Metro, Column

Let’s Wander

Whatever it was for and for whatever it was worth, we would always turn to driving. Tell our parents that we were going out, pile in, and just go. We decided the turns at the intersections, decided the destination when we found it. We filled the car with music that was too loud. We thumped on the roof, the seats. We sang. We filled the car with silence that went unnoticed. We laughed. We called it wandering. Whatever it was that we were looking for, we never talked about it. But we were looking. We were always looking.

The go-to for wandering, my Black 2003 Honda Pilot with the dented frame and worn leather seats (pure sex appeal, I know) was traded for a pair of rubber-soled shoes when I got to school. The suburban backdrop for the Boston skyline. I wouldn’t, and will never, trade the people for anything.

The number one allure for wandering with wheels: illusion of movement. Tires spun over asphalt and we went places without really moving at all. We would talk about something wrenching or uplifting or stupid, and the movement fed into our egos—we were going somewhere.

Wandering on foot, it’s a different animal. When you wander on foot, you actually move. Slowly. Wandering on foot lets you learn the street, the sidewalk—the contours, curves, lumps, holes of these ill-planned Boston places. You can’t hide from the weather—definitely not from the snow.

You notice him, her, them. You walk past the park and smell the weed, look down and see the empty nips and beer cans standing stark against the snow. You hear snapshots of conversation, both good and bad. You can choose to listen to music. You might, a lot of the time, wander on foot alone. And if you choose to skip the music, your only choice is to listen. A lot of people love blaring on their car horns—you learn that real fast.

I traded the Black Honda Pilot in, but whenever I go back to the suburban homestead, I trade back in for the car. And when I get it back, we get together, and we wander. You should hear us when something good comes on, and we start pounding the roof, matching the beat. Absolute madness.

We wander, and after all of this time, we’re still looking.

Driving or walking, there must be time put aside for wandering. Not just going places, you know, because we spend a lot of time going places: classes, meetings, work, parties. We need to spend more going somewhere—just, somewhere. There needs to be time for that freedom. Too much structure will make a person mad after long enough, and that’s not the good madness we feel when we’re trying to punch out the roof.

Wandering is like any other reflective activity—like keeping a journal, or meditating, or failing at yoga. On foot or by car, after enough time, you’re bound to ask a simple and terrifying question: am I really going anywhere, ever?

Above all else, wandering is the opening act for the big show: serendipity.

We were silent, and we had been for a while. The street sign on the right had a crude drawing of a beach on it—a “private” beach. We took the right. There was a fence, but it was left open. If there was a “No Trespassing” sign, we didn’t see it. We parked, got out. We had no idea where we were, or how far from home. We didn’t care. We sat on the beach, right up against the water line, and it was warm, and we were warm, and we watched a lightning storm explode far across the water.

Toward the bottom and to the right, across the water and on land, there was a firework show that we could hold a hand up to and cover with our thumbs. I can’t tell you what we talked about. I can tell you I was happy. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that everyone else was happy, too.

That’s what I think we were looking for, every time. Something good to happen. Something serendipitous. But that’s a rough guess.

What I really know is that if we could find what we found in some low-key, innocent, suburban landscape, imagine what we could find in this big, bursting, beautiful, bad city.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

February 26, 2015


  1. Ryan – I couldn’t associate with another article as well as
    I have with yours. Your writing style made me feel like I was walking through
    the streets or driving in my car at the same times as you. The speeding up and
    slowing down is all too familiar with my life on campus and at home. When I’m
    driving, I’m going somewhere even if that somewhere is anywhere. When I’m
    walking, in the winter at least, I need a destination worth walking to. At the
    very least, I’ll need good friends to walk the streets of the city to nowhere
    with. I also come from a suburban town, and I know the feeling of driving
    through town just to drive. I would willingly drive anywhere because I could
    simultaneously enjoy the calming feeling of moving under my control and the
    exciting feeling as the chorus to a beloved song begins on the radio. Now that
    I’m walking the streets and riding public transportation, I’ve had the ability
    to both observe human nature further and learn about the world. I have
    discovered the reasons certain things are the way they are, and I have become
    flabbergasted at why certain things will never change. I’ve learned the
    importance of friendship on a walk especially because it is the perfect opportunity
    to meet someone in a space where you can devote equal attention to each other.
    Usually there’s phones in use and cars to brake for, but when a conversation
    starts on a sidewalk, everyone has become equally invested. Thanks for giving
    me a great study break and a moment to reflect on my current place in the
    greater world.