As I write this, I’m on my annual pilgrimage to Oregon to visit my sister. That will explain why I’d like to talk about the altered state of travel. I want to talk especially about that place in between, that place that’s really neither here nor there, that place in which we’re either anticipating our arrival or reflecting on where we’ve been. Sometimes it’s a place of longing; sometimes it’s a place of dread. This trip has been a mixture of both, with me anticipating some serious Girl Time with my sister, but ending up in the Twilight Zone at Seattle International airport. Because of a landing fluke, eleven international flights landed almost on top of each other. That meant standing cheek to jowl with eleven flights worth of sweaty, under slept, irritable humanity outside the immigration hall for ages waiting for Sea Tac to catch up. Inside the hall, there were endless queues followed by an avalanche of luggage from all eleven flights in the baggage hall. Thankfully my bag was bright magenta or I might have been still searching for it. It was a manic roiling no-man’s land of harried airport employees, cranky children and surly adults. We were nowhere, moving at a snails pace through piles of baggage and more cranky, sweaty bodies. It really was like entering another dimension. After wondering if I’d ever get free, I was spewed out in a queue in front of a desk with one lone ticketing agent to re-ticket everyone who had missed connections. Obviously I’m at my sister’s no worse for the wear and with a tale to tell — even with a story inspired by the experience. The Strange Encounter with Mr. Sands is free on my blog.
By simply being ‘out of place’ in some place other than our own, we enter that space in between, and we can actually dwell there for a little while; my experience at Sea Tac is proof of that. Liminal spaces, the cross roads – even crossroads in the air, and certainly in the airports, are places where magical things happen, and with the advent of transcontinental air travel, that’s never been more true because you can add to it the muzzy-headed restless, spaced-out, anything goes time of jetlag at the beginning and the end of the journey.
In contrast to my sojourn in Seattle Airport, I was groped once in a bus on the long journey between a remote village on
the Austrian boarder and Zagreb, Croatia. I had spent the weekend celebrating with friends, so I was already under-slept with a head full of cotton wool. I’d been dozing with my head resting against the window when it happened. At the risk of TMI, the motion of a slightly worse for the wear bus, the growl of the engine and the vibrations of the seats always made me horny, so when, from the seat behind me, a hand snaked up along the armrest between the window and my seat, Iwas already enjoying the ride. Still, I should have been horrified, I should have been upset – I did pretend to be … Eventually. But at first, as the anonymous hand not only groped my breast, but began to fondle, I pretended to be asleep, and for a time, to be unaware of the man’s actions — and it was a man. I caught a glimpse of him as he left the bus a few villages before Zagreb. He was literally tall dark and handsome, and for a moment, he turned and looked defiantly back at me as he exited the bus, and I boldly returned that look.
Oh nothing happened. After awhile, I felt guilty that I should be allowing, and even enjoying, such a thing and shifted in my seat until I was out of his reach. However I can’t count the number of times I’ve revisited that brief encounter and enhanced it and enjoyed it; fantasied about it, even written about it, or how many times I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d just let things play out to the end.
The thing that always strikes me about that experience, both experiences, actually, is that they happened neither here nor there. They happened in that liminal space where we all are when we travel, when we can expect anything to happen, and we’re much more open to the experiences when they do. The night before I flew, as I lay unable to sleep anticipating the flight ahead, I found myself thinking of those liminal encounters and how they always stick with me long after the event.
The fantasies, the observations, the crazy ideas that happen in my head, the completely altered state of mind, I find myself in during those in-transit times and the post flight times of jet lag are the stuff stories are made of. In fact, some of the scenes and stories that have been the most fun to write involved some sort of travel, involved that liminal space of being neither here nor there, that space in which anything can happen.
In myths and fairy tales, the crossroads are often the place of strong magic, the place where not only the roads diverge, but often whole worlds diverge and we end up … different. That’s true of journeys in general. We may have our holiday and our travel all planed out, but we’re out of our own time, out of our own comfort zone, and that means we’re not completely in control.
he other side of the power of travel is that when we’re in that liminal space, no one knows who we are, we can be anyone we want to be, we can recreate ourselves, and no one will be the wiser. We can tuck our identity away in our suitcase with our toothbrush and our clean underwear. Wherever we are that isn’t home, we become the mysterious, the unknown element in a situation that’s familiar to everyone but us. In the act of so exposing ourselves to the unknown, we’re acted upon even as we change the unknown simply by being there.
The stranger along the way is a powerful archetype, and the story evolves from how we treat that stranger and how he treats us. Even without a grope on a vibrating bus, the act of travel is sexual, it’s penetrating, sometimes impregnating and we can’t help but be a little more open, a little more … easily aroused by the fact that anything can happen in that space in between. As writers, as readers, that’s got to excite us.