Quote of the Day:
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” –Pat Conroy
TB was once accused by an otherwise kind and often astute dinner companion of treating travel as sport. Being of a sporting nature, I took the gentle rebuke as a compliment, though I knew what she meant. To her, travel was about relaxation of the body more than the soul and the mind, which to me are the more deserving of rest. She wanted to travel some place where she could sleep the day away in a hammock or a beach chair and only grudgingly leave her grand room with a view for food or, heaven forbid, activity. I, on the other hand always spoke of being exhausted from the non-stop frenzy of my latest journey. Sometimes I move from place to place without even using up my meager allotment of hotel towels and other times I lay my head in the same spot every evening only after being out on the mountain or the town or the beach from sun-up to the moment of collapse. It’s what I do. I love it. I’d do it forever if I could. And the more I think about it, the more I agree with my friend. Travel long ago supplanted baseball as my participatory sport of choice.
I still love baseball–playing baseball that is. It’s just that I can’t do it. They don’t make summer leagues for old dudes with bum shoulders, bad eyes, and a vicious knuckleball. If such a thing existed I would play.
Because baseball is the sport that most perfectly fuses the necessity of mental and physical ability, technical acumen and art, patience and strategy, and aggression and heedlessness. It is a game dominated by long stretches of tedium, punctuated by moments of excitement and beauty. The slow times have meaning too, for that is when players and teams wrestle to position themselves for greatness, by, for example, shading a power hitter to his favored side; or by taking an extra pitch to give your hurler a bit more rest; or by stretching a lead off first just enough to get a look at their guy’s pickoff move. It’s little things like this that lead to diving catches or shutouts, or worried fastballs to your three-hole slugger–the moments of excitement and beauty that make the game special. Then of course are the statistics, home runs, stolen bases, earned run average and so forth; statistics, the timeless measuring sticks among contemporaries and generations that matter in baseball as in no other sport.
On reflection, I find striking similarities between all of this and the TB way of travellin’. For instance, travellin’ on a budget of not merely money, but time, requires planning. Saving two hours of flight time and two hundred dollars on airfare is the sacrifice bunt of travel. It’s drudgery and nobody wants to do it. But executed perfectly, the result could be an extra night’s stay on location instead of ten minutes away, and perhaps the sunset of a lifetime. A run scored for the visiting team, you might say.
In the same way a good manager scouts an opponent’s tendency to swing and miss at the low and away slider, a good traveller researches a locale’s best restaurants, its most scenic drives, and least crowded landmarks. The manager’s work pays off with a strikeout. The traveller’s work pays off with a window seat, oceanside.
And oh yes, there are the statistics. People may say, “stats don’t matter”, but people lie. Travel writers hate them, sports writers love to hate them. But they all cite the stats. Because everyone wants to know the stats. That’s why box scores are still printed and why “1000 Places to See Before You Die” books are ubiquitous. I tell you now statistics are good and you need not be ashamed to accumulate them. They are good in baseball and good in travel, so long as the pursuit of numbers does not hurt the team. On my most recent trip I etched several notches in my 1000 Places books and it felt good. Damn good. I nailed some digital shots suitable for the wall too. But stats are only lagniappe. They are a way of keeping score with one’s self, and a way of comparing careers with others who have gone before and will go after. It is often said in baseball and the same hold for travellers, “statistics are like a pretty girl in a bikini–they show a lot, but they don’t show everything.”*
Winning, much more than statistics, is what matters, for victory is where the memories will last longest and taste sweetest. In victory are the greatest stories told and told again, whether in sport or travel. On this last point the similarities between travel and baseball diverge, however. For the traveller, you see, never loses.
*I’ve seen the quote attributed to at least 5 different people through the years, so I no longer cite the source. I think some version of it has probably been repeated ever since the first Honus Wagner trading card was printed.