We are our methods of conveyance, or we become them. In my 20s I was a Camaro. I hated my years as a minivan -- loved the soccer players, hated the game. I am in the market for a new vehicle right now. I'm kicking tires, weighing the unbearable lightness of anchors.
I considered this on my recent trips through San Francisco, Key West and New Orleans. I may have unknowingly taken those trips in order to consider it.
In New Orleans, you are a parade float. You move slowly but with grand noise. You are so very beautiful, all of your colors flush, and you give away all your treasures with abandon. You are a damp piece of clothing, and you are falling from a balcony where you were placed to dry out. You are a ghost tour caravan getting friendly with the dark.
I took a cab from the airport to my hotel. My driver slowly exited his car to take my suitcase. We chatted for a confusingly long time before he put my belongings in his truck. He was eating a nectarine, and he loved that nectarine. Eventually, when it was time, we left and he quietly merged his car into traffic as though it had always been there.
In San Francisco you are a shared ride summonsed via an app. You are Sidecar, Uber, Lyft. You are a friendly stranger disrupting another friendly stranger's economy with your Prius. You are a bicycle on an impossible hill, the oddity of a trolley. I was a BART car pulling into station, looking for the first time at the homeless people (none of them my brother, all of them my brother) wandering there, looking at the entrepreneurial panhandler teaching tourists how to use the ticket machine before he makes his pitch. The city is full of pitches and talks of exit strategies. The Pitch and The Exit, both shiny vehicles.
I was talked into taking a group shuttle to the airport by my friend. I wouldn't let her drive me, she had already helped me too much. She wouldn't let me take a cab, as taxi drivers are the enemies of the sharing economy. "I know a guy," she said.
Her shuttle service picked me up first, at 4:30 am for a 6:30 flight. Nice guy, my driver's van sported a massive television positioned between the front two bucket seats. I sat on the bench seat right behind the driver, meaning this television, playing scenes from BBC nature documentaries, was inches from my face. On stop after stop through the city he packed over a dozen of us into that van while the Amazon sang to us. The van became so crowded we all overlapped, arms against our neighbors' laps, every other knee raised to decrease hip width, the air close with coffee and toothpaste and one lady's Big Red gum. Each time he added a passenger I thought surely we would be on our way now! But no.
The oversized TV helped, creating an Amazonian headspace to make up for compromised physical space, I guess--maybe our guy had a plan, maybe he was a disruptive genius with a lucrative gig. But at one point our televised nature tour took us to frogs. 17- or 24-inch-wide close-ups (I don't know how big, but big) of frogs moaning mating calls filled every remaining inch of the van. Frog throats ballooned in our faces like that Big Red gum. And then there was a shot of piles of tree frogs, layers and layers of them, with David Attenborough painstakingly instructing us about how and why these repulsively damp frogs were mating in a massive orgy of green and red amphibianness. The frog orgy in our faces, layered onto the physical overlapping in the van pushed me over the edge and I started laughing, just lost-gone-lost laughing, and I couldn't stop. About half the van joined me, maybe agreeing with the comedy or maybe they were victims of infectious laughing which is another layer of compromise for them (I'm so sorry), and half of the van's occupants were silent. I tried to take a deep breath to calm down, thought about that Big Red gum and frog throats, all of which fed loop gain, and I couldn't stop laughing until we arrived at the airport. I made my flight and slept the entire way, coast-to-coast, from sea to shining sea.
In Key West you are a pirate ship. A sunset cruise buoyed by cover songs, champagne and malt liquor margaritas. You are walking, because the island is small enough for your feet to know it street by street. You walk in a bar here, drop in a shop there, find what you need to find by intuition and old stories.
There are in fact cabs in Key West, pedicabs and standard cabs, most of which seem to be vans ready to take your fishing rods to the airport or your troupe of drunk friends from Point A to Point Sleep It Off By the Pool.
I rode in one van alongside a vodka-drinking man who bragged of his expertise as a bar magician and who lost his mind in voyeuristic reverie when he saw a young woman wearing a short dress riding in the basket of a young man's bicycle. That's what you are in Key West: a bicycle with a full basket. My sunset cruise was an amazing ride. We sailed to nowhere, and nowhere has never been so spectacular.