Recently, one of my best friends unleashed a plan on me: his Muse apparently roughed him up and told him that she would sing the melody for a novel to him, but he must first engage in a trans-US trip as a type of initiation before he could enter into her sacred mysteries. (Ah, I know what you are thinking—_On the Road_. I know what I am thinking—we are not Sal and Dean.) Admittedly superstitious, he wouldn’t fully disclose the content of this divine revelation. Do I trust him? Yes, enough to hop in my trusty 98 Saturn station wagon in order to drag him across the country without so much as a missal for this service. Yes, enough that if I don’t see his name in print in another ten-to-fifteen years, then I will forsake modern fiction with even more gusto than I currently do. (Either that, or I will thoroughly chide him over beers for never having written the novels that are looking for the Exit sign in his mind.)
His proposal—whether actualized or not—has me now thinking of a secular pilgrimage this summer to California, my native state. I have heard that the chemicals from the smog that perpetually hovers over LA like the dust cloud does over Pig-Pen of Peanuts’ fame actually heighten the cinematic experience of the sunset. I believe it. Thus! The destination: Redondo Beach. The quest: to watch the sun set over the Pacific one more time. The odd thing about trips is that they no longer seem odd. Sure, most of us simply do not have the time or money to skip out of town, yet, when we do, the temporary dislocation possesses an authenticity that daily life seems to lack. A sure sign that we have entered into the Kali Yuga stage? Get back to me after a few more drinks. Speaking of drinks…
Restlessness is now the norm. In contrast, the Seven Pilgrims of Chaucer entered into diversity that they otherwise would not have experienced (well, except maybe for the Wife of Bath…). They desired to travel to a location that contained a sacramental identity that they believed they would not have found elsewhere. However, we—we as present and current and modern folk—bask in the juices of diversity, and we believe in the thorough immanence of God. Why then do we still find ourselves compelled to embark on enlightenment tours that primarily serve only to lighten our wallets?
Why are vehicular motion and anomie seen as gateways to self-discovery and the general discovery of the absolute? An open road offers objectively few more opportunities than the roads in my home city. Still, the mile-per-hour signs twinkle in a way that they do not where I live. A twinkle. Is that all I want to pursue?
Still. Still. Sunset over the Pacific. Then again, the aesthetics of a sunset may have to cede power over to the economics of gas prices. We need, however, to keep the chemicals in the air—at least in LA.