Pandemic Travel: Missing the “Mirror-world”

In Pattern Recognition, travel is not meant to be pleasant. The “mirror-world” is disorienting. Jetlag is a symptom of losing your soul. Flying brings back memories of 9/11. And yet, in a time of travel cancellations and restrictions, Cayce’s comings and goings feel luxurious and enticing. At this point, I’d take the international conspiracy and the shady employer if I could just spend a day walking around London like Cayce Pollard. 

Last winter, my cousin and I bought round trip tickets to London. Turns out Salt Lake to Heathrow the first week of May wasn’t a great idea in 2020. We’d planned on staying with our aunt in Oxford and our other cousin in London. Instead, our aunt got Covid mid-March and ibuprofen-ed her way through airport temperature checks back to Utah. (Yikes!!) Unsurprisingly, we cancelled our tickets a few days later. Maybe next year.

I’ve visited the mirror-world twice before. London, in sixth grade, and then a roadtrip around the rest of the British Isles in eleventh. Reading Pattern Recognition, full of travel and cultural encounters, has me missing trips that happened—and the one that didn’t. When Cayce finally experiences “the oddness…of any England not London” (pg. 232) I recognized her observations from my memories of both past events and past imaginings. The rolling green hills, yellow flowers, ruined castles, and “two-lane blacktop” on the way to Bournemouth felt familiar from the distant past of my childhood—and the even more distant past of this year’s cancelled plans. There’s nothing like a pandemic to turn Gibson’s precise, unsentimental descriptions of England into a vehicle for some serious nostalgia.

And yet, reading about Cayce’s travels in a post-911 world worry me. Will travel in a post-Coronavirus world feel just a disorienting, just as fraught, as it feels in Pattern Recognition? Maybe next year I’ll find out.