The Geographical Cure
I had a day in San Francisco. San Francisco is, of course, much too large to see in one day, but I woke up hungry to make every second count. I stuffed my backpack with my journal, a jacket, and a portable phone battery, and walked out into a city in which I was a complete stranger.
There were some places I knew I wanted to go (there was no way I was leaving without getting a donut from Bob’s Donuts), but my general goal was to just go where the day took me. I didn’t have a plan, or a place to stay, or a car, or a guide, or anything, really. Just myself and everything I could carry with me. I found it freeing.
I spent the day gadding about town via Uber, cable cars, by foot. Anything that caught my eye I walked toward, like a moth mindlessly going towards a light. While in an uberPOOL ride, a ride-mate (is that the right term?) asked where I lived or where I was headed, and I didn’t have a good answer to either.
I had breakfast in Fisherman’s Wharf, sushi in Polk’s Gulch, coffee in Pacific Heights, walked around Embarcadero, and even more coffee in the Mission District. All the strangers walking by probably assumed I was a local, just some guy from San Fran, and I’m not ashamed of having enjoyed that kind of anonymity.
The evening came, and in a shameless effort to poetically tie up my time there, I went to Mission Dolores Park, found a nice bench, and tried to soak up the feeling having gone west. After a bit, I walked to the nearest BART station, bought a ticket to SFO, and left.
A month later and I’m finding myself thinking about that day pretty often. Per capita, the ~36 hours I had in San Francisco were as thrilling as any 36 hour span I’ve had. San Francisco is beautiful and glowing and overwhelming, and my time there felt like a field trip that I didn’t want to end.
John Green recently made a video in which he talks about an idea called “the geographical cure.” Green describes it as this very American idea, that “if you just head west, that life will get better,” and he goes on to cite a quote from Robert Penn Warren’s book, All The King’s Men.
“I went west, for west is where we all plan to go someday. It is where you go when the land gives out, and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying, ‘Flee, all is discovered.’ It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand, and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear there is gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just, where you go.”
The idea of a geographical cure isn’t limited to going west, or even physically going somewhere. No matter how well life’s going, I’ve felt that there’s more or better opportunities out there, namely west. It’s comforting to not only learn a term for this underlying motive I’ve had, but also that others share it. It’s never been something I’ve thought much about, especially why I feel this way. “It is just, where you go.”
For a day I had either escaped, or was totally engirdled by the geographical cure. Either way, it was as thrilling as I hoped, and it’s making me think about a question John Green proposed: “Do you ever reach a point in your life when you are mature enough not to fall prey to the siren call of the geographical cure?” Having gotten a taste of the cure, I’m learning to balance being where my feet are, while still thinking of the gold in them-thar hills.