What if the pandemic was over? by Rich Paschall
Suppose the pandemic was past us. Suppose travel restrictions were lifted. If you could go anywhere at all, where would you go? Where would your sense of adventure lead you? Would it be around the world or around town? Perhaps for you, it would have to be domestic. You could go to St. Louis and see the Gateway Arch and the mighty Mississippi River. You could go upriver to Hannibal, Missouri, and see Mark Twain’s home. From there you could head east to Springfield, Illinois, and see Abe Lincoln’s wonderfully preserved home, maintained by the National Park Service.
You might have one of the great wonders of North America in mind. So you could head north of Buffalo, New York to Niagara Falls and ride the Maid of the Mist right up to the Falls, or you could climb down the cliff to a point where the water will fall between you and the land. On your way home, you can stop in the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo Chicken Wings. Yes, that’s the place that started what is now a full-blown food craze.
If this does not suit your taste, perhaps you would run-up to the northwest corner of Illinois and stop in Galena, the “town that time forgot.” You can walk through the mid-1800s. You can stop at the place of speeches by Abraham Lincoln (1856) and Stephen A. Douglas (1858), or visit the home of President U.S. Grant. At this time of year, you could travel down to the Mississippi River, just west of Galena, and, with any luck at all, see the proud American Eagle. The very sight of the bald eagle, waiting to come down from the cliffs to fish, will make the trip worth it. Although you may have to go further inland to the Great Plains during summer to see them.
If Europe is your adventure you can fly to Frankfurt and go on to Stuttgart for museums and festivals. You can cross the Rhine to visit Strasbourg, France. You can visit the magnificent ancient Notre Dame Cathédrale de Strasbourg or ancient castles of Alsace. There are vineyards and wine festivals and if you like, you can visit the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France. It is in the middle of a busy traffic circle so you have to run fast and dodge the cars if you want to get over to it.
If Germany or France is not on your list, how about London? It is one of the great international cities. In 1777, author Samuel Johnson, writer of an early English Dictionary, spoke words that are still true, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” A few days or even a few weeks are not enough for the sights of London.
Why do I bring up all these travel ideas? It is because I am thinking of a recent journey. Some of my friends may say, “Did you go there again?” Between Delta and Omicron, I traveled to the northeast of France. It was the eleventh time my trip ended up there. In 2010 we made a trip to Stuttgart for an Oktoberfest type celebration, then on to France. In the summer of 2013, I went with some friends to Paris, and then on to Strasbourg. In 2012 I met my friend in Baden-Baden, Germany so we could fly together to London for the Summer Olympics, then we went back to France. Last year I made it all the way to Selestat, France. My friend met me in Strasbourg and we traveled on from there. These many trips were halted by the pandemic. That helped me to realize how precious all this traveling has been.
For all of these adventures we had some specific ideas in mind, but each time we did much of the trip spontaneously. When I reflect on these journeys, I realize there really was no “destination.” I could have been going anywhere. We dreamed and we went, but it didn’t matter where. The ultimate destination was never a place. It was a culture, an experience, friends. We visited new places and familiar locations. Some adventures were new, and some were familiar. We enjoyed the trips, large and small because we were doing them together. Every stop was fun, every place was exciting, everywhere was new, even if we had been there before. It was because I was with my friend.
We have been together on all the adventures I have mentioned above and more. Of course, we often set off to see great sites or experience great things, but they were made special by the fact that we shared these adventures. So I might fly to Frankfurt again someday and take the bus to Strasbourg. Hopefully, the pandemic will not strand us where we are today. Destination Friendship is still calling my name.
See also: “The Enemy of Ignorance,” Serendipity, February 6, 2022.