Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Travel Report, Part One

I am a terrible traveler.

Let's get that out of the way right up front. It's the stone truth: I'm a bad traveler. I don't mean that I'm a bad vacationer, although I'm that too, I mean I'm a bad traveler. I don't like it, and I suspect most people don't: people who say "it's the journey, not the destination" love metaphors just a bit too much. A plane ride is a means to an end, a necessary evil, something to be endured rather than embraced.

I've done it enough--been on this route or a variation thereof nearly three dozen times. Sat and sweated through the final 90 minutes of flights that seem to last for 90 years. Ached and groaned and wedged myself in and out of small airplane seats meant for 14th-century children. Obsessively calculated travel time by in-flight entertainment: "The movie is over, that's 90 minutes down, only three hours left." Avoided looking at my watch because I knew I'd just be depressed.

I suspect the root of my travel anxiety is that air travel is something that I cannot control. I like to be in control. If I drive, I can take the route I want. I can stop if I want. I can listen to the radio. I can have silence. None of that applies in an airplane: if I decide that I want to stop and get out and stretch my legs...well, I guess a person COULD make an airplane land, but there's jail time to consider. If I want the FFFFFFSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH of the engines to stop, too bad. If I think taking the highway would be nicer than taking the Interstate...too bad. If you can control the journey, then it's enjoyable, but as with most other things, if you're just sitting there, it's boring as heck.

I'm sure it's also got something with being stuffed cheek-by-jowl with so many strangers. Whatever it is, I'm bad at traveling. When I travel, I want to START. I don't like the waiting. I want it to start so that it's that much closer to being finished.

I'm a great arriver, though. I've instantly loved pretty much everywhere I've been: Madison, Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, Des Moines, Chicago, Mitchell, Wall, Minneapolis, and so on--just because it's NOT an airplane or car or bus. Traveling itself may have been a big downer, but arriving in Honolulu was fantastic. We walked from our gate through the breezeway, and even jet fuel fume-laden fresh air was better than canned, recycled airplane air. It's always good to see my mom and dad, whether it's here or there. And it really helps that at either end of the flight is a home-cooked meal and a comfortable place to sleep.

So I really only have two stories about the flight itself.

First, this electronic checkin crap has to stop and it has to stop now. Who benefits from having people fumbling around trying to check themselves in? (Note: I know who benefits. Not anybody on the consumer end of the transaction.) I miss having people who--at least in theory--know what they're doing hitting keys and checking bags in and handing out boarding passes. I miss the human interaction, and when I say that, you know it has to be serious.

Second, traveling with louts is kind of fun, if only because you get such great lines out of them. The three people in front of us arrived at literally the last possible second: had we not stopped to take on some cargo, thus delaying us for five minutes, these people would not have made it on board. Naturally, they were the worst kind of drunken loudmouths, exactly the kind of person you want your six-year-old daughter to be exposed to. They were yelling about the incompetent shuttle cart driver who couldn't find the F concourse in the airport. "Couldn't find F!" yelled one of the ladies, "Bring him over here and I'll show him F!" It was funny. Less funny was "Ma says they got bingo in the Catholic churches. Maybe we'll win a pineapple. Ha ha ha! A pineapple. Hey, can we win a pineapple at the bingo? A pineapple! At the bingo! In the Catholic churches! A pineapple!" I heard a lot about the damn pineapple; these people were part of a larger traveling group, so there were drunken louts all over the place near us, and each time we got "Couldn't find F!" and "A pineapple! At the bingo! In Honalula!"

To sum bad, arrival good.


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