Featured: Top of Home Page

North by Southwest

Source: Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive

Sometimes travel is a metaphor and sometimes it isn’t, and often separating which is what, when, can be a perplexing exercise in peripatacity.

Today I am traveling across the United States – from the West to the East coast – on a diagonal, due north, as one half of a tandem. My traveling companion is a beautiful woman in waxing flower: my daughter – fresh off a high school graduation and a summer as restaurant hostess. Neither of which have sufficiently prepared her for this particular journey. Why? Because this is the first leg of the next journey of her life. A trek that is not only physical, but intellectual, as well . . . for she is embarking on her collegiate career. This, a new stage in her life, represents both an ending and a beginning: the culmination of one thing, the debut of another. Cast that way, it is hard to avoid reckoning this moment – these paces she is now undertaking-- as a representation. As a something standing for another thing.

See what I mean? Where does travel stop and metaphor start? The physical and the mystical getting twinned so facilely. Which is what I like about peripatacity. It has a knack for keeping one guessing.

Of course, you can take the metaphor analogy too far. And it is best if you know when to say when. When to recognize that all you have in front of you is a roadtrip, rather than a philosophical meditation on the human condition.

Today what I think we have on our hands is more of the former, and much less of the latter. Something more akin to what Cary Grant had to endure in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, referenced above.

We undertake this journey on Southwest, one of America’s “no frills” airlines – the kind where they don’t offer pre-assigned seating, rather place you in blocks of first-come, first-served – then let all the cattle herded into groups A, B, and C fend for themselves. The self-congratulatory announcement over the PA declares: “On Southwest you are free to choose your own seat”, but those unfortunate enough to be pre-assigned at the tail end of the B group will be hard-pressed to find two seats together, thereby sinking a dagger into the heart of the fallacy of choice; those boarded ahead of them having used up all the meaningful choices: the decisions that will determine the later-arriver’s seat-selection. As for anyone unfortunate enough to be consigned to the C group –well, they are almost certain to end up sitting in between the A and C or the D and F seats, jockeying for elbow space on the armrests to both the left and right.

Freedom to choose? Fellow Southwest travelers: welcome to the world of spin.

In our case my daughter and I ended up free to choose seating in grandly staggered rows across the fuselage from one another. So much for companionable conversation during the 5 hour flight. 5 precious hours leeched from our limited store prior to a separation that will last for months. Life not always stopping to be kind, let alone fair.

On Southwest, no frills means that drinks are served, but nothing else (well, unless you count pretzels, wheat thins and peanuts as something). Alcohol costs money –as do energy drinks and sandwiches. No frills also turns out to mean 2 airplanes and 3 stops prior to reaching our ultimate destination. Thus, the plane first points toward Phoenix, where it will stop for about 20 minutes – enough to jettison terminal bodies and replace them with fresher ones. After that, it is on to Chicago, where, after a 4 hour wait, we transfer to the final leg of this day-long journey, ending up at a point somewhere in New England. Fortunately (if you are one who counts the blessings that accrue to the accursed), after the first leg, two-thirds of the passengers deplane, so my girl and I are able to reunite. Is this a good thing? Not if, like me, you are cursed. Which also falls under the heading of “I hope you find geography fascinating.” For, my seatmate proceeds to spend the next 3 hours obsessing over the In-flight magazine’s route map, incessantly quizzing me on the names of America’s 50 states and their capitals. As if I hadn’t learned them about 39 years ago. Or: as if, after the second hour (and the 35th quiz) I wouldn’t have learned them the third time this go-round.

Well, chalk the exercise up to my contribution to this immigrant’s collegiate education. In case this dance/theatre/biochemistry triple major ever takes a U.S. poli-sci class.

What Southwest lacks in creature comforts it makes up for in personality – at least if you fancy stewards and stewardesses who crack wise over the P.A. That along with the $300 fare to the Northeast may be enough to sway you to do without preferential seating and a warm meal. In their stead what one gets is a steady stream of folksy patter and companionable banter. Things like, as you’re landing: “let’s see if my ex-husband can set this baby down on the runway better than he handled our divorce” or “ladies and gentlemen, let’s give the crew chief a hand. He may not be much in the brain department, but he sure is cute – which is just the way I like ‘em.” As for me, I liked the line that came as we made our final airport's final approach. The one where the stew said: “now ladies and gentlemen, if you just look out the right side of your windows . . . just about . . . now . . . you can see the hotel where I’ll be staying tonight.” We even had a steward serenade us with a yodeling extravaganza the final two minutes of taxiing into the deplaning dock. Which is just what every traveler needs after 11 hours in trans-continental transit.

As for me, I try to distance "no-frills" from metaphor as much as possible. I don't want the "less" that occupies its base to even remotely signify my existence.

At the same time, if peripatacity means embracing the unexpected, then traveling North via Southwest is precisely what it is: peripatacity incarnate.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.