Station Identification I

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the fifth.

Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.

Station Identification I

The Conquistador has a heart condition. Despite the recent successes of some of his biggest exploits, the mounting fortunes, his exhaustion becomes increasingly apparent, showing up in the lines on his face, the heaviness of his stride. Out of respect to his power, position, and age, we breathe not a word about his deterioration, act as if everything is as it should be. Obediently we tote his luggage along with our own, slow our paces to his, and gaze with enchantment at the passing scenery.

Getting from here to there is all the Conquistador really cares about, and tough luck for whatever—and whoever—happens to be occupying the intervening spaces. Think of a country, an audience, a movie, a dream that is perpetually en route, refusing to stop anywhere and settle for a while; think of a life on the march that promises adventure, discourages reflection, and delivers the excitement of perpetual motion. All it requires is a belief in the Conquistador. (No need to have a destination in mind—he’s already got one plotted on his map.) Pretty soon you think it’s a ride, not a trek; you don’t even feel the impact of your feet on the ground, and you spend most of your time guessing where you’re going. The Conquistador’s certainty and your own function like a magic carpet, so it’s no longer your feet crossing the distance but the ground itself turning beneath them. Call it the earth’s rotation if you like; whatever it is, it urges you forward, helps you to forget whatever you’ve left behind. (Check your local newspaper for departures. Any page will do.)

What if you happen to like where you are, prefer to linger? That means signing on for a second trip; either that or falling behind and being forced to subsist on your own rations. If you decide to stop short and set up your own camp, you’d better invest in some heavy fortifications. Otherwise, the Conquistador may heedlessly plow straight through on his next excursion. The worst part of all will be the isolation.

So usually you decide to fall back in line, follow the dream, the movie, the news story, the audience, the country. Even if every shaded clearing that you pass turns out to be a false expectation—a preview of coming attractions that never precisely materialize, and not an actual resting place—you content yourself with the secure knowledge that every journey has an end. Meanwhile, the Conquistador sustains you. Being one of his party is the best form of protection. It’s more like being walked than walking, but it certainly gets you to where you’re going.

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