Walter Mitty on the Morning Commute

Sunday, May 18, 2008

For as long as I can remember, I've been a nut for daydreaming. I spent hours alone in my back yard as a kid, choreographing complex aerial battles and hand-to-hand scraps with my G.I. Joe figures. I'd pantomime haymakers and the dive bombs of spaceships, and if I thought no one else was home, I'd even improvise a full soundtrack (seriously, my lips can make the best explosion noises). Of course, my two older brothers always caught me. They'd sneak to a back window and watch me lunge around, pistols cocked and blazing. Then they'd rap on the glass and laugh hysterically at my "nonsense games"; those scars are still healing.

Nowadays, these fantasies have the far more practical purpose of amusing me on commutes to work. Just about every morning, I bicycle from my apartment in Crystal City into downtown D.C. on the Mount Vernon Trail. It's a wonderfully refreshing route along the Potomac, and the 4.5-mile ride affords me a half-hour of brisk daydreaming.

I can thoroughly fill that space with the right story. All I need, frankly, is a strip of road or a seat on the Metro, and I can be off on the most exotic of holidays.

Where else but in my imagination can I fulfill my greatest fantasy: cultivating my own utopian society on my own tropical island, which I've tentatively named St. Karl? I've even done research online into islands for sale. A couple of years ago, I found a forested, fairly mountainous 2,000-acre one near New Zealand for around $5.5 million; it sounded like a steal at the time. Then Mel Gibson one-upped me with the 5,400-acre South Pacific island of Mago, which he bought for $15 million. Mago even has 40 ready-made locals. I think they'd be happier on St. Karl.

I get carried away pretty easily, but that's the point. Not everyone has the means or time to visit the many corners of this Earth, yet we all have access to a creative imagination. Daydreams afford us all access to the universe; one can be anyone, go anywhere, do anything.

Our imaginations, more important, can convert any downtime -- from waiting in lobbies or lines to inching along the Beltway -- into uptime. Far from getting in the way of "real" life, daydreams enhance it by filling vacant hours thoughtfully and entertainingly.

On bad weather days, when I hop on the Metro toward Foggy Bottom, I get disheartened looking at all the heads silently bobbing, eyes cast downward, ears plugged into headphones. Now, I love all kinds of music -- at no small social cost, given my continued affection for Hootie and the Blowfish -- but I'm always surprised that so many people choose a soundtrack over their own thoughts. It's true that the right songs can elevate tired lungs and legs during a workout. But a few good daydreams, I've found, can do far more to transport and revive me.

So for all the inevitable in-between times in life, I recommend exploring your imagination. I've been president of the United States six or seven times already. Tight races, all hard-fought, clean and honest campaigns. How about you?

-- Karl Wirsing


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