It's 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to fall and it's freezing. A West German soldier is handing out hot chocolate to cold spectators. The soldier perks up: Wandering among the legions of people is actor Andrew McCarthy. History is being made, but it's McCarthy whom the soldier gets excited about.
McCarthy, who made a name for himself in the 1980s starring in movies such as Pretty in Pink, St Elmo's Fire and Mannequin, said that was one of the weirdest instances of his being recognised in a foreign country. McCarthy has been to numerous countries, not just as an actor, but in his second life as a travel writer.
McCarthy's new book, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, is as much about travel as it is about committing to his longtime girlfriend Dolores. After the couple, who have been together for several years and have a six-year-old daughter, set a wedding date, McCarthy found himself booking solo trips to far-flung places like Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro and the Amazon. (He also has a son from a previous marriage.) He had made this major decision to settle down, but all he wanted to do was get away.
"I was already committed; it wasn't a question of, 'Will he or won't he?' It's 'How will he?'" McCarthy recalled in a recent interview. "There's a difference between coming to terms with intimacy and embracing it, and fear of commitment. There's this paradox of 'I love you, but I got to go'."
In the book, McCarthy talks about how travel makes him more introspective, so that, just as he's discovering new parts of the world, he's also discovering new parts of himself. "The minute we make ourselves vulnerable, we're better off. I'm a better version of myself when I'm that way," McCarthy said. "I spend a lot (of time) adjusting my world to fear, but when you travel, that's all blown to hell."
The question McCarthy sets out to answer with his book is how you can nurture bonds - with your spouse, with your children - while satisfying an overwhelming desire to spend time alone.
After McCarthy and Dolores decided to get married, McCarthy started to plan all of these trips. "I was sad to be leaving but thrilled to be going. I couldn't reconcile those two pulls," McCarthy said. He admitted that the question remains unanswered (although he did marry Dolores, whom he calls "D" in the book, last year).
McCarthy still acts, and he's added directing to his resume as well. He shows up on TV regularly, pulling guest spots on US shows such as White Collar and Royal Pains, and has been in a smattering of low-budget movies.
Acting seems to have become more of a way to make some money, as his prominence as a travel writer has grown. He's an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler, for example.
McCarthy said he's consistently amazed that every time he is sent on assignment by magazines or newspapers, the real journey he finds himself on is an emotional one. "Travel changes people; travel obliterates fear," McCarthy said. "That's the bottom line."