Tunnel of Lights
Mr. Leonard Mead would pause, cock his head, listen, look, and march on, his feet making no noise on the lumpy walk. For long ago he had wisely changed to sneakers when strolling at night, because the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and lights might click on and faces might appear and an entire street be startled by the passing of a lone figure, himself, in the early November evening.
— Ray Bradbury, from “The Pedestrian”
When I was a teenager I had a bike named The Traveler and a poster on my wall of a waterfall on the side of a lush green mountain. The poster read “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”
That was my youthful dream, the seeds of a restlessness and wanderlust that would make my life a wayward journey for a long time, a journey wrought with as much wonder as woe.
There would be a year of college here, another there. There would be short stints working on farms and in factories between hitchhiking trips across the country while living out of a backpack and staying with friends in low places. And later, as a musician, I would travel about the tri-state region of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to play bar gigs.
It was a life not all that unusual for the times, when the Vietnam War was winding down and the Hippies with their colorful vans were generous pilots. Of course I developed a strong sense of independence and confidence that I could get along this world on my own terms, despite having to suffer through family tragedies, drug addiction, and too many broken hearts.
Eventually there would be the issue of finding some kind of a career, one that would not interfere with my dreams of playing and writing. It was hard for me to focus, and I found myself falling further and further behind in almost every endeavor. I had gotten lost in my wanderlust, and there are only so many times one can go back to college or home to Mom.
Now, a few decades later, I have a fulfilling career as a teacher, and I still play and write and have fun. My journeying these days amounts to yearly trips back East to visit family and a hobby of “wogging” (a combination of walking and jogging) in various local nature parks.
Up until a few years ago, I had greatly enjoyed walking at night through the streets of whatever town I lived in.
There was something mysterious and wonderful about those walks. It was like I was streaming through a wide, airy, dimly lit tunnel, accompanied by my own shadow that leaned and switched with each passing streetlight. There were neighborhood cats that skulked back into the shadows as I approached, or streaked like little goblins across the street to the safety of their porches. Occasionally I would startle (or be startled by) a raccoon or skunk that had emerged from a storm drain—their eyes a fine sparkling, so familiar and human-like in that brief moment of recognition.
Looking at the lamp-lit windows, I liked to imagine what the inside of the homes might be like, and what the people might be doing at that moment. I amused myself by jogging backwards, trying to feel the irregularities in the sidewalk and maintain my balance as I dared to go faster and faster. Or I would close my eyes, pretending to be blind, and count how many steps I could take before I veered off path, or before I got too scared and opened my eyes. All the while I had something going on in my head; sometimes it was a lesson plan, sometimes a poem or essay. Often it was a song that would dictate the tempo of my gait.
In Bradbury’s story, Mr. Mead’s nightly excursions ended as robotic policemen removed him from the sidewalks due to his psycho-social “regressive tendencies.” As an unmarried man who absurdly proclaimed his profession as “writer,” he was automatically deemed a threat to social conformity.
I no longer walk the streets at night. Not because I am afraid, or because I have been hassled by cops. It’s simply because of the seeming omnipresence of motion lights and residential video cameras. More and more homes are equipped with technology designed to sense and/or record the presence of any “foreign” object. My tunnel of carnival images has been whitewashed with almost every step I take. I am no longer an unidentified wandering object enveloped in a wonderfully mysterious cloak of invisibility; I have been exposed for the silly, nostalgic drifting old man that I truly am!
However, I think it’s important to always bear in mind what we might be giving up before we blindly invest in the future.