There are all kinds of ways to measure the distance from here to there. Miles, minutes, meters, kilometers, inches, feet, yards, paces, furlongs, rods, etc. They are practical in the way things that have a number ahead of them usually are. They have neither charm nor poetic resonance, but what they lack in poetry they make up for in information. It's the kind of compromise that makes words mean what they need to mean. But not always.
My wife and I recently traveled 1,360 miles to a beach in North Carolina for a vacation. That's a fact, but it doesn't say what needs to be said. We not only traveled 1,360 miles, we also stayed two weeks. That is a fact, too. Facts. Facts. There is a steady accumulation of factual insufficiency here. The truth is they were glorious weeks in which nothing happened.
Our vacation might be described this way: We do nothing, we eat fresh seafood. We do nothing else, swim a little, eat more seafood. We do nothing some more, drink beer with our toes in the sea and the sun setting behind us. Repeat daily. As a result of all that doing nothing, this vacation took us somewhere we had never been before. It took us somewhere else. It was like sex. That is the only way to describe it. We were where we were and it felt good. But how far away is that? 1,360 miles, 14 days. Nah. The practical and unpoetical measure of how far it is from here to somewhere else falls far too short.
Happily I found another way to measure, a more accurate measure, a better way. The answer arrived in the mail. Actually what arrived in the mail were a couple of boxes of stuff we shipped home to ourselves from the beach parcel post so we wouldn't have to lug the stuff around airports in a suitcase. Besides, airlines charge extra for bringing along too much stuff. And they charge a lot. So we used parcel post.
The day before we headed home, we packed the stuff, taped up the boxes and hauled them down to the Topsail Beach post office. It is a very small post office located in a partly vacant building that has a roller skating rink upstairs. You can purchase used books at the post office (I picked up a dust-jacketed first edition of True Grit by Charles Portis for a dime) and the Friday we were there a guy was dropping off some free cucumbers (that he claimed were zucchinis) from his garden for anybody who wanted some. It is a cash only post office with a sign that says no checks or credit cards. We had to go to the ATM next door and come back cash in hand. The woman behind the counter weighed and measured our boxes and set them aside without sticking on the postage, which I found a little strange. But we paid her and left.
We came home on Saturday and the boxes arrived the following Tuesday and from the way it looks, that post office is so small it does not have a postage meter and the reason the clerk set them aside was that she had a bunch of stamps to lick before our stuff could go out on the parcel post truck. One of the boxes arrived with 40 Katharine Hepburn 44-cent stamps plastered to its top. There was something overwhelmingly wonderful about all those Katharine Hepburns. And I decided that's how far it is from here to where we actually ended up on our vacation, 40 Katharine Hepburns.
So when something carries me somewhere else and I am where I am (and noplace else) when I get there -- just like sex -- I will no longer measure in miles or minutes. When the facts are insufficient, I will measure the really good things in Katharine Hepburns.
We took a 40-Katharine Hepburn vacation. That's a real vacation.
(40 KathHeps = 1,360 miles. 1 KathHep = 30.9 miles)