Everything is fodder for a story. Here’s the beginning of one I wrote for perceptivetravel.com.
“When I was supposed to board a plane to go back home I was sitting in a five–star hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The view from my window was of Belfast Lough, a long, deep, narrow channel running from the Irish Sea to the city of Belfast. And if I sat there and squinted just a little and ignored the big ferries and occasional tanker that slowly moved past I could believe I was looking at one of the Finger Lakes, the region I’m from in New York State. And it made me instantly and intensely homesick. But I was trapped beneath the volcanic ash cloud.
I had been in Ireland for two weeks traveling around the country and blogging about my experiences. It was oddly grueling. I’d wake in the morning and eat a hearty Irish breakfast with a map spread out on the table beside my plate of sausage, bacon, eggs, blood pudding, fried bread, grilled tomatoes, and grilled mushrooms, and I’d plan the day’s drive.
I think nothing of jumping into the car and heading out when I’m home. But there’s something about driving on the left that required every bit of concentration. Could have been the roads as wide as my dining room table. Could have been the trucks and buses bearing down on me, or the sheep casually crossing in front of my Ford Focus. Could have been the scenic drives that hugged the cliffs on one side and the sheer drop to the sea on the other. Or maybe it was the roundabouts. Or the unfamiliar road signs. I don’t know. But driving did take almost all of my white–knuckle concentration, which is kind of a shame because although I did things like drive around part of the Ring of Kerry, I didn’t see any of the landscape. Whole swaths of Ireland remain a green blur to me.
Still, I was determined to find a story, whether it was talking to a rheumy–eyed drunk in a pub about Bob Dylan or the doorman at one of the hotels where I stayed. The doorman had just returned from a trip to New York City—his first—and was ga–ga over everything he had seen. At one point he asked a cop where he might find the Empire State Building and the cop grabbed his arm and pulled him into the street stopping traffic as he did. Then he pointed up to the top of the building in front of them. “How Irish of me,” the doorman said.
So everyone had a story. The drunk in the bar. The doorman. The maid from Lithuania. The taxi driver from West Belfast. And I spent my days in a kind of reporter–mode and it was goddamn exhausting. And at night I’d go into my room and try to craft a little story to post. And I’d drink from the bottle of Merlot purchased from the liquor store and eat bread and cheese for dinner bought at the grocery store and I’d begin to feel sorry for myself in this beautiful country of greenness and melodic voices. Then I’d crawl between the 800 thread–count sheets on my perfect bed hoping I’d sleep. I knew I couldn’t whine about it lest I get slapped. (click here to continue reading . . .)