Asked by his wife what he learned after traveling in France with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway once replied: “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.”
Most of us have learned this lesson the hard way – taking trips with friends whose rhythm, pace, and budgets are vastly different, leading to permanent travel bans likely to remain in tact until hell freezes over.
Although my husband wins the prize for being my favorite travel partner and hotel roommate, there are those trips when, quite frankly, he’s better off staying at home. Thankfully, he knows that.
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For umpteen years now, my longtime sidekick Sarabeth and I have traveled to New York to max out on Broadway shows, shop till we drop, and eat like there’s no tomorrow. It’s our annual June “run away from home” excursion.
Both of us theater fanatics, we spend the good part of a year planning this “girls only” getaway. Splurging on the best seats available this side of Row G, we clip reviews, memorize scores, promise not to over pack – but then do so anyway without apology.
The plan is simple, predictable, and all ours. No alarm clocks or sight-seeing. Coffee in bed with the New York Times. Well-researched lunch and dinner reservations at favorite eateries. Unflattering, moronic “selfies” taken in the heart of Times Square after midnight (Dan’s eyes are already rolling backwards; his words, “Oh, brother” almost audible).
For one entire week, nothing conversation-wise is off limits. We’ll talk politics, personal healthcare, grandkids, the demise of the Ringling Brothers, hair, make up, sagging skin and whatever else strikes our fancy. Our transitions: smooth and effortless. As friends, we share so much history we can finish each other’s sentences while knee deep in personal confessions and revelations.
We no longer await the perfect moment or opportunity to be honest, self-disclosing, transparent or real. It’s now or never.
The truth of the matter is we’ll talk, laugh our heads off like schoolgirls, and analyze the world (and our lives) until the wee hours of the morning – all part of a perfectly orchestrated and choreographed itinerary.
Honestly, when I close my eyes, what I see are two teenage girls slumber partying with their dreams in modern-day Technicolor (most likely provoked by the neon lights of Broadway peeking through our blackout shades).
I have a feeling it’s these unrehearsed moments of time spent together that obliterate cancer cells, revive the spirit and qualify on anyone’s menu as pure soul food. Not long ago, I heard someone say we must “take the present moment as a present in the moment.”
Without a doubt we will behave badly, intrude on some famous person’s dinner, spend too much money, ingest too many carbs, and along the way drink excessive amounts of coffee or wine, depending on time of day. All with no regrets.
Our travel tradition began 44 years ago when we truly were schoolgirls studying abroad. I’ve written plenty about our European adventures in previous columns. Together, we’ve navigated foreign train stations, underground subways, airline security lines and mastered upgrade shenanigans.
Most of the time we get lucky. Someone sees the bond we share and the magic between us becomes apparent and contagious. A waiter brings complimentary dessert. A flight attendant sneaks us a bottle of Merlot. The hotel check-in clerk throws in free breakfasts and Wi-Fi.
There’s a lot being written these days about the chaos and calamity of travel. But when you choose a kindred spirit as your travel companion, you share the road – wherever it takes you.
Reminds me of a passage from a favorite childhood book, “Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame, published way back in 1908:
“You can think how obliged I am to you for consenting to come on this trip,” said Toad to the Rat. “I wouldn’t have gone without you and then I might have never seen that – that swan, that sunbeam, that thunderbolt…I owe it all to you, my best of friends.”
A few days from now, I’ll be on a plane headed to Newark, New Jersey. Barring delays, we’ll taxi into Manhattan with just enough time to unpack, freshen up, grab a slice of pizza and then head to the Palace Theater where we’ll see show No. 1, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”
When the curtain goes up, I’ll be mesmerized and grateful for this time with a dear friend. After the curtain goes down, we’ll applaud till our hands ache then sneak off to the stage door in hopes of catching a glimpse of Glenn Close, maybe take a few photos, get programs signed before heading over to Bar Centrale for a late night nightcap.
Jet-lagged and yawning between sentences, it won’t matter one bit. We will inhabit our own private world where wide-awake or half asleep, we remain constant, forever friends.
And for the next six days and nights, we’ll repeat this exact performance. One easily titled, “Friends celebrating life. The world – our stage.”
Armen D. Bacon of Fresno is co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship.” Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon.