The Maritime Metaphor
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Here in the Metropolis, everyone needs some kind of metaphor to get them through the day. Maybe you use a "mountain climber" concept, in which you're like, clawing your way up various sheer cliffs. You encounter ice and unreliable ropes…but you continue to rise. A metaphor like that can really keep you going.
Or maybe you cultivate a "beast of prey" self-image: A lion on the prowl, an eagle soaring out across the great urban plain to feast on the pickings. And it's true that beasts of prey are often beautiful.
Of course, sometimes we all have to make do with lesser similes: like a street juggler, keeping six balls in the air for a rude and unappreciative crowd.
Me, I try to stick with maritime metaphors: tall ships, taut rigging, and full sails. Every morning, when I set out in my '99 Ford Taurus, I try to see it as a doughty sloop venturing from the safe harbor of my driveway. I luff in surface traffic until I catch the trades off the 10 Freeway and then I beat east or west as the day's adventures require.
As for the urban plain, I try to see it not as a fearful desert or gaudy mirage—but as an extension of the Pacific Ocean itself. I mean, L.A. is also flat, wild, and lacking in solid landmarks. It's equally hard to keep track of speed and direction here, and you rarely navigate by heading in a straight line.
I especially like the maritime metaphor because it lowers expectations. You know you'll hit contrary gusts. You know that lovely islands will hold hostile natives. You prepare for pirates in hoodies, pirates in Gucci, or pirates in Gucci hoodies. And if you ultimately fail in any given quest, you can always blame the popular tide.
Today, as often happens, the Urban Man has been given part of a treasure map…but only a part. It leads to a certain table at a downtown power restaurant where a local chieftain holds court. I'm hoping he can offer me a new bearing, or some crew, or something.
As I cast off in my Taurus, I put a finger up to the wind: 18 knots north/northwest. Grey sky above a late-morning sigalert. I hit a squall on the Grand Avenue exit, but as I pull into the underground garage, I am pleased to see many fine yawls and schooners. I've come to the right place, and to the valet in black tie, I say "Swabby, can I throw you a line?"—or words to that effect.
On my way in, I swagger as I always do in a strange port: just to show I'm at my ease.
And lo, here is the power room and the power table and the local chieftain. He smiles. He rises. He offers me California cuisine. But though we discuss my plans for nearly an hour, and though I bluntly ask for help, he offers me neither funds nor staff nor clear direction. Just a hearty pat on the back, and a "Good luck out there, matey."
At first I'm disappointed, and downstairs I do retrieve my keys with a bilgy scowl. But as I pull out into the broad current of the 110 south, the Urban Man recalls why he chose the maritime metaphor in the first place.
I mean, those mountain climbers really have to reach a peak. Those jugglers really need applause. Those eagles can't live without capturing their prey.
But for a sailor, I figure the journey should be enough, and even an L.A. sailor may not actually require a treasure: Only an open freeway, a fair wind, a light lunch, and a brief swagger.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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