By Tom Lamia
In my life so far I have done a lot of traveling and a lot of relocating. None of it troubled me as I enjoyed it for the color and variety it brought to my life. In the present moment, however, travel of any amount gives me the jitters. To be completely honest, these jitters have been around for a while, but I have avoided them by staying in one place, my farmhouse in South Bristol, Maine. No defensive explanation was needed to satisfy those who might think my behavior odd, because the presence of a deadly virus was an obvious and sufficient reason to minimize the human contact that travel requires.
Until recently a return to the freedom and rewards of travel seemed inevitable and proximate if not immediate. My personal history is one of travel and relocation at every stage of development. It was grand to leave California in the mid-1950s as a college freshman to dive deeply and enthusiastically into life in the Old South to attend the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. In that new place there was a new world; a world defined by the history and cultural residue of the Civil War, including Jim Crow segregation in public facilities, prohibition of alcohol and gambling and a deeply felt resentment of the perceived injustice of the outcome. The prohibition of drinking and gambling (and their related corruption of politics and law enforcement) did have some impact on college life, but only superficially (towns could choose a “local option” for beer, bootleggers went unmolested and gambling flourished on the Gulf Coast in casinos and card palaces). Holly Springs (beer), Blue Mountain College (girls), Memphis and Little Rock (city lights), and big-time football (Ole Miss Rebels) were compensating attractions to moral guilt over Jim Crow.
Later, in law school, it was relocation from Southern California to a different cultural and historical environment in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a 22-year-old first year law student. Harvard University and the environment of Cambridge and Boston was a giant step into a new world as different from my past experience as Mississippi had been earlier. In this world it seemed that anything was possible, academically and professionally. All imagined careers became realistic possibilities. My future life of travel began here.I spent a summer in Europe on an assignment given by virtue of my being a Harvard Law student. After receiving my law degree, I spent two years in Africa as a law lecturer at universities in Nigeria and Zambia. During these assignments I had no agenda or itinerary other than what sparked my interest from day to day. It was years of enlightenment through Cold War travel.
Later, as a practicing lawyer, there was thirty years of travel in the U.S., Europe and Asia while advising domestic and foreign clients. I once spent a full year in France, Italy, England, Germany, Spain, Holland and Belgium sorting out the wheat from the chaff of an international conglomerate client. It was a continuous tour of highly enjoyable cultural exchanges and geographic immersion.
During those many years as a lawyer I lived and worked in my firm’s offices in Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York City for extended periods. This required several changes of residence and facilitated the purchase in 1980 of the farm in South Bristol, Maine where I now live. Travel and the inspiration that has come from living in diverse communities has been the essence of my life, as I said at the top of this piece.
So, what are these “Travel Troubles” noted in the headline to this column?
First, it is the fear of travel and the wish for isolation that came with COVID-19 and persists. Several times in these columns I have noted the incidence of New Yorkers and others relocating to vacation houses in Maine where they could safely work remotely. It was a widely shared expectation in 2020 that there was protection from the virus in the sparsely settled and rugged land of Maine, a view that I shared. Still, I made regular visits to the West Village, where my wife, Susan, continued her work and several of my grown children and their families lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn. There were also visits to doctors and dentists, who know my physical needs and are better prepared to deal with them than the doctors near me in Maine. But that troublesome virus did not go away and crept closer with each new outbreak. Today, Maine is reporting the fifth highest rate of infection among all 50 U.S. states and is setting new record highs each week in all the wrong categories.
There are now trips, major and minor, that I am about to make or would like to make that fill me with dread. The more I hear of the risks of being among people, especially strangers, in enclosed spaces (like airplanes, restaurants, sporting events and hospitals) the more anxious I become. I am not enthusiastic about group events anyway, so the scale of rewards to penalties is heavily skewed in my case towards the penalties end when thinking about travel and large social gatherings. The cloistered life I now live comes from avoiding risk: no haircuts at the barbershop; no dining out at restaurants; no gatherings of more than two or three vaccinated and masked friends; minimal family visits with children, grandchildren, their spouses, pets and significant others—all risk factors.
In later life, I have grown closer to old friends who like me have time on their hands and very often are making good use of it with productive activities like writing, reading, traveling, etc. I would like to see these old friends in person, but that would require air travel. One, whom I have not seen in the flesh for sixty years, is in Hawaii. I want to go there, but can I justify the air travel in the face of ever mutating virus variants and intimidating risk data for octogenarians?
There is, however, a travel opportunity that cannot be set aside. My middle daughter is getting married in May in Palm Springs, California. She has asked me to officiate at her wedding, an honor that I have accepted. All guests will be fully vaccinated and boosted (a requirement for attending). It will be a travel adventure to relish once it is behind me.