Gatsby’s Bar – Books in Motion
I’ve never been able to read while in a moving car and I have always felt cheated because of it. As I am ever a passenger in any vehicle that I find myself being transported by I typically have nothing to occupy myself with other than the view from my window and the egregiously bad music and/or talk coming from the radio. If I’m lucky enough to be in a friend’s car then I can usually count on there being better music at least, but on long journeys once the music has become little more than a sonic wallpaper and conversation has devolved into little more than grunts and sighs, all our communication reduced to monosyllabic necessity and occasional pointing should emphasis be required, I have to say it would sure be nice to crack open a book and work my eyes upon the words of a favorite author. Alas, no sooner do I have a book in hand and cracked open than the words start moving about all of their own accord shimmying this way and that, looping themselves about the page like tiny bugs flitting about on even tinier bicycles. At this point my skin goes clammy, my eyes tighten like thick screws, and my tummy turns a somersault. Ah, motion sickness how you bedevil me!
However, I have discovered that my inability to read in a moving vehicle is wholly determined by the size of the vehicle in question. Cars are out. As are SUVs. But buses and planes I’ve learned are actually plausible conveyances in which this perpetual reader can happily enjoy the writer’s art. But… yes as in all things there is a but lodged here which undermines my happy little discovery. While the motion of buses and planes mixed with the tiny print of a novel’s page does not automatically create a nausea which to my experience is much more profound than that of Sartre’s famous alter ego, these conveyances present their own challenges to the ardent reader.
How exactly in the name of all that is holy, or even in the name of all that is just kind of cool, do people manage to read on city buses? I see them nearly every day with their faces plunged deep into greasy library copies of Martha Grimes and Terry Pratchet. Oblivious to the hermetically sealed world of the bus and all of the screaming, claustrophobic chaos going on around them these people lose themselves completely, happily in their books. It’s like they’re not even on a city bus. I have tried many times to copy their behavior and transport myself off that terrible perpetually under-funded traveling circus called PAT but I tell you it’s impossible! Babies screaming and throwing toys, teenagers cursing loudly into cell phones, people sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and farting. Radios and ring tones exploding all around and if it’s the summer then the air conditioner is rattling and dripping on you and if it’s the winter then the radiator is gargling and spluttering ineffectually but damn loudly! Argh, distractions! How do those people concentrate on their novels?
Not long ago I traveled by Greyhound to visit a friend in Indiana. Naively, I figured that a Greyhound would prove itself more amenable to my reading requirements, namely a spot of quiet in which to indulge myself and which would allow for a bit of concentration. We were no more than twenty minutes out of the station, and I no more than three pages into my book, when the guys sitting directly behind me began loudly, enthusiastically relating prison stories. Apparently, I had chosen a seat in the ex-con section and being a rather milquetoast fellow had no tales of incarceration…or for that matter cigarettes…to trade with my traveling companions. Needless to say this was distracting. Almost as distracting as the teenage couple seated right next to me who spent the entire journey making out with each other.
Airplanes…I hate air travel. Laugh if you must but the whole experience terrifies me. It’s right up there with dentist appointments and tax audits. But a book on an airplane is this reader’s best friend. I don’t actually get much reading done while flying the friendly, turbulent, terrorist-ridden skies but having a book in my lap gives me something solid to concentrate on. I probably only read one or two sentences during a flight, but I would estimate I read those couple of sentences several hundred times a piece. Those sentences become a private code which loosely translated contains this one very important message: PLEASE MISTER AIRPLANE SIR PLEASE DO NOT CRASH SIR THANK YOU! I don’t know about you, but a book to glue my eyes to (and the many pre-flight drinks in the airport bar) is about the only thing that prevents me from losing my mind entirely and running up and down the aisle screaming how the physics of air travel make absolutely no logical sense and we’re all going to die fiery atop some mountain range.
Thank goodness for the book, eh?