Thirty-odd years ago, my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were riding a monorail at Busch Gardens in Tampa. Another family was crammed into the compartment with us — a middle-aged couple with a younger man named Marty. We knew Marty’s name, since the other two constantly gave him orders.
“Marty! Look! There’s an elephant! Did you get a shot of that?”
“A tiger! Marty — you’re about to miss that tiger!”
Marty, camera in hand, sweat rolling down his face, was a nervous wreck. He dashed and clambered from one side of the compartment to the other, hanging out the window, snapping quick photos, re-focusing, re-shooting. But it was never enough.
“MARTY! You’re missing the zebra!”
“Did you get the pride of lions, Marty? That’s what they call them — a pride.”
“Quick, Marty! Over here!”
My boyfriend and I, always suckers for a public scene and imminent family breakdown, took to muttering comments of our own. “Marty! You dolt! You missed the orangutan!” And, “Jesus, Marty! Can’t you do anything right?”
Well, anyway, the ride ended and Marty presumably recovered, although I wouldn’t bet on it, and we never went back to Busch Gardens. In fact, I’d probably have no memory of Busch Gardens whatsoever if it weren’t for Marty. But right now, I’m kind of feeling like Marty myself — with braying, hectoring commands exploding in my head, telling me everything I’m missing in New York, so hurry up, get a move on.
I need to, you know, get a whole lot cooler about everything. My husband, too. We were recently told by one of our adult offspring that we have become incredibly boring about being in New York. “Kind of like people who go to Europe for the first time and can’t stop talking about it,” it was explained to us in a phone call.
Yeah, I know. We’re a little out of control, sue us, we can’t help ourselves. It’s just that we come from a part of the world that’s so spread out and lightly populated and completely different. Complain about mass transit all you want; I still get a goofy smile on my face getting on the subway because it’s so damned efficient and easy. I’m still happy not to have to drive a car. I’m still overwhelmed by the immense variety of restaurants we’ve gone to — and have yet to go to.
It reminds me of my first real trip to anywhere when I was 22. I’d only been to a handful of states in my whole life — and there I was, in the middle of hip, happening, historic London, for several months. I loved the bustle and lights and energy so much that, even to this day, when it’s damp and freezing cold and I inhale some exhaust fumes, I feel giddy and happy.
I remember, on one of those early, magical days in London, standing in a dress store, buying something I hoped would make me look gorgeous and sophisticated, hearing some music on the radio that sounded incongruous. “Is This the Way to Amarillo?” — that was the song, all country-and-Western twangs and steel guitars.
I’d come all the way across the ocean to hear that? “I just love country and western music,” the young woman behind the counter, with her big earrings, stark blond hair and charcoal-shaded eyes said. “Don’t you?”
Not me. Definitely not me. And definitely not then. I had to grow up a lot more till I could appreciate where I was from.
Maybe that goes on every time you take a trip — that sense of being overwhelmed and frenetic. Marty would back me up on it, I feel sure.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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