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