In the late 1960s, bus station food impressed us as having more to do with “bus station” than with “food.” Our perception was corroborated across days, states, and bus stops. Rather than suffer the gastronomic indignities of yet another questionable skillet, my buddy and I determined, in the decades before GPS, to find a good restaurant. Anything other than mush would do nicely. We had 45 minutes before we had to be back on the bus. A five-minute walk, a leisurely meal, five minutes back to join the group. We were all of 15 years old. In a city we had never been to before with no idea where we were going, what could go wrong?
So we headed off in all directions at once. At ten minutes into our promenade, we determined that our meal would now be limited to 25 minutes to enable us to return to the bus on time. But no restaurants of any description had appeared, good or otherwise. The nondescript buildings were as grey as the sky and as devoid of food. After 20 minutes of perambulation, we acknowledged that take-out would be our only option. We remained upbeat and quickened our pace. Our optimism remained unshakeable: surely there must be a good restaurant somewhere in this town.
But we never did find a good restaurant. At 22 1/2 minutes of walking, we wisely turned back. Sadder, enlightened, and hungrier, we resumed our motorized journey home from summer camp. Even at the time we knew we had been part of a special gamble. I don’t remember any of the bus station meals, but I do envision–half a century later–how exciting it was to be off in an unknown city with just a buddy and our wits, trying to separate ourselves from the predictable and inadequate food in favor of the unknown and exciting. Losing a bet does not imply having made a poor wager.
I still like to get away from everyone else. I enjoy solitude, a place to gather my thoughts, write a blog post. So Sunday morning, having dropped off my wife at the Fort Lauderdale airport, I took a walk on a sea wall bordering the Everglades.
To my right, a canal. The Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Across the canal, a park with campsites and campers–both human and four-wheeled. More enormous Winnebagos than pup tents, but who am I to tell people how to enjoy their vacations? The path stretched invitingly into the horizon. A glorious South Florida spring day, egrets and red-winged black birds, what could infringe on my gentle walk in the woods?
Pretty much everything as it turned out: a tuba being dismembered in an industrial strength garbage disposal could not have been louder than the reverberating thundering of ginormous speakers. How far does the sound of a file cabinet trying to have sex with a jet engine carry? Something over half a mile as the crow walks. Try as I might not to remember the lyrics, I can report, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” A recurring theme if you will. A campsite under siege from people who had never heard of head phones.
Undeterred, I continued walking. If the sounds were unbearable, the visuals to my left–saw grass, marsh, and water fowl–were great.
Remember the forest primeval? The murmuring pines and the hemlocks have apparently taken it up a notch. They may stand like Druids of old but their voices are anything but sad and prophetic. Glaring and discourteous now unfortunately. And violently loud.
I don’t know about Longfellow, but I have participated in some number of ultra-marathons. Even in flip flops, I can put the requisite distance between my delicate constitution and mutant speakers. Whatever other good qualities I may possess, not getting tired of walking is near the top of the list. Imagine my disappointment when, half a mile down the path, I heard thunderous lullabies. The “Booms!” had morphed into electric “Twinkle, Twinkle” and blaring “Yankee Doodle.” How a baby could exist, never mind nap with all that noise, is an inquiry for otolaryngologists. I remained determined to at least shake hands with if not commune with the natural world. So I kept walking. To the back side of a gun range.
By which time (Bang! Bang! Bang!) I was less concerned with a stray bullet (Brrrppp!) splitting my spine than I was with significant hearing loss. Another mile (Whracck!) brought me some semblance of silence, (Rat-a-tat-tat!) a chance to eat my sandwich, (Blam!) and the opportunity to reflect enough to write this blog post. (Thupt!)
Virginia Woolf pined for A Room of One’s Own. The Drifters wanted to get away from it all “Up On the Roof.” In “West Side Story,” Tony and Maria yearn for “A Place for Us.” (Spoiler Alert, not gonna happen.) Everyone wants a sense of position, of safety, of fitting in. Kids especially want to know they belong, that they are snug and secure. Invulnerable might be too much to ask, but out of harm’s way is the least we can provide.
There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re half way there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
The takeaway is that we have to plan our walks with our kids. It’s important to be mindful. Because as any parent of kids who are grown and gone can tell you, you don’t get as much time as you might think. You don’t get as much time as you might want. And for darn sure you don’t get any do-overs. Every conversation about homework is a missed opportunity to find a quiet place in a National Park. Every drive-through at the wrong restaurant is a lost sandwich overlooking the River of Grass at sunset.
So let’s plan our walks carefully. To the good restaurant, to the edge of the Everglades, to the places with psychic and literal silence. As the threats to our beloved children–opioids, pot laced with rat poison, process addictions of all kinds–continue to exponentiate, let’s walk with our kids in safety. Surely there are some places left that are more adventurous and less noisy. It is our sacred trust as parents to find those places and connect them with our kids. Adventure is still the name of the game, even in a world where most people don’t care enough to turn down their glaring speakers.