“Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks. Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.
In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.” That’s Wikipedia’s quick and dirty definition.
I had a good dose of wanderlust as a young guy. I grew up in the same sameness of a cookie cutter neighborhood in the 1960’s while the world raged around me and I could not engage it. My parents’ frame of reference was pre-World War II and later on the marvelous uniformity of the 1950’s. Life seemed pretty well scripted for them– go to church, go to school, go to work. Asking why or what else there could be never seemed to occur to them. Or for their entire generation for that matter. And it makes sense when you consider that they were born during World War I, into pre electrification and pre automobile America. They came of age in the Great Depression and the rise of global Fascism. Wanting a predictable script is understandable when the world you live in has unleashed fear, loathing and insecurity again and again. Having safety, food, a job, a home, and predictable routines trumps having an adventure. I always say, “We want what we do not have, e.g., If you have a double cheeseburger, then you don’t want one.”
So when my turn came to bat, I had all of the things my parents often lacked. Consequently, I wanted what I did not have– travel, adventure, novelty, diversity, art, music, romance, etc. I did not want the cookie cutter house, the government job, the Catholic faith, the same old same old. I began exploring as a kid, often wandering off to see what was on the other side of the road, the neighborhood, the highway, the world. In an odd way childhood wanderlust confirms the security or desperation at the heart of the matter. This sort of thing was not encouraged, by the way.
One of my first wanderings was away from the childcare room at my mother’s bowling league on Thursday mornings. I was five, I think. I took my little brother Chris along with me and started walking home, about two miles. No one noticed. I knew the way and we crossed a four lane highway and walked along a two lane country road before our neighbor lady, Connie Page, stopped and picked us up. I got my butt whipped for that adventure; to no avail. I liked the taste of risk. No one died, and besides, you ought to pay more attention to sneaky kids, dontcha think?
When I was older, I’d ride my bike farther than permitted, out into the hinterlands of the unknown. Maybe a half mile away. Maybe five. It was never hard to find another boy in my neighborhood with absent-minded parents and an itch to go. Sometimes we’d ride in little gangs of four or five, jabbering as we pedaled without helmets or pads, often without working brakes, “Look, No hands!” up to the Giant store on Route 1 or down to the 7-11 on Kings Highway or over to Rose Hill shopping center. At other times we’d simply follow woods or streams as far as we had daylight and then come home again. Often enough we’d collect returnable bottles to fund our soda or pack of gum at the destination, at two cents per discarded bottle.
By age 12 my world expanded with junior high school and lots of new folks from other neighborhoods. The local Metro bus stopped at my street corner and continued all the way to the Mall in D.C. For thirty five cents you could cross state lines and arrive in another world full of diverse tourists or civil protesters. I did that at 12 years of age, just out of curiosity. I wanted to see what an anti-war protest looked like up close in 1968, I believe it was. Thousands and thousands of hippies were camped all around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, smoking pot and burning flags. They were bathing buck naked in the reflecting pool and in a fountain near the Smithsonian. Thus my wandering was lustfully rewarded with large doses of nakedness. Yes, my grandchildren, it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true: The Nation’s capital was briefly a strip club before the D.C. police started firing tear gas all over the place. Then it was just naked brutality.
Hitchhiking was a common practice back then. I used to hitchhike back and forth to high school without too much effort or worry. Later on I hitched back and forth to college. And ultimately across the country in 1978. That was some awesome wanderlust that I posted about early on in this blog.[ I even hitched a few rides in England when I was there in 1973 trying to impress my lost high school girlfriend with my wanderlust. To no lustful avail, my blogguppies.] In those days I knew where I was, and I didn’t want to be there. My blinking GPS pin was always somewhere else. I wonder if an Irish gypsy slept with one of my ancestors. Eventually life became too harsh for hitchhiking, maybe in the go go 1980’s when the gap between rich and poor skyrocketed; when free agency came into mainstream American life; and greedy individualism swelled up with 401k’s and property values. But I believe those days are gone… replaced by bunkerlust, a longing to burrow into one’s own luxuriously appointed gated community.
What was is no more and yet there is nothing new under the sun, except for the folks who have not learned this lesson. Wander on, young ones. Someone will pay more attention to you after you’ve gone.