A man approaches me, wearing a royal blue coat with a white stripe running lengthwise across his back, from one wrist to the other. He strides confidently, his brown leather shoes guiding him with utmost precision over the smooth tiles of the underground. I glance away, not wanting to appear suspicious. I notice he is carrying a black leather briefcase, for what purpose I am not sure. I tell my subconscious to remember this moment.
The underground station was painted, depressingly colorful. A rainbow of yellow, green, blue and finally purple stretched the length of the tube, above the tracks. I remained in the exact same position I'd been in when the blue-coated man crossed in front of me. My feet hadn't moved an inch, and my body remained motionless, save for the reflex of breathing. I was disoriented this far underground, my usually reliable inner compass bewildered, threatened by the artificial light and the unnatural wind. Usually I'm very adept at finding my way around, especially at finding my way home, wherever that may be, but not here. My instincts were confused, and I was forced to rely on unintelligible maps and diagrams, of which I understood little.
The waitress speaks English. I'm the only person in the café, but she doesn't seem to mind. Well, I am now. A few moments ago a group of friendly looking middle agers had just gotten up, evidently satisfied with their beers, their coffees, their meals, whatever it was they were indulging in. I hadn't noticed. I'm having difficulty with the candle on the table. Set in interestingly molded, colorful clay (though probably purchased from a department store), the single flame on a rather large table continues to lick the tips of my fingers, reminding me of its presence. Luckily it's only my fingers. I should have probably blown out that flame straight away, but I rather enjoyed its ambience.
Outside the earth continues it's everlasting march around the sun, shrugging aside the last glow of daylight, ushering in the darkness. Lights are turned on across the city, landmarks illuminated so the tourists can take their photos and bask in their personal glory of another destination checked off the list, another photo framed with history. I sit, subconsciously aware of my surroundings, questioning my motives for being in this place at this exact moment in time. A glass sits to my right, deep red and nearly opaque, my motivation to create. I take the last sip, the English-speaking waitress appears right on time, and I motion for another.
'Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo.'
Later this evening I will leave the café. It will close at 10pm, and I will be forced to move on. I know this, because I've been here before. This café has become my haven, my place of solitude in a city slowly destroying itself at the hand of the almighty dollar. I'm a cancer and a victim at the same time. The café would not exist if not for people like me, yet I enjoy it's atmosphere to escape these people. When the bill comes, I will pay the exorbitantly high price offered only to tourists like myself, but I will feel satisfied that I've found a place off-the-beaten path, devoid of the tourists I try to escape. I will pass along the 'secret' knowledge of this café to others like me, letting them in on my little secret. Unknowingly yet completely aware, I will contribute to the destruction of a city, a culture, an idea.
The traveler seeks adventure, seeks the unknown, seeks the authentic. The traveler is inherently mistrusting of every other traveler, wanting to keep secrets to himself, refusing to share the most coveted places, the most exciting experiences. The traveler seeks only for himself, selfishly satisfied with his own discoveries. He returns to the real world and regales his friends with enchanting tales of strange lands and stranger people. He is not one, but a culmination of all travelers, yet believing that his experiences are unique, that he has sought and found authenticity which others shall never experience. He holds this above others, immensely proud of himself for 'going against the flow' and creating his own unique adventures.
The traveler seeks unique cultures, wants to experience rituals no other has ever experienced in far-off, mystical lands. But when does culture become commodity? When do the norms of a distant culture become theatre? The moment the traveler experiences a strange culture in a strange place solely for his amusement, that culture ceases to exist. It has become an act, a play instead of a ritual. The curiosity that every traveler carries as his most important baggage, destroys that which he restlessly seeks.
I stand motionless, feet shoulder-width apart, just shy of touching the yellow line. Six minutes and thirty-seven seconds have passed since the last train disappeared into oblivion. Another should be approaching soon. It's surprisingly cold this far under the earth's surface; my skin shrinks at the slightest draft. Three young girls giggle on my left. Life continues, unconcerned with my presence. I enjoy watching.