Guest Post: Trips Take Us by Ben Monopoli

Andrew’s note: This post has been written by my friend Ben Monopoli (he’s a very talented author and you should definitely check out his books). I’ve been looking to include posts written by my friends and family as a part of this site since it’s inception and with Ben being an author, there was no one better to take advantage…ahem…offer my first guest post to.

So, without further ado….

There’s a quote I like by John Steinbeck: “We do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” I’ve been on enough trips by now to know this is true. Often trips take us to landmarks — monuments, mountains, palaces, beaches — that have enchanted us from afar through pictures and books and maybe, if a place is important enough to us, in dreams and daydreams. Trips take us in whirlwinds of tour-buses and taxis to these landmarks we’ve seen on TV and postcards, where we spend hurried moments trying to get the perfect selfie and hopefully can spare one moment to think “I am here.”

That’s where my trips usually take me. To the green hills of Ireland, the Colosseum in Rome, the cloud forests of Costa Rica, the glaciers of Iceland, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Years after these trips take me to these places, I look at my photos of them and sigh happily and think “I was there.” For people who care about travel, there’s value in knowing you put your mark on these famous places.
 

I was in London recently, though, and my London trip was different from what I’m accustomed to. I wasn’t in London to see landmarks, I was there to see friends, two guys I knew so well but had not yet met. Azeem and Andrew. They would be the landmarks. St Paul’s Cathedral is great — but look, there’s Andrew waiting for me on its steps, and he’s wearing the coat I’ve only ever seen in pictures, and he is tall but not as tall as I expected. That was more memorable, more moving than churchbells and spires. My London trip took me to Andrew.

And Big Ben is cool — but look, in the foreground of it there’s Azeem browsing books, and he’s what my camera wants to capture. My London trip took me to Azeem.

Postcards can have Buckingham and the London Eye. Pigeons can have Trafalgar. I’ve got Andrew in the bathroom line underneath a Korean restaurant, I’ve got him waving a yellow umbrella and crying in a cinema. I’ve got Azeem wandering wide-eyed in Forbidden Planet, a kid in a candy shop. I’ve got us on the sidewalk, hungry, leaning against a restaurant, looking for someplace to eat.

When my trip to Rio took me to famous Sugarloaf Mountain I felt my heart surge with the knowledge that “I am here.” Now I know that trips can take you, too, to sidewalks, cafe tables, and bookstores that won’t be featured on any calendar but that feel every bit as significant because of the people who are there with you. My trip to London took me to a feeling that was not so much “I am here,” but rather, in some small way, “I am home.”

And when that’s how you feel, then your trip takes a piece of you out when it’s done, and holds on to it, and keeps it forever in those cinemas and comics shops, on those cathedral steps, in those bookstores and cafes, and in your friends’ arms. And maybe that’s what Steinbeck really meant about trips taking us. Trips take from us as much as they give, at least the really good ones do. You feel the taking in the form of an ache, a longing, a desire to return; a feeling that something that was never there before is now missing.

Trips take us. Luckily they can also take us back.

Ben.

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