It’s early in the morning on the West Coast and this early morning Midwesterner is awake even more in advance of the sunrise than usual. Even with a head cold that stealthily stalked me for the past week and a half and finally pounced on the flight to Seattle yesterday. Later today, I will give a talk at a conference, somewhere around the fortieth conference talk I’ve given in the past four years, and the last I’ll give for a long time.
Over the course of giving those talks, I’ve become adept at spending 2-3 days in a different city and cramming everything I could into a limited amount of time. Beyond conference obligations, I’ve worked remotely while poolside in Las Vegas, discovered used book stores in Boston, followed in the steps of writers in San Francisco, introduced my daughter to New York City, prowled Copenhagen and climbed around New Zealand. I visit every museum I conceivably can. I hang out with friends, old and new. It’s a great way to spend a few years, and I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to do it.
But I’m overdue for a change of pace. In 2015, I only spoke at four events, and they were all carefully chosen for their uniquely welcoming environment. I have been tapering off, and speaking about tapering off, for the past year, and it still sounds like the right course of action. I enjoy speaking quite a bit, and connecting with people at conferences. But there are other places to explore. Even, or perhaps especially, the realm of my own regular life.
Hasn’t someone already said something about how the point of traveling was not to see new places, but to see with new eyes?
I will not get to see much of Seattle on this trip. By tomorrow, we’ll be on our way home. After meeting many cities, and having a limited amount of time in which to get to know them, I’ve come to the conclusion the best way to know a city is to meet it in the early morning before dawn. That’s when the real city begins to come alive. The people who make it work are up and moving, but the veneer of tourism hasn’t been applied yet, and you can see the raw energy and personality, with all its charm and flaws, that tells you who the city truly is. You can always grab those moments. And they always reflect back to you who you are here and now.