There isn’t one specific reason why I went to Philadelphia.
The idea was sown by summer concertgoing in Chicago. Just a few days after returning from my July visit to Isla Palenque, in defiance of a relative’s accusation that I’d now be plagued by “the travel bug,” I hit up a local venue to prove I still knew how to have fun in my hometown, thank you very much.
A rollicking Dr. Dog show spit me out the doors of Lincoln Hall and into the remainder of a summer spent wading through kindred sounds by artists Sun Airway, Good Old War, and a few others. Great guitar, buoyant lyrics, and, occasionally, one of those audio landscapes that just punches you in the solar plexus. A little Internet larnin’ informed me that the boys behind my 2012 summer jams were, by and large, born-and-raised Philadelphians. With this knowledge, a city I’d scarcely thought about before suddenly became intriguing. Naturally, I began blabbing my newfound fascination with Philly to anyone who’d listen. One of these people, Sandra Szumiloski, happens to reside an hour’s drive outside Philadelphia. She told me of her plans to attend a couple of events in the city surrounding the publication of actor-director and travel writer Andrew McCarthy’s first book, and inquired if I’d like to join her.
This was close to revelatory. On top of the chance to finally meet the ironically-nicknamed “Sassy Sandy,” a meek mom and autism advocate with whom I’d been meaningfully corresponding for several months since she first commented on this blog, I now saw an opportunity to deliver an in-person thank you to Mr. McCarthy for his services as a judge in our Island Intern Contest earlier this year. Now armed with a couple of “reasons” which might serve as justification for an otherwise unjustifiable whim, I bought my plane tickets.
If my reasons for traveling to Philadelphia still seem a bit askance, it is because they are.
Sometimes the urge to move, to go, to experience a new place, finds its rationalizations after your deeper decision to travel has already been reached. Such was the case with my Philly trip – and I think that serendipity finds the freedom it needs to work its magic in just these types of scenarios. When you leave a few gaps in the reasoning behind your travels, the unique character(s) of your destination will fill in the blanks more colorfully than logic ever could.
However, I can’t ignore one factor which, more than anything, precipitated my visit: that my correspondence with Sassy Sandy had progressed to the point that our only logical next step was to hug it out. Our virtual-assisted friendship on The Ambler had blossomed following her response to a profile piece on Mr. McCarthy I published last March. I wrote it to express our appreciation for McCarthy’s valuable insights into travel storytelling, which he generously provided to the Island Intern hopefuls as the competition entered its second round. In the months that followed, Sandy and I continued our conversation, which grew to encompass the destinations on her wanderlist and the challenges of traveling with a child on the autism spectrum. In a seamless continuation of our online friendship, I found myself last Wednesday and Thursday sharing long walks, long talks, and long-overdue hugs with Sandy as we strolled through Old Philadelphia, past the Liberty Bell and into the Academy of Natural Sciences to let tropical butterflies alight on us.
The girlish excitement of our adventures in Philly carried us through the book release events, where I became utterly engrossed in McCarthy’s discussion of travel as a conduit to self-actualization. Listen to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s recording of the McCarthy author event – you can hear me ask the final question of the Q&A session just a few minutes from the end of the podcast. Forgive me for squeaking the acoustics so bad — I was quite close to the stage.
Sandy seemed reluctant to leave as staff members at the Free Library of Philadelphia started nudging stragglers of the book-signing queue towards the exit. I didn’t mind leaving, as I was eager to crack my freshly autographed copy of The Longest Way Home within a tent of quilts at the Morgan Hughes Homestead bed-and-breakfast. Interrupted by a rewarding day exploring Philadelphia with Sandy, then a late afternoon of solo wandering through the halls of the Barnes Foundation, I resumed voracious page-turning on my evening flight home to Chicago. And from two hours of enjoying it at 30,000 feet, I can make a strong recommendation to pick up a copy of The Longest Way Home to read en route to your next destination. You’ll find that your vulnerability while in transit – whether at the mercy of the pilot, train conductor, bus driver, or private chauffeur – is matched by the author’s as he probes his motivations to travel. For my part, I’ll probably just invent a feasible rationale whenever I next get the unconquerable urge to travel. And I’ll keep you posted on The Ambler.
Buy The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy
A true storyteller’s journey, crossing continents and running the gamut of travel experiences, until the corners of the globe folded in on themselves to envelop the narrator in a resounding sense of having come home at last to his family and himself.
We can’t wait for Isla Palenque guests to open our Panama resort‘s designated copy of The Longest Way Home, dedicated to Isla Palenque with special instructions for her adventurous explorers to “travel well.” But if you can’t wait to pick it up until your island visit, we certainly don’t blame you.