Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The "Spirit" of Today's Airports

Some incidents are best forgotten (or disappear from our memories, even when we don't want them to), while others keep tapping us on the shoulder with a message, long after the moment has passed. Thus was the case for me after I flew out of Dayton OH a couple weeks ago. The message—and in this case it's multiple messages—has to do with the difference in "spirit" between small airports and mega ones, like Chicago O'Hare (hear me groan), my home airport, the one travel gurus keep saying, and with good reason, to avoid.

While I was making my way through Dayton's security line, a female voice announced over the loudspeaker that "an earring with a bunch of dangly stars on it" had been left at the security checkpoint. The owner should come claim it, she said, in a warm friendly voice. Even though I had not yet passed through (so to speak), I immediately checked my ears since I own many pairs of dangling starry adornments. Stars are my thing. And after all, I was in the area. But nope, two earrings accounted for.

Some time later, again came the earring announcement, which, in words, was an exact repeat -- aside from the fact that this time she started with "We still have . . . ." But this time, the female's tone of voice sounded like a cross between sorrow , sympathy and "Please, somebody, don't leave this beautiful thing behind!" Obviously the kind lady was concerned for the person who would one day discover her bobble done disappeared, likely while at 27,000 feet. "Please come to the security checkpoint to claim it," she nearly begged, her sympathy for the lose-ee clearly rising.

While standing in line to buy a bottle of water, the urgent tone of this second message caused me to start obsessing over what this earring looked like. Was it silver or gold? Multi-color or plastic? Chandelier in presentation, pinwheel, exotic . . .? Good thing I'm honest, I thought, otherwise I might go claim it for myself since it must be stunning to cause such concern. (Diamonds, perhaps?) Or maybe I should find out where unclaimed lost things end up (some giant warehouse somewhere, as I recall) and see if I can buy it. Honestly, I could not stop thinking about it. This is the type of stupid stuff that hijacks my brain when I'm travel weary.


By the time I unscrewed the cap on my water, another announcement thankfully interrupted my momentary insanity. This time the "found" item left at security was a cane with four feet at the base. I think this was followed by the starry earrings thing again, but I'm not sure since . . . .

WHAT?! Who needs to use a four-claw cane so badly that they go through the hassle of getting it through security, and then forget to pick it up? Are they crawling now and haven't noticed? Are they in a wheelchair? If you can believe it, this announcement was also repeated before I boarded. Thankfully, Dayton offers big comfy rocking chairs in their boarding areas in which I could sit and rock and ponder these things.

(Hear music from Jaws que up.)

And now, let's talk about O'Hare and other Monster Airports, where, at security checkpoints, I've left my driver's license, my laptop and sundry other items, as do tons of other people. Let's talk about O'Hare, where no personal announcements are made about anything. Nope, just cranky recorded canned warnings about unguarded bags, and unsympathetic information about delays, cancelations and gate changes. And where there is often NO waiting seat available in the gate area, let alone a comfy rocking chair. And the seats that are available are those molded things that were certainly not molded for my body that wants to slide right out of them. In fact, part of my time-passing time at O'Hare is spent trying to remain upright in those things!

Now I realize smaller airports offer a more personal feel, because, well, they're smaller. And I realize that if every item left behind at the security checkpoints at O'Hare came with an immediate announcement, they would rifle at us nonstop.

But still, wouldn't it be nice if the Big Guys occasionally offered a cheery grandmotherly sounding voice in their rotation of canned announcements saying something like, "You got everything, honey? You know it's easy to forget this or that when you have to strip nearly buck naked and turn over all your valuables to a stranger to have a look-see." Or, "We know gate G15 is a long way off and down a set of stairs, but YOU CAN MAKE IT!"

Or how about this. "We're sorry – seriously – to have to inform you that our on-time ratings are so pathetic, but we're working on it. Seriously."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book Tour, Part Deuce

After 1266 “southerly” driving miles and one errant night at home, on to “northerly” MN and WI I traveled, ultimately adding another 800 miles and three more appearances to the four-wheeled portion of my book tour log. While fall colors waved to me through my open car windows and gaping sun roof, one good tune after another escaped. This time the back roads treated me kindly. Ahhhhhh.

Then, home again for two nights and one local appearance. The next morning, away to O'Hare airport I yawned. However, within a few minutes of my arrival, I morphed into Stupid Traveler. It’s amazing how quickly one becomes rusty when road tripping rather than air slogging.

Yes, I remembered the 3 oz. rule and tucked all dangerous deodorant and lethal eye makeup remover into a quart bag. However, I forgot to take the quart bag out of my carry-on before passing through security. Thankfully, the TSA—currently nixing the trial shoe scanners because they don’t catch the stuff they’re supposed to--didn’t catch my entire quart bag filled with stuff. Do you think I should suggest to them that none of their machinery actually works?

But I digress. Onto my next Stupid Traveler Trick, which was to seat myself in seat 5B, build my nest (electronics in seat-back pocket in front of me etc.) and buckle myself in, only to have a kind gentleman point out to me that I was in his seat, which was 5A. I wasn’t even on the correct side of the aisle, which was one of those narrow aisles on all American Eagle flights. But wait, there’s more.

After a late-night book signing and visit with friends, I scrambled around my hotel room this morning, checked out, paid more than two bucks for a bottle of water to drink during my cab ride to the airport (during which I listened to my cabbie whine about people who used credit cards to pay for cab rides, which is what I did since it was thirty-two bucks), then tucked the balance of the bottle of water into my handbag and zipped it up. Seems Dayton’s scanning machines (or machine watchers) work better than O’Hare’s because a “BAG CHECK!” was required to rid me of the Dangerous Dasani which, had it stayed in my possession (and the TSA KNOWS this), I could have easily poured up someone’s nostrils in an attempt to drown them, thereby revealing myself to be one of dumbest terrorists ever since everyone knows things run OUT of noses, not UP them.

The height of my personal stupidity was, however, matched by the inefficiency of the flight attendant, who was so busy chatting with folks that he never once noticed that the man in front of me left his seat back reclined during the takeoff and the landing. I might have been more upset about this, and even ratted out the fellow traveler, had the guy kitty-corner and one aisle up from me (4A) not turned out to be such a fascinating person to study. Fifty minutes’ worth (the entire flight), I studied him. Here’s why:

*You know the lever you turn to let your tray table down? I’ve always wondered why it looks like a little hook, and what, pray tell, one might hang on such a teensy hook. Well, Fascinating Person enlightened me when he hung his suit jacket from it by the thingie sewn into the inside neck area of men’s jackets, apparently for such a purpose. Who knew?! (DID YOU? Seriously, did you know that hook could inspire such a clever tactic?)

*He efficiently worked his Blackberry with a combination of his right thumb and left index finger. Wow! Fascinating. That was a new technique on me, and I'm herewith naming it the Thumbinger. I could hardly wait until we landed so he could check out his phone calls and e-mails, thereby Thumbingering his way to the gate.

*He worked USA Today’s “Word Roundup” with lightening speed. He also tackled “QuickCross” and Sudoku, then ripped out the page to finish them later, tucking the folded paper into the interior pocket of his cleverly hung suit jacket. I studied the faintly balding back of his head for a long while wondering a) where it went to college, b) whether or not he’d have a go at the Crossword puzzle later too--and I suspected he would, and c) did he get all his answers correct? Hey, how would I know? I can't see that far--and I stink at puzzles.

Then we landed. THUMBINGER ROCKS! If I ever get me a Blackberry, I swear, I’m gonna try it. Then, since I had an aisle seat, as soon as the seatbelt sign unlit, I quickly stood up, stepped back and all but insisted the HUGELY TALL gentleman folded up next to me unfold himself before he got stuck that way. Turns out my Stupid Traveler Self had unknowingly struck again: American Eagle planes are so small, he couldn’t stand up straight in the aisle anyway.

BTW, if you flew in seat 4A on American Eagle from Dayton to Chicago today and a strange woman tapped you on the shoulder to thank you for educating her about The Hook, that was obviously me. Pretend I just made up all that stuff about studying you, okay?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Keep Those Doggies Rollin'

During the first five days of my book tour (in the next installment of Traveling Laughs, I'll report on leg two---oh BOY!) I logged five book tour presentations (I usually talk for about an hour, then sign books); 1266 miles on both my car's odometer and my aching backside; four different hotels (the first night was a local event, after which I slept in my own bed); two rounds of cold leftover chili for breakfast (but I LIKE it!); three skipped meals; a teensy slice of the best pecan pie I've ever tasted (thank you, Mt. Zion Road Baptist Church in Centralia!); gallons of iced tea (eyes OPEN!); dozens of glorious moments; two gasping near-miss auto accidents; and countless other graces and irritations.

I also logged a Terribly Helpful Hint: do not, in an attempt to relax, take the back roads when you're in Farm Country, it's harvest season and the price of corn is high. (Can you say, TRUCKS FULL OF CORN BARRELING 110 MILES PER HOUR STRAIGHT AT YOU AND BEHIND YOU! (?)

At the end of my first 1266 miles, at 9 PM I pulled into my garage, turned off my travelmobile and uttered a prayer of thanksgiving that I'd made it home after driving five straight too-tired hours. But the simultaneous rub: Instantly—as in while I was sending up a Thank You--I realized that journeying home just to sleep in my own bed for a single night was a mistake.

Here's the thing about road warrioring: When you're out there, and, to your sublime satisfaction, you discover you're traveling with everything you need, that's the time to just keep going. No more double and quadruple checking to see if you remembered to stick your full itinerary back in the bag. No stopping to, once again, have to buy a teensy toothpaste (if you're flying), a sassy missing blush (if you're a woman), or phone the office for the info you left on your desk. No, miracle of miracles, you've got it ALL, so press on until you can stop.

I realize this "keep on keepin' on" strategy might not apply to those of you still raising munchkins since, well, sometimes you've just got to give them a hug or take in their latest theatrical adventure or sporting event. And I'm sure my "stay away from home" theory will ring dumb if you're inclined to homesickness. But as for this travelin' Grannie B, my kids are long gone and my retired husband does a great job holding down the fort and relaying messages, so trust me on this: we're BOTH better off when I can keep my stress levels at a minimum, so when I'm in the midst of a traveling roll, that is where I need to stay until it's over.


*Once you carry anything into your house, such as a suitcase, giant handbag or briefcase, you'll quickly pick it apart and therefore will no longer know if you still have everything you need.

*When you first leave your home, if you're like me, you're running late, so you'll also leave a wad of chaos behind. Dipping into that chaos for a night will feel depressing, which is what you don't want to feel since you still have so many more miles to go.

*Stockpiled phone messages and mail -- especially those luring travel accessory catalogs that promise to organize your every shirt and undershorts -- will distract you from the task at hand, which is SLEEP.

*Odds are that nearly all hotel beds are just as comfortable, if not more so, than your own bed, so why not just stay at that last place with all the fluffy pillows and cloud-soft comforters another night and spare yourself an extra dose of dragging your stuff on and off, in and out of cars and airplanes?

*If you're traveling on your own dime (and even if you're not), it's likely cheaper to stay an extra night, then go straight to your next stop, rather than to travel home and fly or drive out again.

*It's dumb to drive when you're too tired, and flying when you're worn out often incites the desire to smack the snot out of anyone who gets in your face.

In conclusion, this all sounds wonderful in theory. In reality, thinking you can actually get a good night's sleep in a hotel room (DING! BUZZ! SLAM!) is often delusional.

Therefore, in a new conclusion, I herewith suggest to you that the only way to survive extra long trips is to get Real Delusional with yourself and stay that way.