So Far So Good

By John Harris | November 27, 2002

My wife, Viv, is one of the reigning queens of the guidebook world. Her specialty is Latin America. Her first book, Central America by Chickenbus, is regarded by those in the know as a classic. It sold 8000 copies through three editions, and introduced a new word into the language.

Now, three books later, she works for one of the big US companies. Nirvana, though better it should’ve happened twenty years ago. She’s on the road for four to six months of every year. Usually I have to stay at home and work at my job as a college English teacher, fattening my
pension. We speak our love by e-mail and over the phone. Even at our age, this is only barely satisfactory.

So I go with her, more often now as the curtain closes on my teaching career, never mind my life. After all, as Viv puts it, we’re supposed to be married. She means, I like to think, that I’m a comfort, entertaining at times. Also, I’m a worthy object of her maternal instincts now that
her kids are gone and have produced over quite a few years only two grandkids.

Viv feels that travel is good for me, like vitamins or, more relevantly, glucosamine. It’s an antidote to teaching, the main hazard of which is the belief that one’s opinions and feelings have to be interesting to others because one has read a lot of supposedly great books like Heart of Darkness, and thus have acquired some parchment written upon in a dead language.

She pinpoints this occupational hazard in my teaching – she was once in one of my evening writing classes, front and centre, a gigantic takeout coffee in one hand, a chocolate bar in the other, a look of resignation on her face. What I remember most clearly is that her skirt was short and her legs were crossed.

The hazard is also evident, she figures, in the poetry and fiction that I, like so many of my colleagues, feel impelled to thrust upon the world. Most of these stories and poems, she affirms, amount to saying out loud that our bums are sore. Who, she says, but a spouse or parent could possibly care, and what spouse or parent could care through an entire book?

Finally, she finds that it’s useful, overall, to have me along. I carry stuff for her, making it easier for her to talk to people, scribble notes, and take photos. I’ve got the mineral water, the flashlight, the glucosamine, the extra pens and notebook, and the flash and extra lenses for the Nikon FM1– though no longer the Nikon itself after it was neatly removed from my pack in Peru. I also carry (a heavy burden) the enemy guide books that Viv uses for points of reference but plans to blow out of the water. I pick up and annotate the cards, brochures, fliers, price-lists, menus and so on that tourism departments, outfitting companies, hotels, restaurants, and currency exchanges hand out. I collect two copies of each, one set periodically to be bundled and mailed to head office for scanning and reference, and the other to be carried home and filed for reference.

God help me if I lose any of this stuff, especially the maps.

560 words// November 27th, 2002


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