Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.
This week, we reached out to Steve Brock, a creativity aficionado, branding executive, and relentlessly curious explorer, who helps others connect their outer journeys with their inner longings, creative interests, and passions. Today, he discusses the entertainment he turns to during travel’s quieter moments.
“Lonely Boy” by The Black Keys
My wife and two teen sons piled into a rental car at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The vehicle was bigger than I’d hoped — somewhere between a Honda Civic and Accord. Fine for American roads, but we were planning on navigating the small cobblestone streets of German villages. Since no other vehicles were available, we accepted what we had. As we set off, I realized the car came with two compensating features: an excellent sound system and best of all, oomph. Moving my foot in the general direction of the accelerator seemed to make it take off.
At first, we drove calmly through the outskirts of Amsterdam and even maintained a reasonable speed on the highway — that is, until we reached the German border. On my previous trips to Germany, I had used public transportation. This was my first time actually driving on … dramatic pause … the Autobahn. Only one thing was missing, but my elder son riding shotgun quickly remedied that: tunes.
One song in particular came to mind. He hunted through the playlist on my phone and, a moment later, we were tooling down the road at 140 km/hour (87 mph) as the opening beat and catchy riff of The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” blared from the stereo. That song was made for fast driving. And, on that day, so were we. We smiled and giggled like little kids, in part because of the music and in part because we passed the first of many off-ramp signs using the German word for exit: “Fahrt.” It didn’t matter that BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes were whipping past us. That song on the Autobahn at our own speedy pace made everything just right.
On the 15-hour flight from Seattle to Dubai, I couldn’t sleep. Out of several movies I watched, one stood out: Disney’s “Zootopia.” I travel a lot, mostly for work, and, after years — make that decades — of being on the road, a certain jadedness creeps in. But as I watched this animated tale of a country bunny who dreams of becoming a big city cop, something inside of me shifted. The bright innocence and optimism of the main character and the corresponding theme song were contagious: “I won’t give up, no I won’t give in ‘til I reach the end and I start again. I want to live, I want to try everything, even though I know I could fail.” So went the song. So went my two teen sons and I as we disembarked in Dubai. This would be a trip of uplifting adventure. We’d take the same approach as the bunny. We would do our best to “try everything.”
And we did. Only not how we expected.
My younger son was stopped in customs and his bags thoroughly searched. The ATM at the airport ate my debit card. Later, as we wandered in the 108-degree Fahrenheit (42.2 Celsius) heat of a Dubai afternoon, I started to get heat stroke due to lack of sleep, dehydration, a cold before I left, and the inability to buy bottled water or drink it on the street in Dubai during Ramadan. “Try everything.” What had seemed like an inspirational song on the plane now bordered on unfortunate irony.
Eventually, however, I found a convenience store run by Hindus (and thus open during Ramadan) and bought some water. I snuck the bottle into the men’s room at the Dubai Museum and consumed it in secret in a stall. That cooled me, hydrated me, and made me strangely self-conscious. Soon after, however, we were off to try everything else: swimming in the Persian Gulf at one of the city’s beaches, dining at the food court in the Dubai Mall (carefully walled off from fasting eyes), watching the Dancing Waters show outside the mall, and looking down on Dubai from the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Try everything? Well, not everything — we only had a 20-hour stopover in Dubai. But as we boarded our flight to Cairo the next morning, I still found myself humming that song.
Journaling has always been my favorite way to process a trip. I try to capture not only what I did, but how I felt, snippets of overheard conversations, names and contact info of people I met, and ideas for books, articles, and future projects. I use short breaks, like waiting for a meal, to jot down the basics so I don’t forget. Then I use longer periods — bus or train rides, moments in cafés, or before I fall asleep — to fill in the details.
But on a recent trip to China with my elder son, I used my journal in a different manner. My son, an artist, loves to sketch, so I decided to practice drawing in an act of solidarity. I’m a beginner and not very good (as the samples here show), but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. Sketching isn’t about capturing an accurate portrayal of the scene before you. Your camera can do that. Sketching is about seeing.
Sketching forced me to slow down, linger, and appreciate the details. I began to perceive the connections a cursory glance would have missed. It made every moment of my trip more enjoyable. I’ll be honest: When I was tired, writing in my journal often felt like homework. But drawing was refreshing since it used a different part of my brain. I would sketch out the scene onsite in pencil. Then, while waiting at an airport or for a bus, I’d either fill in details or trace over the pencil in pen. A few times, I’d even add watercolors.
I was making. And that made even the dullest of downtimes brighter.
One final warning: Though it may seem to be a solitary pursuit, sketching is not for wallflowers. You will attract a crowd or at least sporadic passersby. They will look. They will comment. And often, you’ll engage in wonderful conversations (as well as be the subject of many a selfie). Not a bad way to spend your free moments.