In Jack Kerouac’s classic travel story, On the Road, the narrator, Sal, describes his expectations of an upcoming road trip: “Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything: somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.” Travel was a special category of experience, replete with possibility, and distinct from the everyday.
This month we take you on a trip through transportation, from bees to UPS trucks to planets. We start our trip the way Sal did, with the expectation of wandering far from the commonplace. And we are not disappointed. In the variety and ingenuity of travel, both natural and human, we find many marvels: a distant planet covered entirely in oceans, crisscrossed by everlasting waves; dung beetles navigating by the light of the Milky Way.
But, more importantly, we discover something rather familiar on our travels: ourselves. Being in transit turns out be at the core of who we are and the world we live in. The traveling bee pollinates one third of all the food we eat; the traveling salesman problem—a brutally complex math puzzle—undergirds our delivery systems. Food production, and even food aid, are largely about transportation. And so is our battle with viruses. We live and die by transport—literally.
Sal finds something similar. His race from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again gives him adventure, yes, but mostly reflects back to him his own character, and that of his friends, behaving as they usually do. Travel was hardly the escape he had imagined. But, restless and ever seeking, Sal sets out on trip after trip.
And maybe that’s the discovery that transforms us. We are, as our stories show, forever in motion.
Welcome to “In Transit.”Read the Issue