The other day I was a guest on KPFA-FM in Berkeley discussing travel safety in this era of terrorist threats, war posturing, and receding economies. The mood was more upbeat than I expected, with callers wanting to travel but looking for small bits of reassurance about places they thought may be dangerous. I was wearing my “World Travel Watch” reporter hat, acknowledging the risks in the world today but trying to provide context for the warnings, cautions, and public announcements produced by the U.S. Department of State and its counterparts in Canada, Australia, and the U.K. We discussed the importance of Americans traveling today if only to reassure the rest of the world that we are not villains intent on global dominance, but good neighbors and friends.The half-hour show flew by, and I think all of us, callers and the three of us in the studio, felt we could have talked much longer and still not exhausted the subject. Less than an hour later I was back in San Francisco, walking up Market Street toward Stacey’s and Rand McNally bookstores. The sun shone with that particular clarity and warmth that is so typical of a San Francisco autumn, and my thoughts were drifting on the winds of travel, how much I love it, how I would soon be heading back to the high Himalayas of Nepal (a country in political turmoil these days) leaving my wife and two young daughters behind. The sidewalks weren’t crowded; the morning rush was over and the lunchtime emptying of offices hadn’t begun. I was only vaguely aware of the people around me until the man approaching, now just two steps away, jerked his arm high as if to strike, screaming, eyes wide, face a grotesque mask. I leapt back trying to avoid the blow. My evasion seemed to startle him and he froze. I moved laterally. He took a step forward. I edged along. He shouted again, this time intelligibly: “I’m going to kill one of you bastards one of these days!” Then his arm dropped, he moved away cursing angrily, while everyone on the sidewalk gave him a wide berth.
I had no emotions whatsoever. No adrenaline, no panic, no compulsion to flee. It all happened so fast I had only reflex: leap back, move away, avoid contact. It was ten seconds after he’d moved on that my heart began to race.
It’s a cliché, this notion that you could be run over by a truck on the way to work, or slip on a bar of soap in the shower and be dead today. Or in my case, after discussing on the radio the dangers of traveling in a dangerous world, be slain by a madman on a pristine San Francisco morning. Would my wife and daughters miss me any less if I died a few blocks from home rather than several thousand miles away? Is traveling to the back of beyond really more dangerous than walking the streets of your home town?
Travel is life, life is travel, and there are risks involved in everything, even staying home. I will miss them while I’m away. They’ll miss me. But there’s no discernibly greater likelihood that I’ll still be alive in November if I stay home or head for Nepal, so I’ll go without worry and look forward to my return, when we can tell each other all about our adventures.
About Larry’s Corner:
Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the frozen Arctic to equatorial rain forest, the high Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated newspaper column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries, and can also be found on WorldTravelWatch.com and on TravelersTales.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on some eighty titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco. Click here to learn more about Larry Habegger.
Return to Flying Carpet index page.