Reading a week later what I wrote in flight from Dulles to Portland, I cringe a little inside.
To read about my trip, or at least the attitude I had coming home, you’d think I had a terrible time. But the trip was for the most part a total success. I had a wonderful time going to my friend Mike’s wedding near Charlottesville, Virginia, which I neglected to even mention the first time around, even though it was the whole reason I went on the trip.
After checking into a Holiday Inn in Charlottesville on an unseasonably hot sunny Sunday afternoon, I headed west on Interstate 64 for the evening wedding in my Saturn Ion rental car. The sudden beauty of the territory unfolding was a surprise. I’d driven for two hours the day before from Dulles airport near Washington down to Charlottesville. For the most part, it was not a great view, with the usual peppering of strip malls and gas stations. Even when I’d see a farm it never felt like I was truly away from the city. But heading west on the way from Charlottesville to the winery where Mike’s wedding was being held, it seemed in the golden late-afternoon light as if the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley were suddenly bursting onto a stage.
The wedding itself was a delight, too. It was very informal, with a cocktail hour before the ceremony on the deck of the winery, overlooking the vineyards and the mountains at sunset (groom mingled, bride stayed in hiding). There was so much good feeling at the wedding that it was hard to muster an iota of cynicism, which is a nice antidote to how I feel most of the time. It more than worth the discomfort of my tight-fitting suit trousers.
Before the ceremony I chatted with two old friends, Rich and John, with whom Mike (the groom) and I lived in Jersey City after college in about 1996. Along with a group of several others, we occupied two adjoining apartments that were part of a decaying three-story brownstone off Grove Street, about two PATH train stops from the World Trade Center in Manhattan. There was also a seemingly dopey guy who never remembered to flush and still (at 23) called his father “Daddy“ but seemed to be doing well in the advertising industry. I also remember a Jersey-girl (whose accent I ceaselessly immitated behind her back) working in the fashion industry whom Mike briefly dated, and an aspiring chef named Kate who ended up marrying a landscaper in Nantucket after a sojourn in dot-com-era San Francisco at a now defunct tech industry magazine. Kate also made some very yummy Sunday night dinners; one of which I remember contributing a risotto to after having just worked for a few months at Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinnville following graduation.
A couple years before Jersey City, Mike was a Godsend of a roommate after having a hellacious time the year before. Returning to NYU in January 1994 after a year and a half off from college, I'd been randomly paired with this absolute asshole from Tokyo who'd come into our room in the middle of the night when I was sound asleep, turn on all the lights, and begin snapping and folding his laundry, with the TV on in the other room loud enough that he could here it a few feet from my bedside. Then he'd call home to Japan and shout into Japanese. So finding Mike for my senior-year roommate at the Third Avenue North dorm at NYU - a guy for the most part likely to be OK with lights off and silence in the middle of the night, was great. I also gained a friend and even a fellow Oregon Ducks supporter. When Oregon made it to the Rose Bowl that year, their first since 1957, he got almost as excited as I did. I remember going out for a celebratory dinner at BBQ on 2nd Avenue.
Rich and John, who I talked with at the wedding, were both recent Syracuse grads and aspiring illustrators back when we lived together in Jersey City. I remember when Rich had his first career coup getting to illustrate the cover of the Fairfield County Weekly in Connecticut. This being the election year of ‘96, the illustration depicted Bob Dole giving a number-one sign with his finger, but with Jack Kemp holding up his arm. He soon went to work at a big NYC ad agency and, 11 years later, is married with a kid on the way. Jon freelanced his first drawings for the Wall Street Journal when we lived together, and now is on staff there. Rich and Jon also were the first people I ever met who designed web pages.
The reason I’d originally planned to stay until Tuesday after a Sunday-night wedding was to explore the area around Charlottesville, particularly the Thomas Jefferson-designed architectural landmarks at the University of Virginia and Monticello. But with the heat in the 90s and high humidity, and my having not even a hat or sunscreen to protect my Nordic, extremely heat-sensitive skin, I knew any visits I made would have to be brief.
The casualty of leaving a day early was that I had to pass up Monticello. But I did have time to see the university. At 10:00 in the morning, it was already so hot that sweat was pouring down my face like Robert Hays in Airplane! as he takes the jet’s controls. Luckily the quad I’d come to see had some built-in shading. The school’s library, with its massive circular rotunda and Roman columns, sits like the head of the household at a rectangular dinner table. All around the perimeter, clad in contrasting red brick with more white columns, are student residences complete with traditional old rocking chairs. When I wasn’t mopping my brow, it looked spectacular.
After that, though, I pretty much got in the car and drove to Dulles.
It’s when I got home from that aforementioned trip, though, that my thoughts of it began to change. It’s a pattern I see so often in myself and virtually anyone else that travels. At the beginning and end of it, you’ve got to get there. And particularly if it involves flying, you’re in for an enormous hassle, even if everything technically goes according to plan. Somewhere in the middle, you have the experience itself. But going into and coming out of the trip, one’s perspective is inevitably skewed by the combination of stress and boredom accompanying long trips.
Make no mistake: I feel profoundly fortunate and enriched by the chance to have gone to many different places over the last handful of years. Just don’t ask me about it while I’m enmeshed in it at 38,000 feet, in between places to sleep.