The Ways of a Wandering Spirit

Aaron Gilbreath.

It’s summer. Don’t you want to get in your car and drive? I do. Since I can’t, I reread Marya Hornbacher‘s travel essay from Nowhere, a reliable publication for a range of travel stories. Starting in Minneapolis, her road trip begins in a world of motels that overcharge, restaurants that serve bad coffee, and cities that fade into vistas that, as she writes so beautifully, feature “no motels, no Walmarts, just the American landscape sprawled out in all directions as the sun went down.” Then she travels back in time through memories of past trips, where she examines the reasons she travels at all.

I don’t know why I come and go. Why not? Is there any reason or reasoning behind it? How can I ascribe motive to a thing I simply do by habit or nature or flawed design? Once I asked a friend, “Why are you a Buddhist?” We were walking. He answered, “Why not?” I laughed so hard I had to sit down on the sidewalk, it just struck me as so unbelievably funny. He looked at me, puzzled, waiting for me to explain the joke. I didn’t understand his logic; there was no reason for him to be a Buddhist. But then, he was right—no reason why not. At the time, I too must have believed in motive, and reasons for things happening, impetus, choice. Why do I leave? Why do you stay? Maybe I do it by instinct, like a bird flies south, knows how to get where he’s going, knows how to get back. I wrack my tiny brain, but there is no motive, no real choice for or against a given place. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. It’s nothing more than the way you’re aligned. You maybe have a tendency to drift, a habit of wandering off.

As she travels through America and her memories, she keeps trying to understand her desire to keep moving.

I like the in-between places, the pauses, caesuras in space. The places between points, places you pass through, maybe stop for a moment, en route. They have a satisfying sameness, a beige-ness: airports, McDonald’s, rest stops, truck stops, chain hotels. The air in these places buzzes with fluorescence and an acute sense of time. Your body is hyper-alert: you are a body in motion, never a body at rest, and because a body in motion tends to stay in motion, your muscles remain slightly flexed, even in sleep, as if you might suddenly need to sprint. You are always just about to leave. Who uses the drawers in hotels? Some hotels don’t even bother with drawers. Sometimes you don’t even bother to bring your bag in from the car. You just pop the trunk, dig around for underwear and socks, stuff them in your pockets and unlock the door to room 112 or 203 or 1768 or whatever it is, wherever you are. You close the door behind you and sit on the end of the bed, in your numbered nook, tucked neatly into place. You remain at the ready, wearing your coat, ears attuned to any ambient sound.

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