die alone in a bus because the comforts of society stifle my genius. Hell no, I like bubble baths too much.
So what I’m really trying to say is, I am hopelessly naïve. I am positively baffled by the human experience. How bizarre are we? You could see a person on the street, wearing different clothes and eating funny smelling food and think “Wow you are really fucking weird,” and then you will travel 6,000 miles just to see that exact same person on THEIR street to figure out “huh, you’re not weird at all. My bad.” None-the-less there is such immense beauty in realizing how naked you are without your own culture covering you. There is such honesty in realizing that all children cry for their mothers. That laughter has no language, and that humans are absolutely sensational if you just give them the opportunity to be. So what do you say? I’ll get the car, you bring the bourbon; we’ll split the gas, and let’s see what there is to see. We may not rape anyone, we probably won’t starve alone in isolation, and there’s a good chance that we won’t even write a best selling novel about rapists or starvation, but what the hell… You don’t get great stories from sitting at home.