Is there anyone on this big blue kickball that hasn’t uttered those words at least once in their life? Whether the question posed is what you would do with a million dollars, how you plan to spend your retirement, or if you have any regrets in life, the answer is so universal that it’s almost cliche. And yet, I believe it to be entirely genuine. In all of our hearts lies a longing for exotic beauty, exciting experiences, an embracing of the new and unknown. We wish to escape our humdrum little corner of the world and the monotony of our lives and lose ourselves in the romance of the unfamiliar.
I, of course, am no exception.
I, too, long to travel. To immerse myself in a world and lives not my own, to collect memories like bits of glass to add to the mosaic of my person. I whisper the names of these far off places–Edinburgh, Santiago, Tokyo–and my tongue tingles with all the adventures they hold. I received a United States map pin board for my birthday last year. When I look at it, I see years of wonderful memories held aloft in those little colored pinheads, but I also see wide expanses of the country yet unexplored, and my heart aches. For shit’s sake, the fact that I haven’t left this continent in my lifetime makes me physically ill if I think about it for to long! So anytime we have a chance to explore someplace outside of our little sphere, even if only for a few hours, I dive in wholeheartedly.
Recently, Kyle and I took a weekend trip to visit my parents in Sindey, Ohio. While this is not a new locale for Kyle and I, it did give us the chance to stop on the way and explore someplace that was relatively new to us: the West Side Market in Cleveland.
Now, I’m not going to bore you by singing the praises of this foodie-mecca; between Travel Channel and Food Network, that dead horse was pulverized long ago. I will only say this: if you are a vegetarian or (god forbid) a vegan, you might find a walk through the market floor to be very uncomfortable. If, however, you are a person like me who loves food (almost) more than sex, you may be tempted to skip through the market swinging smoked meat above your head and singing “Pure Imagination.”
We were only able to spend a few hours at the West Side Market, but it was plenty of time to lose ourselves in a menagerie of delectable offerings. (It was also enough time to drop $120 on sausages, jerky, and steaks. We may or may not have a problem.) It was also enough time to enjoy a lunch of Steve’s Gyros, which happen to be the best motherfucking gyros on this motherfucking planet.
Sitting on the windowsill overlooking the market and embarrassing myself with a gyro the size of a Nerf football, dripping with sauce so delectable that I’d gladly eat it on a couch cushion, I couldn’t help but think that moments like the one I was enjoying are why travel is so precious to us as humans. I was relaxed and happy. Soaking in everything around me, watching the vignettes of life happening on the market floor below me, enjoying the offerings of their cuisine…this is what it’s all about.
But then Kyle looked up at me from his own foil-wrapped euphoria and said ferociously, “I am so pissed at every gyro I’ve ever eaten for not being as good as this one. I think Steve’s has completely ruined gyros for me forever.” And that’s when I realized that there’s also a downside to expanding one’s world. Before traveling to West Side Market, the best gyro I’d ever eaten was just down the street. If I wanted to experience the best gyro I’d ever had, all I had to do was walk a couple blocks and it was mine, any day of the week. But now…now if I want the best gyro I’ve ever eaten, I have to get in the car and drive 500 hundred miles. And what’s worse, every time I chow down on one of the gyros from down the street, (because it’s not like I’m going to just stop eating gyros,) I will no longer think, “This shit is delicious!” Instead, I will think, “This shit is pretty damn good…but not as good as the ones from Steve’s at West Side Market.”
Every time my world expands to embrace another place and another culture, I leave a little scrap of my heart there. The killer yakitori from that place in the East Village, the raw beauty of that mountain we hiked in Maine, the kaleidoscopic culture of New Orleans; incredible and rare things that I’d never even know were out there, and I will forever long for until I’m there again. The more I hunger for the unknown, the more insatiable my appetite because it’s been whet by the places I’ve already been and loved.
Unrequited love at its best.
So will the fear of heartache stop me from traveling? I don’t know, does the fear of hangovers stop anyone from drinking? Or the fear of salmonella stop anyone from eating raw cookie dough? Fuck no. And I’ll never stop traveling as much as my funds and schedule allow.
But for the rest of my life, I will get a little smile on my face every time I eat a gyro, and I’ll say to Kyle, “Remember those gyros from West Side Market?”