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Finding Elsewhere

How much of our lives do we spend wishing we were Elsewhere? At home under the covers. Visiting cold forests in far off lands. Back in 1992. I'd wager the percentage is high. Somewhere over the rainbow. Not on this plane. In the South Pacific. In southwestern Ohio.

Okay, so maybe it's just me. But as I'm in desperate need of company on this, if you don't mind, I'll borrow the first person plural.

To go Elsewhere, we read. We turn on the television. Pick up the phone and dial 011 then a country code. Skype. We go as far as we can in ordering an imaginary plane ticket to Japan without actually paying for it. We find portals like these in our computers, in our telephones, in our imaginations.

I would contend that Home, the King of Elsewheres, has the strongest pull on the other side of the portal.

My friend Jess just moved back to southern Ohio (northern Kentucky, to be precise) and I've taken to gazing out of her round kitchen window. Imagining autumn mornings and the familiar smell of the air. Jim goes to Cincinnati with his Sweet Juniper clan, drops a few familiar street names, and I'm suddenly obsessively wandering around Over-The-Rhine in Google Street View.

It's bizarre, wandering the pixels of a map frozen in time. Frozen in somebody else's time. What I remember seems to be gone, or changed, or misplaced. I fly down Vine Street, searching for Sudsy Malone's Laundry & Bar (where I once saw Yo La Tengo and Magnetic Fields and The Wrens, accompanied by the hummmmm-click! of jeans in a dryer), and find it there, but with windows papered over. I sift through unfamiliar grocery store signs from another decade, neon and metal, looking for the shops where I once bought a pair of used jeans with "I LOVE ARTHUR" written on the knee. Up the hill of some park where I remember sitting on the hood of a car, surrounded by kids from someone else's high school. Across the lower level of a metal bridge where I once drove white-knuckled, sandwiched between two trucks and the Ohio River.

This Elsewhere Cincinnati goes beyond my memory of it, populated by the lives of others. A couple loading a car in front of a neon manufacturing storefront. A man whacking weeds along a chain link fence. A Harter & Sons cheese truck delivering its wares at Findlay Market. In Kentucky, I spot a reclining armchair fully extended on someone's lawn, waiting for the owner to return with a can of beer. In someone else's Elsewhere.

While not all of us resort to the tedious method of crawling ten feet at a time along streets in a virtual map, we all do this wandering. This daydreaming. Trying to find Elsewhere. But we snap out of it. The phone rings. We are yanked back to reality by a familiar nearby voice. A lively discussion in the next room. A small chore: vacuuming, wiping dust from a bookshelf. We, if we're sensible, never allow ourselves to become trapped on the other side of the mirror, lost in the daydream.

And yet tonight, I do the worst thing I can do: I keep wandering those old streets. Ten feet at a time. I imagine myself Elsewhere, reclining in a lawn in Kentucky, leaning against a wall beneath an old grocery store sign, sitting on the hood of a car in someone else's park, in someone else's Elsewhere.


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