Thursday, August 5, 2010

Deal With It.

When I was 14, I saw a billboard for Hooters Air.

For the unfortunate few not in the know, Hooters Air was the official airline of Hooters Restaurant, the only “family restaurant” that makes a Montreal strip joint seem tasteful.

Before you ask, please believe me. I am not making this up. 

It was a hideous idea. Most people realize that flying is serious business and wouldn’t trust their lives to a company that somehow screwed up the combination of bar food and big breats. When I’m 35,000 feet in the air, I’m usually in a far too serious mood to participate in the type of decorum the Hooters’ atmosphere perpetuates. People agreed with me, and not long after I saw the billboard, Hooters Air folded.  This would have been around the year 2000

I was 15 years old and on Interstate 95, somewhere in North Carolina. Above me, the endless string of South of the Border billboards relented for just a moment, and in their wake was a preposterously garish orange sign, with an illustration of a 747 and that semi-iconic Hooters owl, himself proclaiming: “Hooters Air, Where getting there is half  all the fun. 

My 15-year-old self thought it was absolute genius.

It’s a play on that old cliché and it was marketing wizardry. If anyone you know ever flew on Hooters Air, that was the reason. I’m not saying they saw the Billboard and then dialed their travel agents, but that philosophy was certainly the motivation behind choosing the airline. The conversation never would have gone:

“Yeah, I gotta take Hooters Air flight 109 to Atlanta for a meeting.”

Rather it would have sounded like:

“Yeah, I gotta go to Atlanta for a meeting, but I’m taking Hooters Air!”

The Hooters Air people were marketing the flight on the plane as the vacation, not the means to get to the vacation. They were hoping they could get you to forget how ludicrous the thought of Hooters Air is by making it seem like an event, or at the very least an interesting conversation starter. Other airlines boast about the destinations they take you, not so much the flight itself. If they do mention the flight, it’s to tell you about what little creations they’ve come up with to make the whole unfortunate experience more bearable. More leg-room, leather cushions, forcing fat people to buy two seats, and they go on and on.
Aren’t you being a little ridiculous? Yes. I am. Whichever ad-man came up the slogan was probably just trying to stress the point that this time when you duel over the stewardess, you needn’t feel like a sex offender.  But, still. The idea that getting there could be all the fun was a notion that I could never quite relinquish. It festered and bubbled inside of me, until the idea that I would live my life without endlessly traveling, without wandering for the sake of wandering, became absolutely unbearable. It seemed that Hooters had succeeded in blue-balling me, though certainly not in the manner they anticipated.

It was this anxiety that led me to wander out on my own after college, to join Americorps (and then join it again), to forgo laundry and groceries to have money for weekend trips, and ultimately to relocate to New York.  

And now I’m here, in New York, the great New York, and most of the time all I want to do is leave.  New York City is so massive that weeks and months can melt away before I realize that I haven’t left the five boroughs even once. (I should just say four. Who goes to Staten Island?)  Anyone who grew up in the suburbs will agree; the idea that you could go more then a weekend without leaving one town is crazy. Plymouth didn’t even have a Wendy’s until I was 22! 

The downside to one place providing everything you could possible need is that you never need to go to another place. New York is like one giant Super Wal-Mart. Big Apple aficionados will counter by saying that New York is so disparate from block to block that it’s like traveling thru limitless locales, arguing there’s more diversity in a dozen Manhattan blocks then all of the Dakotas.  And they would be right. I could travel thru the entire American south and never come across a good Venezuelan Cachapa, or I could take a five minute walk during my lunch break and score a great one.

But for me, there is something about staying in one geographical location for a length of time that drives me bonkers, just the idea that I’m not stretching out, that I’m becoming grounded.

Two good friends of mine are leaving the city next month. My roommate left last month. None of them seemed to acclimate to New York. For all the things they liked about the city, none of them ever felt it held a candle to what back home could offer them. So after a trial period they are moving home, and they are positively ecstatic. I get this horrible feeling that I will end up bitter too, that I will – such as those patrons of Hooters Air - want to just up and leave simply because I haven’t up and left in a while.

But that would mean giving up, and I can’t do that. Not this year at least. Maybe not in five years. Maybe I was ignorant to think that chasing my dream would be a constantly amazing and life-affirming ride, propelled along simply by the fact that “I’m going for it,” and not a reality check: a confidence-crushing, bank-account-depleting,  self-degrading struggle.   Maybe I was ignorant to think it would be so much fun.

(It is fun a lot, too. Let me take a moment here to apologize for how whiny and self-loathing this post got all of the sudden. Not sure what happened. Maybe I should have some cookies.)

I have to remember there is a purpose, a goal I’m working towards, and when I reach that goal this will all be so incredibly worth it.  And if I never reach it, it will still be worth it, because it will just give me another place to escape from, another destination to start the car from and hit the road, or get on the jet plane.  On to the next one, on to the next one.  

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