Let’s take a boat to Bermuda; Let’s take a plane to St. Paul; Let’s take a kayak to Quincy or Nyack; Let’s get away from it all
begins a great American song, written when getting away from it all was, for many, just a short walk into the woods. Now, with cellphones and cars that broadcast your latest trysting place, on-line programs that detail the where and when of last night’s Chinese take-out order, and careless Tweets that detail where you buried the ransom money, getting away ain’t what it used to be.
To follow the song, try taking a boat to Bermuda. You can choose from about sixteen cruise lines, to any one of which you will have to provide so much personal information that it is only out of the goodness of their hearts that they don’t empty your safe deposit box while you’re vacationing.
Even if you could get past that obstacle, the Bermuda authorities know your passport number and where you’re staying. Your hotel has checked whether you’re really married to your traveling companion and can track how many cans of beer you claim not to have used from the mini-bar. Your credit card company knows what you had for lunch and that you still only tip 10% (before sales tax).
What about taking a plane to St. Paul? By the time you get there, TSA headquarters has the manufacturer’s serial number of your titanium hip-replacement, and the local authorities are waiting to question you for the riot you caused on-board when the kosher-vegan sandwich you bought turned out to be ham-and-cheese.
Quincy or Nyack in a kayak? To get to Quincy, you’ll have to paddle through Boston Harbor and, to Nyack, up the Hudson River. These are not exactly wilderness waters, and the Coast Guard and local police, on the lookout for drug smugglers and terrorists, have heard We were just out for a pleasure paddle enough times to make them shoot first and ask questions later. Try to slip by the authorities, and getting away from it all could be five years in the slammer.
Don’t forget that you are required to wear a fluorescent orange life vest that stands out like an imam at a briss. If you rent the vest, you’ll have to leave so much personal documentation with the shop staff that it would be criminal negligence on their part not to clean out your house, let alone empty your safe-deposit box, as you paddle away from the dock.
Discouraged? It gets worse. If you give up and decide to substitute a quiet night in bed with a good escapist yarn, forget it, they’ve all been updated.
Take Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s brooding, symbolic tale of Marlow’s mission to pilot a ship up the forbidding Congo River with a crew of cannibals, through a miasma of corruption, intrigue and downright bad behavior, to rescue the mysterious Kurtz, only to have him utter his famous last words, The horror! The horror! and then croak.
Now? It’s all 21st century. Before he leaves for Africa, Marlow has arranged by e-mail to have all provisions on board and to hire a crew of internationally-certified, non-cannibal, Filipino sailors. To avoid the risks of an ever-changing river, Marlow has up-to-date on-line navigation information and, to make sure that all arrangements to pick up Kurtz are in order, he is in constant cellphone contact with him and has the GPS coordinates of the dock to within three feet.
It’s true that, in order to maintain at least a simulacrum of the original, the revised edition retains Kurtz’s climactic The horror! The horror! The reference, however, is not to the unspeakable savagery of life, but to a spot on the river where Kurtz’s laptop and cellphone (and he himself) all go dead at the same time.
If you want to get away from the routine and savor real excitement, try NOT turning on your electric blanket as you hop into bed with a good book on a cold winter’s night. The horror! The horror!