As I walked out of my office building the other day I was suddenly hit by a faintly sweet and very nostalgic odor. What was that? Instantly I was transported to a mild and endearing part of my childhood. I stopped and tried to retrieve the memory of that smell.
Just as suddenly I began to laugh. Of course! A hot and humid day, the air was a tinge of moist brown. It was smog, that ozone groundcover that reunited me with my past.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s the narrow boundaries of my life were immersed in Southern California’s nasty air quality problem. I remember authorities informing this young asthmatic that pollution could actually improve respiratory problems like mine. Breathing bad air could miraculously make me immune to its effects. What were they thinking?
And what was I thinking now?
When the temperature hits 80°F (27°C) I am suddenly overcome with another disease: The Wanderlust. I am ready to move on, or in this case back to anywhere but where I am right now. The Wanderlust is a chronic and incurable disease, one I’ve had to live with all my life. And an attack can occur with just the slightest provocation: a whiff, a sound, or a news story –any trigger can bring on a Walter Mitty outbreak.
Abruptly I can be transported back to high school where I spent my summer days in residence at Playa del Rey, adjacent to LAX. The beach was a place to escape the Valley’s dirty air and my family’s dirty little secrets. I would spend my days lying on the sand, watching airplanes taking off for destinations unknown. At 17 I was ready to bolt my childhood. I would have given anything to be on one of those planes and I would have gone anywhere (even to Cleveland I remember thinking). The Midwest was exotic and inviting. Such are the ways this disease presents itself.
A year later when I actually caught my flight out of town to “exotic” Detroit my new college buddies thought I was nuts to leave LA for the cold steppes of Michigan. But to any 18 year old, home, no matter where it is, is a place to get away from. I learned to live with my chronic malady. And this was my first treatment.
Today when the thermometer rises I find myself setting my Summer Song playlist to repeat. Summer in the City mixed with the pungent scent of street-level sewage immediately transports me to far off places. Lately I’ve been dreaming about catching the next flight to Guangzhou. To be suffering The Wanderlust means journeys like this are easy and can happen at any moment. No packing and no applying for vacation leave. You’re simply there.
The other morning as I read the paper about Monaco’s Prince Albert and his newly found(out) daughter, I wanted to be his son. It didn’t matter that he’s actually younger than me (physical laws are no match for this disease). And yesterday I briefly considered becoming Sergey Brin, billionaire of Google. These daily trips to the impossible only last a second, my brain’s version of a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway. The Wanderlust is brought on by thoughts of something new and exciting. Pondering wealth and privilege always trumps getting ready for work when the temperature climbs.
Guangzhou in June? The last time I was there it was the hottest and smoggiest summer since the Revolution. Sweet.
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