Prologue


I try the title out on myself, out loud, as I drive in my car along California Route 20. I've got an idea for a journey of discovery as I try to decide what the future is going to bring. I am going to drive alone along the entirety of CA 20, from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, stopping every twenty miles to take a picture. First, I have to get to the terminus of CA 20. Also, I need a title for the series of posts. How does it sound as I speak it aloud to myself?

"The Great Transept"

"What kind of a name is that?" Bertie asks from the passenger seat. When I said "alone," of course I wasn't really counting my imaginary friends. They're not real, and I don't control when they appear and disappear. I have no idea who is going to join me on this trip. I just hope we can get all the way through without my imaginary great uncle (on my sister's side) butting in. Truth be told, I only wish Annabel Lee would show up. She's been gone so long. Instead, I get Bertie.

"I'm not sure, really. I was thinking about a scientist I heard of once who walked across Africa and at every mile, he stopped and did a survey of the flora and fauna at that point."

"You'd think he'd do it in kilometers."

"Maybe it was, I don't remember. But I was thinking that he called it the transept, though I don't know what the word means."

"Actually." I look up into the mirror to see Prasad sitting in the back seat. He adjusts his tie. "A transept is an architectural feature chiefly seen in Christian churches; it's the cross-bar when the floor plan looks like a cross."

"Well, that's not it, then." I glance at Bertie. "What should I call this? You're good with names."

"I only do books," he says. Bertie has a gig reviewing books for the local radio station. His special bit is that he never reads the books, his reviews are completely based on the titles alone. He hopes someday to be invited onto Pop Culture Happy Hour.

"Well, I'm no good with names," I tell him.

"Tell me about it." Sitting next to Prasad now is the boy whose name I can never remember. The car is getting crowded.

"I have face blindness."

"You're no Oliver Sacks."

"Something with a T," I say. "Maybe it's the tesseract."

"That's the glowy thing in Avengers," says the kid with no name (that I can remember).

"Transom?"

"That's the little window above the door in old detective movies." (Bertie)

"Transversal?"

"Geometry: a line that crosses a set of other parallel lines." (Prasad)

"Ok, this is getting nowhere. I need a name that is going to describe what we're doing here. I'm going to take a journey of self-discovery as I think about the uncertainty of my adventure ahead. I'm excited about the uncertainty. I remember when I was a kid and going to to the bookstore or library meant I might find a new book by an author I liked or in a series I enjoyed. You never knew if you had read all there had been written yet or if more were yet to come. Now, you just click on Amazon and there's no doubt. There's no real uncertainty. I want it back. I want what my colleague Jean calls 'the goo of ambiguity.'"

"That's probably not going to bring in any readers."

"True, I expect the goo to be around much longer than these 13 or so stops along CA20."

The kid whose name escapes me leans into the center of the car. "Why don't you name it like a good function. Tell us what we're doing."

"What do you suggest?"

"20 on 20"

"Ok, that's a horrible method name, but I do like it for this series."

"Are you really going to stop exactly every twenty miles? I don't know that we have the proper measuring tools to be that precise," Prasad says.

"True enough, I say. We could call it 20ish on 20."

This brings out the sound I did not want to hear: "Ish?" I look into the mirror again and it is Great Uncle Leadbelly. "Ish? No descendant of mine is going to give in to 'ish.'"

"Actually, aside from being imaginary, sir," (Prasad is always polite.) "As a great-uncle you are not really directly in his line of ascent." Great Uncle Leadbelly waves this away with both hands.

"When I went on a scientific expedition, we did everything with accuracy."

"Accuracy and precision are not the same thing," I try to say, but cannot be heard over Prasad's excited response.

"You went on a scientific expedition? Which one? Shakleton? Carter? Livingstone?"

"Sure all of them. Once I walked all the way across Africa and we stopped precisely every mile to take samples."

"You were not on that trip," I say. "You were never an explorer."

"I was."

"Who was the scientist?"

"Well, now, you can't fault me for misremembering the name of someone I knew so long ago."

"He's got you there," says the non-eponymous kid behind me.

"Then what was the journey called? Didn't he name it?"

"I don't remember."

"You're no help," I say. "No help at all."

"We might have called it 'Around the World in 80 Days'."

"Around the World in 80 Days?"

"Well," Great Uncle Leadbelly looks out the window as we pass the canal that flows uphill. "Around the World in 80ish Days."




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