The topic was about travelling from place to place. It took ages to write. Every 300 words or so I came to a complete halt with absolutely no idea how to proceed from that point. So I did what the Gods of Writing were clearly telling me to do -- I wrote 300 words every day. After five days of doing this I found that I had a story. Amazing! I spent another day smoothing out the rough edges so that you couldn't see the joins between the 300 word segments and then it was finished.
We were sitting in a coffee shop sipping our long blacks when David said, "My granddad was talking about the romance of travel last night. What do you suppose he meant by that?"
"Goodness knows," I said. "You go into a transportation booth, you select your destination and you click a button. A red light comes on. A few seconds later the light goes green. You open the door and step out at your destination. Whats romantic about that?"
David nodded his agreement. "Perhaps he meant that you could have a romance with someone you meet on your journey," he said.
"That wont work," I said. "Transportation booth journeys only last for a few seconds. That doesnt give you much time to build a meaningful relationship with anyone who may be travelling with you."
David considered that. "It must be an old peoples thing," he concluded at last.
"Yes," I said. "Probably it comes from a time before there were any transportation booths."
David looked horrified. "Was there ever really a time when they didnt have transportation booths?" he asked. "Thats a very scary thought. It must have been terrible to have lived back then!"
"It doesnt bear thinking about," I agreed. "Are we going to the pub tonight?"
"Of course we are," said David. "Ill meet you at the booth about seven oclock."
"Righto," I said.
We finished our coffee and I took a booth back to the office so that I could sit at my desk and pretend to work. I dont know where David went. Probably he didnt go anywhere.
* * * *
That evening I dressed in my drinking clothes and headed out to meet David at the booth. When I got there, he was hanging around outside it with his hands in his pockets. He looked worried. "I think we may have a problem," he said, gesturing at the booth. The screen on the door of the booth was displaying a message. It said:
OUT OF ORDER
"That doesnt look hopeful," I said. I tried to open the door, but of course it remained firmly shut. The booth had no intention of letting us in. Entry was forbidden and that was that. "Theres another booth on Parkinson Road," I said. "Lets walk over there and try that one."
The booth on Parkinson Road was displaying the same sign as the first one. "It looks like the whole system might be down," I said. "I dont think were going anywhere tonight."
"How are we going to get to the pub?" asked David thirstily.
"We could always walk," I said.
"Walk where?" asked David. "I dont actually know where the pub is. Ive always gone to it through a transportation booth. I havent the foggiest idea how to get to it any other way. For all I know, it might be on the other side of the country, or maybe even on the other side of the world. Do you know where it is?"
"No," I admitted. "I dont. But I know how to find out." I dug into my pocket for my phone and I asked google to tell me where the Crown and Anchor pub was. Google told me that there were 58,437 pubs called the Crown and Anchor. Could I be a little bit more precise? No I couldnt. I put my phone back in my pocket. "Actually," I said, "perhaps I dont know how to find out. But there must be a pub around here somewhere. Lets just find the nearest one and walk to it."
David shuddered delicately at the horrible thought. "Walk somewhere?" he said. "We cant do that. Walking anywhere except to a transportation booth is against the laws of nature!"
I queried google again and eventually it admitted that there were three pubs within a couple of kilometres of where David and I were standing. None of them were called the Crown and Anchor but one was called the Lord Nelson. In keeping with our original nautical theme, we decided to head for that one. I checked the instructions from google one last time and then we set off down the road.
It soon became clear that we werent the only people who were feeling frustrated by the breakdown of the transportation booth system. Several groups of people were shuffling along the road. Many of them looked quite lost and some even looked a little bit scared. Presently David and I came close to two young women who were striding along purposefully as if they didnt have a care in the world. "Hello ladies," I said. I introduced myself and David. "Do you mind if we join you? Safety in numbers and all that."
"Dont worry," said David, reassuringly. "Were quite harmless."
They looked at each other and had a whispered conversation, then one of them said, "That might be nice. My name is Christine."
"And Im Margaret," said the other one. "Were just heading for the Lord Nelson to have a drink. Its our local. We go there all the time."
"Well theres a coincidence," said David. "Thats where were going as well. Do you know where it is?"
"Of course we do," said Christine. She sounded surprised to be asked such a question "We walk down there most days. Its really close. It seems such a waste to use a booth to go such a short distance."
"Gosh," said David, seemingly impressed with the logic. "Ive never walked anywhere before," he admitted, looking a little bit ashamed. "I always take a transportation both."
"So I imagine you have no idea where anything is in the world," said Margaret. "How very odd!" The two girls giggled to each other, quite overcome by our display of utter geographic ignorance.
"But the booths are so convenient," I said.
"Until they arent," Christine pointed out. "Like today."
And I had to admit that she was right.
* * * *
We spent a convivial evening in the Lord Nelson. The beer flowed like beer, the wine flowed like wine, and the gin flowed like gin. Margaret and Christine were chatty and friendly. Everybody enjoyed themselves and I was a little bit sad when closing time arrived and we had to leave. As we walked home with Margaret and Christine we passed a transportation booth. The screen on the door said:
WELCOME TO YOUR NEXT DESTINATION
David looked relieved and wistful at the same time. "They must have fixed the fault," he said. "Why dont we take the booth home?"
"Ill carry on walking with Margaret and Christine," I said. "I think Ive just discovered the real romance of travel." I smiled at them and they smiled back at me.
I was enjoying being with Margaret and Christine. But more than that, I was enjoying the sensation of knowing exactly where the Lord Nelson was. It was the first time in my life that Id known where anything other than a transport booth was actually located. Perhaps it would be fun if I could find out where some other places were. Maybe I could walk to them as well. There were so many endless possibilities opening up in front of me! I felt slightly giddy at the thought. This could be the start of a fascinating hobby.
"See you later," said David, stepping into the booth with a sigh of relief. He was clearly pleased that everything in his life was now back to normal.
"What a stick in the mud," said Margaret, taking my arm.
Christine took my other arm. "Would you like to learn where our house is?" she asked.