Friday, June 17, 2011

"Forever is composed of nows"... and road trips

Last Sunday saw me taking a road trip with some kids from school, a first for me. Now, this trip was cool and special for a few different reasons.

First, can we discuss the pure joyful greatness that is the road trip? Is there anything better than drivign down a highway with some friends for hours, making fun of each other and singing Disney songs? I hardly think so. There is something strangely awesome about being squished in the backseat while the driver curses at people cutting her off (Sunday's favorite expletive: "Jesus tits!). Part of that was the fact that it was in fact not me having to deal with obnoxious New York drivers. But still.

Also, the destination of our trip was pretty out of the ordinary, but memorable nonetheless. And yeah, you can insert your own little "Well, it's all about the journey, not the desination," and that's true....but SHUT UP. We were headed to Agloe, New York, and when I say this is nowhere, I'm not referring to its rural location (although it's true it's pretty much surrounded by a lot of nothing). Agloe is literally nowhere. I'm going to assume the reader of this has not read Paper Towns by John Green (even though you should, because it's fantastic in every way), and so I will explain how this can be. A few decades ago, when maps were being drawn up and sold, a company created Agloe on their own map, so if it showed up on a competitor's layout of the area, they would know they had been stolen from. This is referred to as a "paper town" and the interesting thing is, this fake town actually became real when a general store was established on the spot where Agloe was supposed to be. This town plays a crucial role in Green's book, along with themes of growing up and moving on when necessary as well as imagining people complexely. It's good stuff.

So about ten of us piled into cars and drove the few hours to Agloe, after one group bonded and hung around a mall for a few hours while the other group fixed a flat tire situation. When we got to the are we believed to be the general vicinity of Agloe, we ended up driving around for a while. I think this is understandable, because you know, we were trying to find a place that doesn't actually exist. After getting thoroughly confused and pulling into a very sketchy campground where it looked like people visited and then never left, we thought what we found was as close as we were going to get to Agloe. All of us stumbled out of our cars, eager to stretch our legs and explore the area, which consisted of a rather nice house, a large barn with a rather odd sign on the side, a large mound of gravel, and two deserted-looking small buildings. While staring at and contemplating the barn, we noticed some people had left the house and were looking over at us. This caused most of us to high-tail it back to the cars, because it was rural New York, and we had no idea how liberal these people might be with shotguns. But the bravest among us approached the house, and found them to be very nice people, who were familiar with John Green and Paper Towns, but unfortunately didn't know where Agloe is.

We then decided if people who themselves live IN Agloe haven't a clue where it is, we'll just create it. So we collected around a boulder by a nearby stream, and claimed it to be the town of Agloe. What I found significant about this seemingly insignificant or silly action was this: John Green has on several occasions his belief that books belong to their readers. While he meant this mostly in the ideological sense, on Sunday we took this to the physical realm. We, as readers, took the book we all love and relate to, and brought what was just a story into a real-work manifestation and memory. We took possession of our own personal Paper Towns and, as a group, created a new, unique addition to the story.

So just as Agloe started as a non-entity and became a real place, the ideas and places we imagined and analysed as we read the book turned into actual landmarks and events in our lives.

"The town was paper, but the memories were not."

-Paper Towns, John Green

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