When in clouds

Directions are meaningless without a view of the ground. They serve as only the end points of a journey, and the transition from Texas to Nevada is difficult to note without the details of terrain, without any sense of the obstacles crossed. In the dark Las Vegas looks like a place half built by fantastic creatures with wild minds and half built by the most boring of beige square-desiring late 20th century Americans. Despite our individual wants we cannot escape the habits of comfort and communal conformity. In the seat behind me a woman composes a presentation. To my left another reads a self-help book, part of a poorly named genre.

To my right the window looks out on the Pacific, another journey entirely. The water feels fresh and beckoning, like the edge of the world I know it not to be. The opposite side has seats facing the valley, facing the mountains and deserts beyond that. Each time I am offered the choice on a small screen filled with chairs I choose the ocean, never the land.

I grow older on these flights, and learn about the bible.

An hour outside of Texas a woman gives me her explanatory book, heavily annotated. I cannot bear to throw away her efforts and in turn carry it for weeks, looking for a home for this most worn of thin-paged texts. Twice I offer it up to others who take it in jest and then peruse in earnest, once even borrowing it for a week, but eventually it is returned.

We travel in circles, unable to see.

I awake one morning in JFK with my best friend, and we have coffee without hurry at a place near the gate. He is sure this is the best the terminal has to offer, I am confused by the brief blast of humidity between jet and jetway and gate. A week later he will come home from work to find me reading on his sofa, us both within reach of the Pacific. In between he will see Vegas and I will see…

I stand on a mesa outside of a Mexican town famous only for its affordable beer. There is no sign of habitation save the road that stretches off in front of me, first down the hill and then out into the valley. In the distance other plateaus rise likewise from the rock, without vegetation or inhabitants. Across this vast expanse of land the weather varies but with enough visibility nothing it will bring can surprise.

Behind me stands a great mass of concrete and steel designed to keep men from their families, and from doing whatever they please. Ahead of me some few miles runs a strange fence, its individual panes the shade of rusted iron. It sways in the wind slightly, or seems to from a distance. From this side I do not approach it, tales of American vigilante posses too possible to tease me.

I do not quite grasp the language, but the motions for removing one’s belt and wallet seem to be a universal constant, and I leave the car with only my ID. It is worn and will be replaced in 2012 with one that bears a more passing likeness to me.

Where is that boy?” one of my companions says, when presented with that smiling picture.

It’s from a photo booth under the Saikyo line in Japan,” I say, as though that explains everything.

We walk in through scanners and detectors, with declarations and pat downs, to do the things we woke early in another country to do. And on the way out we stand quiet in the startling brightness, the sun in full reflection off the concrete and sand, and cover our eyes with our hands.

We do not speak about it, but we are trying to remember this landscape forever.