The low rumble of the engine dissolved the tension that held me upright and my body slowly slumped into a state of relaxation bordering boneless. I sighed. Something flew out the window and I instinctively reached to grab it before it got out, but it was too late. Stress. Then something else. Worry. Then anxiety. I didn’t grab anymore.
A sailboat carved a soft cut in the shimmering morning water below the bridge and I squinted like an old man to blur my picture and I did it: $29.95 one-way bus ticket, a shoulder bag, and a good squint of the eyes and I had once again transported myself to paradise. I shook my head and smiled at my little game, reminded how easy it was to play and how few people knew how.
I read a few chapters of my book. Then read a few more with my eyes closed. An olive-skinned woman was having trouble getting her bag from the luggage rack when a man helped her and her face wrinkled up, her eyes disappeared, and she gave him a smile that was so warm and unconditional it will probably add three years to his life. How do they do that? Most people have smiles that say ‘Thanks.’ Others have smiles that tell short stories. The idea that I even contemplated a ranking of smiles reminded me that I was free today. I watched her for a while; someone had a fine mother. Maybe she’d adopt me, or marry me, or at least smile at me. Maybe I was just on vacation and everyone seemed friendly.
I stared out the window for a long while, fixated on the same spot while my eyes darted back and forth, like in a movie of someone on a long bus ride, an important trip to meet his long-lost father. The growl of the bus was soothing, numbing, good. I fell asleep again. A morning sleep, the best kind. I was at peace.
It was important to me because I needed my fix of travel, my escape from the fast-paced world of the everyday. It’s not Tahiti, or Thailand, or even Hawaii; it’s Interstate 5. It’s not far away, unique, or in the slightest bit exotic. That’s just it, the secret is that it doesn’t need to be. I wear an uncontrollable dopey smile for my small victories over the ordinary. I didn’t tell my friends that I took the bus from San Francisco to L.A., they wouldn’t understand. They’re in it for the destination and not the voyage. I can’t tell them that there were flights, that I actually chose to take the bus, that this is the way I am.
Paradise is a not a physical place, it’s not on a map or in a guidebook. It doesn’t weigh anything and you don’t have to put it through the x-ray machine. It’s your own place where you are completely relaxed, your inner clock slows down, and you are purely and unquestionably yourself. Most people imagine paradise to be white sands, hammock, and umbrella drinks, but they’re often disappointed because it wasn’t quite how they imagined it. The problem is that they didn’t imagine it, someone else did it for them. Paradise is in your own mind’s eye, locked up in the dusty attic. You have the keys, somewhere, but the lock is tricky and you have to jiggle it a bit, maybe drop in some oil to loosen it up, but you’ll get in eventually. You’ve arrived when you’re at ease, when you’re yourself, when I’m on a bus humming on warm asphalt and the clock in my world slows to a crawl, a dopey smile creeps in, and women’s smiles tell me short stories.
Bradley Charbonneau writes about travel, love, and the love of travel. See more of his work atwww.bradleycharbonneau.com.
About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For an archive of these stories go to the Editors’ Choice link on The Flying Carpet; for more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.