Miles to go before I sleep

Credit: Paul Alsop via NASA
Credit: Paul Alsop via NASA

Increasingly I suspect I’ll never go to China. Or Alaska. Or any number of places that I always assumed I’d visit. But I know I’m going to Houston at the end of the week.

Why not China or Alaska or the other Assumed Places? My health is good and I’ve got decades left in all probability, but you should see my list of things to do. Most notably, “Go to Houston.” I’ve got Houston issues. I’ve got a giant list of things to do, and  duties. I have, for example, a job. Obligations bestride the path leading to China, Alaska, etc.

The mountaintop beckons, but first I must clean out my garage. I have miles to go before I sleep, and many of those miles are between my house and the CVS.

A man in his 50s always has a lot of fires to put out, and not enough water, and so he spends time just tending to the flames, keeping them under control, and praying for rain.

Life is a series of days lived well, we hope. I’m good, probably better than most, on modest, incremental achievements (note the references here to my garden), though the grand strategic stuff, like writing another book, or teaching another journalism course, or becoming fluent in a language (English is the one I’m shooting for) tend to get lost in the daily/weekly/monthly shuffle. I still need to buy a car, an item on the To Do list that serves as a daily rebuke of my procrastinativity. My idea of a good day is one in which, before I have to start working, I can do a little blogging, and produce a few sentences that float through the air like soap bubbles.

The clever person can find time where there’s no time. They can somehow fit in a trip to China amid everything else. And they’ll even find someone else to pick up the expenses. Someone should write a book on traveling on an expense account as if you’re just on vacation. Years ago, I was pretty good at finding side-trips while on assignment, usually to some good hiking trail, and a rock with a view. That’s not going to happen in Houston, I don’t suspect, because my interviews are set up back to back to back to back, and the recreation portion of the trip may be the trip to the cafeteria. But if I had a little extra time…. Yeah, I’d go down to Galveston, where I spent a few eventful days 5 years ago during Ike. I’d visit the people who fed me when the food was slim pickins. I’d see how the city looks when not largely submerged, trashed, chewed up. Go for a swim in the gulf, eat some seafood, kick back with a summer book. Hang a notice on my email account saying Gone Fishin’.

After Houston I’m off to Los Angeles, where there are excellent side trips to be had if you can just negotiate the traffic. Mount Wilson, right on top of Pasadena, where Hubble discovered the expanding universe. Point Dume, patrolled by seals and whales. I used to like to cruise along Mulholland Drive at night for the classic view of the ocean of lights below. Somehow, in a distant era, there was time for a run out to Joshua Tree, or even a journey to Vegas. I have memories of Tijuana. How did I pull that off? Who was I then? Why didn’t I have other duties and obligations and deadlines? My younger self appears to me now as a kind of fugitive from justice.

But the truth is, when I travel now I scheme the entire time to get back home sooner, to cut a day off the tail end of the trip, to pay that airline change fee so that I can be back on my porch rather than spending another night in a generic hotel. The world beckons, but so does home, and we know which side is winning that battle.

Who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to get to China or Alaska. But on my porch I can read about those places. I can look at maps. I can imagine those trips. Actually going there seems a little excessive.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · May 31, 2013