Wanderlust Never Smelled So Sweet

08 Jun 2006
June 8, 2006
1950s Stewardesses Wish Me Bon Voyage

With little provocation, The Wanderlust wisks me away to polluted but exotic places.

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.

Related Story: Vacation 2001: West Meets East

3 replies
  1. Donna says:

    It used to be when going away meant stewardesses in white gloves, passengers carrying blue leather make-up cases on board.
    I deplaned the other day from a conference and my driver pushed my bags on a cart. He got lazy and rushed up a hilly driveway and my carry-on fell to the asphalt, doing a somersault on the way. “Nothing fragile in there I hope,” he said. I laughed and then realized – a glass art deco candy dish and my precious TiPowerbook were inside.
    I didn’t trust the baggage handlers with them so I struggled to carry them on the plane. I managed to get all the way from Boise with them and now in the last few miles, they had been tossed around.
    I remembered the hard blue leather make-up case my mother bought me when I was ten to carry on planes. And I wished I had it now.

  2. Lavinia Weissman says:

    I really relate to wanderlust. Sometimes I feel I am two different people: the person who wants a nest and the chance to never leave it and the person who could travel all around the world and take on different ways of living you simply can’t do in your local neighborhood.
    The last time I went to Mexico I discovered I had an identify I did not even know I had. Without being able to speak the language I could sit down at the dinner table and notice people talking to one another, laughing, and just being RELAXED.
    I currently live in the one city and state with the highest cost of living in the country. People here have the reputation for being rude and talking fast (as reported in a number of newspapers through the years).
    So my wanderlust has been imagining living in a village and walking around the town when I want to take a break from my desk and computer. I can envision hanging out somewhere with live music (so I can remove the bugs of MP3 from my ears) with people sharing good dessert, café, and easy going laughter. These attributes I have only found in countries other than the US.

  3. vanderwal says:

    The past 18 months I have been traveling a fair amount, both in the US, but also Europe. I look forward to the travel, but the last 10 months I keep thinking I may not return while on my trips.
    I have always had similar wanterlust, but the idea of hunkering down and staying is a new one for me. The only place I have been recently that I did not get this feeling was Seattle, where I got bored and that may be the first time that has happened in 10 years.
    My normal wanderlust problems happen when I have just returned home. I walk out the door of my house and realize my intended destination out that door is not a walk or short car drive away. I think my DNA must have some chameleon influences as I easily adopt new places and blend to them in my mind. Home is increasingly the place that is foreign.
    Amsterdam is now a place I get homesick for when I am not there, which is right up there with San Francisco and its surroundings. I also have similar feelings for London and Oxford. I have been increasingly less able to square them, but when I think of not living here, I start to realize there is a lot that I may miss, but I am not sure how much my heart would ache for it.

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