"His transition to this new culture has been seamless."
Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.
Next summer, I am going to London. It is a source of considerable embarrassment that I have never been to London before, but then again, I’ve never really been anywhere. I have friends who went on family trips to other countries when they were very little children; one of them has a picture of themselves at the age of six in front of The Louvre. The Louvre! At six! I was still trying to figure out how to put my pants on the right direction when I was six.
Our family vacations were far more modest growing up: Taken every other year, giving us two years to save up the cash so we could go, we’d merely visit a city where the St. Louis Cardinals were playing. Thus, the first big vacation I remember was Cincinnati. We saw Dave Parker walk through the hotel lobby; the world felt instantly smaller, the people on the radio magically appearing in front of me in real life. A couple years later we pushed it all the way to Philadelphia, but after that, we didn’t venture much farther out than St. Louis. The day I left for college, I had been on exactly one flight in my life, a one-way ticket from Fort Myers, Florida, to Indianapolis, my grandfather walking me to the gate, back when you could do that, after a week of visiting them down there and telling me, “if the plane starts to go down, just bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.” He laughed. I was nine. The plane did not crash.
I think a lot of Midwesterners have a provincial view of travel, an deep-seated, almost wistful attitude of everything I need is right here. (Dave Eggers, who grew up in the north suburbs, once wrote that, to everyone he knew growing up, “Chicago was the Promised Land; the rest of the world was China.”) Until recently, I always felt that travel was something other people did, presumably on private jets, being fed grapes, jaunting around like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
To me, leaving Mattoon and going somewhere else was such a heavy lift that moving away from the town every Leitch had grown up and still lived in basically was travel. A friend in New York once asked me if I’d ever been to Venice, Italy, a question that struck me as inherently absurd. “Venice?” I said. “I can’t believe I’m here.” That was how I felt about it. This was vacation.
Thus, my international travel has been limited, or at least seems that way to me, compared to most of the people I know. I’ve been to the following countries:
**** Canada. (To see a Blue Jays game and the other side of Niagara Falls.)
**** Argentina. (A spur-of-the-moment New Years Eve trip back in the Deadspin days.)
**** Turks and Caicos, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis. (A boat trip I stowed away on, long story.)
**** Belize. (Honeymoon.)
**** France. (Paris for my wife’s 30th birthday.)
**** Russia. (To cover the 2014 Sochi Olympics.)
**** Mexico. (To see Wilco a month before the pandemic hit.)
Is that a lot? Typing it out here, actually, it seems like a lot, more than I realized, certainly a lot more places than I ever imagined myself going. That’s especially true because my parents—the reasons I’ve been able to do anything in my life, the reasons I was able to leave Mattoon and the reasons I could go out and make a life for myself when I did—have a list that consists solely of a Sandals-type resort somewhere in the Dominican. Did they give up dreams of travel because of me and my sister? What else did they give up because of us? I know it’s impossible for any kid to truly know that. But surely, when they were young, they imagined getting farther than Cincinnati.
I’ve found myself thinking about this even more this week while watching the World Cup, which remains my favorite non-baseball sporting event, the closest thing we have to a legitimate collective experience, the one spectacle that reaches every crevice of this planet. It is absolutely incredible to me that as the moment I am gasping over a goal scored in a game, there are billions of people in Argentina, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Kenya, everywhere, doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. I look at these incredible athletes representing the highest aspirations of their countries, their national pride, their belief is what is possible, all standing in for millions upon millions of people whom I will never know and almost certainly never come within tens of thousands of miles from. There is nearly nothing—language, culture, background, life experience, you name it—that all humans have in common except for the big thing we all have in common … which is the only thing that really matters. There are just so many people out there, billions upon billions, each with their own understanding of the world, each with their own stories, their own fears, their own triumphs, their own tragedies, their own insecurities, their own special talents. I truly believe that there is something amazing—almost infinite—about every person on the earth. And there are billions of them. And we’re all going to meet so few of each other. We’re all just out there, going through our entire lives, birth to death, stem to stern, and our paths will never cross. We very well may never find ourselves in the same hemisphere. Maybe we’d like each other. Maybe we could help each other. But we’ll never know.
That, more than anything else, more than tourism, more than the landscape, more than the beaches, more than the food, that’s what makes me think I’ve missed out by how few places I’ve been—and makes me want to make sure I get out and see more. There’s just such a miniscule percentage of the world you ever get to meet. Which means there’s so little of this world each of us can possibly understand. And I want to understand. I want to know more than I do. Isn’t this what we should all want?
Thus, next summer, my parents and I are going to London together. It will be their first trip off the continent, and my first trip to a city I have always desperately wanted to visit and one that I’ve always suspected I’d find a match to my sensibilities. The reason for this trip feels full circle in its own way: The Cardinals are playing the Cubs there. This is a trip we had planned for 2020, one that I worried, when 2020 turned into the year that 2020 turned out to be, that we’d never be able to take. There are surely more ambitious reasons to visit England than a baseball game. But: Baby steps.
When I am there, I will meet someone, several people, I’d never had the opportunity to meet before, another human floating around this world, trying to figure it all out like the rest of us. Maybe our interaction will be banal; it probably will be. But it might not be. It might open up something new; it might teach each of us something we never could have known before. We’ll see our baseball games, we’ll visit Buckingham Palace, we’ll do all the things people do when they are seeing London for the first time. But it’s the humans, really: It’s always the humans. There are billions of new people out there. Don’t you want to meet as many of them as you can, while you can? Don’t we have to?
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
USMNT-Wales Recap, New York. I have been having so much fun with this World Cup, let’s do one every four months!
USMNT-England Recap, New York. My son William and I were screaming loudly during this game yesterday.
Steven Spielberg Rankings, Updated, Vulture. Updated with The Fabelmans.
Cody Bellinger Suitors Power Rankings, MLB.com. I’d love to see the Cardinals get in, but I don’t see it.
This May Be the Least Political Thanksgiving in Years, Medium. It’s just a one-year respite, though.
The Best Holiday Movies on Amazon Prime, Vulture. Not afraid to be servicey.
The Thirty: Things For Each Team to Be Thankful For, MLB.com. Just part of the job description at this point.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “The Menu,” “She Said” and “The Wonder.”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we reviewed the Georgia-Kentucky game and previewed the Georgia-Georgia Tech game.
Seeing Red, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“One World Cup Point ... And Two Points Dropped,” Grant Wahl, Futbol With Grant Wahl.
Grant Wahl’s soccer newsletter is a must-read every day of the year, but when he’s in Qatar with the USMNT … it’s essential in every possible way. Even when he’s getting detained.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Wires and Waves,” Rilo Kiley. This is the closing credits song to a great ‘90s sad indie romance movie that might exist only in my head.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Happy Thanksgiving from these bros.