Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path -- What?

In 2002 I was working in London for a New York-based publishing company. The publisher liked the cut of my jib, you see, and had the idea that he wanted someone based in London. So off I went, into an ill-defined role. The main thing I did, besides schmoozing with media types and going to publishing events, was meet with book distributors and media bookers, independent bookstore owners and big chain buyers, literary festivals, and other publishers.

I went back to NYC for a company meeting to hear about new books and see my team again. And then, casually, the publisher called me into his office and said, "So, I was thinking of recalling you to NYC. I think you should come back here."


As I collapsed in my hotel room later that night I found myself daydreaming about my future. I had been presented with two options: pull up stakes in London, where I had only recently put them down, and start anew in NYC; or take the remaining cash left on my 6-month contract and return home to Seattle. Neither one was without its merits.

Option A ("Gotham City"): I had been offered a great job with a great company -- one where I could learn a lot in a fun and friendly office. The position would be a great entrance into the world of NY publishing, and would set me on the path to a successful career as a combination marketing whiz and editor.

Option B ("Emerald City"): This was where my heart was -- my friends and my family. Add that I love Seattle with its mountains and water, its fresh air and non-smoking attitude, and you can see the strong pull. It had been tough to leave my fair city, but London lured me away.

Both also had their negative aspects. Returning home so soon -- after only a few months -- made me feel like a failure... like I hadn't "made it". i wasn't ready to had back just yet. But NYC was even less appealing; I didn't feel like trying to settle down in a new city again. I had, as one of my sweet coworkers put it ,"done that already this year." More importantly, I don't really like NY. It's heresy, I know; but I am proud to be a child of the west and I have certain needs: fresh air, friendly faces, and occasional quiet. I see NY as the proverbial great place to visit. I love the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, the Cloisters, the Frick, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mets (though not Shea Stadium), Yankee Stadium (though not the Yankees), the Chrysler Building, the Triangle Building, Grand Central Station, drinks at the Algonquin, cheap jewelry on Canal Street, grocery stores in Spanish harlem, Grant's Tomb, etc. etc.

But I find the bustle makes me bristle: too many people crowded onto too little land making everyone a bit ornery. Not enough sky for everyone.

So I knew that -- despite the career -- I couldn't move to NYC. Not then. Probably not ever.

What I wanted was a third way -- to stay in the UK for a while, do some more work for the company.  After all, they had to pay me for it, so I wanted to do the work -- I wanted to be the one who kept the contract. I proposed to continue researching whether if made more sense to publish books in the UK or just import the US versions. Spoiler alert: In the end, it was clear that for a small publisher, there wasn't really an advantage to having a UK imprint.

But I knew that, to be happy, I needed a project fo rmyself, too.

An evening of light drinking with coworkers following the fateful meeting had left me mellow if not entirely lucid. I'd like to say that this idea was the result of a drunken dare -- a "Round Ireland with a Fridge" sor of then. That would be a like, however, and lying is no way to start a relationship. Instead, as I lay on the gaudy bedcover, gazing idly at SportsCenter and musing on what to eat for dinner, I remembered a story I'd seen a few weeks prior in The Sunday Times. The Thames Path, I thought. Now that would be good. How far could it be?

why, yes, I do still have the clipping nearly 20 years later...
Uncertainty makes me restless. When my life takes an unexpected turn I feel the need to find something to focus on. Could the Thames Path be my new focus?

In the spring of 2002 I was certainly not an outdoorsy person. Before 2001 I had never even been hiking before. Perhaps a stroll in the countryside, but never a hike. Nor was I particularly sporty. In fact, I was lazy.

But finding myself with 2½ months in the UK with not enough work to do, I decided the Thames Path could be just the thing.

I have always been the sort of person who believes in books and the knowledge they can impart. So whenever I have a project, I acquire a library. It's not that I read the books cover to cover -- no, not at all. I thumb through them, reading tidbits and wishing that I had more time to read them. The first two key books were David Sharp's The Thames Path National Trail Guide and The Thames Path Companion. Both would be my constant companions during my walk.

Just over a week later I would set out on my first stretch of the trail, nervous and not knowing what to expect. Next time: from the Source to Cricklade.

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