Friday, December 4, 2009

Airports: such big fun

Since my previous post expounded on our experience at Mickey's Land of the Lost, I've decided to take this opportunity to analyze the "bookends" of any major vacation—air travel.

Airports and airplanes provide their own unique cultures, and to the less-experienced traveler, this strange landscape can prove to be quite stressful and disquieting. The minute I enter any airport, I can almost smell the anxiety. People lean unnaturally forward as they walk, almost willing their upper bodies to reach their destinations at the earliest possible moment. My entire family was guilty of this as we navigated the airport's highways and byways, picking up our pace to a feverish gallop. It wasn't until I gazed behind me and spotted a hazy nine-year-old pulling a pink suitcase in the distance, that I wiped the sweat from my brow and waited for my daughter to catch up.

My perspiration dried to an aspic-like consistency as we waited in the inspection line, and then cooked back up to full viscosity as we piled our earthly belongings, including shoes, into the nasty, gray tubs at the x-ray station. A friendly greeting to the blue-uniformed TSA man was met with cold indifference, and we fumbled to accumulate all of our stuff before getting trampled from behind. We found our gate, sat down and waited to be called, as my sweat again coagulated like a 7-11 burrito which had been nuked, frozen, re-nuked and placed on the counter of a lukewarm kitchen.

Once we boarded the jet, another scramble ensued, as everyone staked out an overhead bin like they were homesteading a new plot of land in the Oregon Territory. The guy in front of me hoisted something extremely awkwardly into the compartment. His face betrayed a crazed grin as he stuffed and slid and pushed his quarry into the plastic receptacle, and if I hadn't examined him more closely, he would've appeared to be shoving a small deer into the compartment ( it!).

Finally, the melee died down and the plane sailed off smoothly. I always find a sliver of humor in the pilot's voice as he introduces himself to the passengers and details the length of the trip, weather patterns, etc. I understand that he aims to convey calmness and confidence to the more anxious among us, but he usually ends up sounding like the host of All Things Considered or Morning Edition. The pilot's spiel ended, the flight attendants strolled through, handing out the requisite salty snacks, my feet and ankles swelled up like Johnsonville Brats, and we eventually landed without incident.

I won't delve into the details of the return flight, but upon arriving at our home airport, we fell in with several soldiers in the gate area. I watched them, as some studied the departure/arrival board, obviously unfamiliar with the area, and others appeared to know exactly where they were. We walked parallel with one enlisted man, and as we rounded the corner into the main concourse, there stood a five-year-old boy with a huge red, white and blue sign, which simply read, "Welcome home." A woman stood behind the boy, and her face immediately transformed as she recognized her uniformed husband. She burst into tears as three people blended into one elated mass of emotion. I'd seen reunions like this on the TV news, but nothing projects the profound sacrifice these people are making like watching it happen right in front of you. My wife and I immediately teared up, and I almost clapped, but thought better of intruding on their private moment.

At that point, all of the mundane irritations of vacation travel vaporized, and I was just glad to be home.

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