The Unfamiliar


I woke up around 5 a.m. this morning and finally got out of bed just before 6:30. I don’t actually get up before sunrise often anymore so it feels a little strange. And fleeting, as the sun has started to come up already, just 20 minutes later.

I’ve always loved this time of day. When I lived in Missouri as a kid, every once in a while I’d get up really early for something on a weekend, and I would just be entranced by how mysterious and unfamiliar my street felt while everyone else still slept. Foggy, quiet, and dark, a totally different side of my neighborhood than I normally got to see. And always, the glimpse was fleeting. It’s an exciting thing, to find yourself in an unfamiliar atmosphere, even if it’s right at home. Even the odd, slightly sad loneliness that sometimes accompanies the unfamiliar can be invigorating.

That’s what I’m missing about travel right now. Driving to the airport at some ungodly hour to catch an early flight always feels a bit strange in itself, but it’s even better if you have a layover somewhere…particularly early in the morning or late at night. I miss that experience of being far away from home, of knowing no one, of milling around in that weird airport land full of people coming and going from everywhere. You’re finally able to grasp that the world is a big place, and that you’re little, and that in that moment, you’re detached from all the roots in your life, just this one small person wandering around, alone. And then you’re flying, just this speck in the sky, and you’re very alone, far above anything as familiar and basic as the ground. If you are traveling to somewhere new that allows you to drag out that sense of unfamiliarity, all the better. Some places feel more foreign than others, whether or not they’re new. When I visited New York City, I was struck by how “at home” I felt, I suppose it’s just such an iconic place that I had come to know it from afar. But sometimes traveling through rural part of Florida, I feel like I’m in another world.

Now that I’ve gotten more experience driving, the idea of the road trip is gaining traction in my mind. Until very recently, driving off into the sunset (or sunrise, as is my preference) wasn’t an option. But it is now. If I want, today, I can take off for any number of new places, in and out of state, and be back in time for dinner. I haven’t experienced the road alone, much at all. I can’t even fathom the all-American cross-country road trip. But for the first time in my life, it’s beckoning me.


[Top photo from a 2009 trip to South Florida; bottom photo from my first day in my new room in Maryland, where I did an internship one summer, a very strange and alone experience.]


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