By Barbara Bowers
When Playwright David Ives wrote his one-act play "The Philadelphia", he probably wasn't examining any basic travel truths. He merely associated certain cities with certain states of mind. Ives figured that if you "caught" The Philadelphia, the dominant features of that city could throw a body into a real funk. Depression. Constant bad luck. The ultimate negative mental attitude.
Conversely, if a Los Angeles captured your spirit, happiness, brotherly love and good fortune ruled your outlook on life.
In Ives' play, the three characters move in and out of The Philadelphia state of mind, and God forbid, one person even came close to catching The Cleveland.
Now, I've never had The Cleveland, but it can't possibly be as bad as The Fairbanks. I caught that when I was traveling in Alaska one summer. In addition to a depressed view on the world, my thinking clouded up; my good judgment faded.
Dust, I suppose, brought on the malady. Dust and a flat, bleak landscape dotted with non-descript architecture and a pervasive U.S. military base. I had to drive a few thousand miles to Muncho Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia to shake the symptoms. Only after I overdosed on the Cassiar Mountains and the rugged wilderness of Canada's Laird plain could I spring back into my usual Edmonton bliss, you know, an upbeat, tidy and progressive manner of thinking.
In fact, it's not quite clear to me why Ives considered The Los Angeles to be the healthiest state of mind. Maybe the "City of Angeles" speaks to him of niceness, but frankly speaking, that's always where I've been when my bronchitis acted up. These days, I fear The Los Angeles is more in keeping with respiratory illnesses than with brotherly love.
The Edmonton, The Miami, The San Diego. Now these are positive mental attitudes. Always fresh and fast moving, good things just happen in Edmonton, Miami or San Diego.
Of course, you can't go wrong if you get The Tucson or The Sydney. These are equally fine states of being, where good will and warmth permeate every human fiber, every building cornerstone.
And herein lies an often-unrecognized travel truth: sunshine underscores most cities with attractive travel characteristics, which includes the upbeat attitudes of the service industry workers who live there. Think about it. People are typically curt and nasty in northern climates (Cleveland, Detroit, and jeez, it seems like Bozeman, Montana has become headquarters to all the renegades who want to blow up the world), while people in southern climes are typically open and pleasant (Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Dallas).
There are exceptions like Edmonton and Seattle, but the less-stress ambiance of sunbelt cities -- where both locals and travelers enjoy the benefits of outdoor activity year round -- makes for less testy people.
Of course, mental attitudes can be adjusted chemically, and tourism is no less susceptible to the use of drugs than other industries. For instance, melatonin has been a popular antidote for jet lag, that foggy-headedness -- a.k.a., The San Francisco -- often brought on by flying through multiple time zones. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of 20 men found they fell asleep within five or six minutes of taking melatonin, while those who took placebos drifted off after 25 minutes.
Whatever the properties of this brain hormone are, they seem to reduce the body's absorption of light, thereby inducing sleep in even the most uncomfortable places.
But there are more studies of the impact of light and dark on mental attitudes and physical well being than there are daily flights out of O'Hare. These studies consistently demonstrate that sunshine and light are equivalent to mental highs; that dark is a downer.
That is, unless you're talking bright lights. In this case, exaggerated neon-infusions lead to all night partying and excess everything. No matter that it's sunny or rainy the next day, indeed it doesn't matter where in the world you are, the psyche and the body go as low as the high was the night before. This city-state-of-mind is a virtual reality where heads pound harder and bags under eyes cast longer shadows.
No amount of melatonin-induced sleep can ease you through this trip because you are hung over: You just caught The Key West.
Copyright © 2003, Barbara Bowers
See Barbara's site at http://www.bbowers.com