Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hodgepodge 134/365 - Travel Day

It began yesterday at 4:15 p.m., an American Airlines flight from Monterey to Phoenix: on time. Flight from Phoenix to London Heathrow on British Air at 8:40 p.m., also on time. The seat number on my boarding pass was 31J: I was misled by J being the tenth letter of the alphabet into relaxing into the idea that I had a window seat (3 + 4 + 3), but I forgot that "I" gets omitted in seat numbering systems, so no, I was in the middle. First time I've been in the middle in years. Fortunately, my seatmates were pleasant men—and reasonably sized.

The one in "my seat" was a British nuclear engineer, fifties-ish, with close-cropped bristly white hair and bushy black eyebrows, who had been attending a conference in Phoenix (I asked if it was good and he said it was "better than usual"). As we landed through clouds, which barely broke as we touched ground, he muttered about the weather, but then flipped through his phone until he brought up a pano view of a brilliant green garden with a white-flower-spangled arbor and said, "But this is what all this moisture will be bringing in another month." His back yard in Oxford. "Very different from Phoenix." He said that he had quizzed everyone he talked to about Trump, and people were eager to talk. Results were mixed. We compared it to Brexit, and he observed that the most disturbing conclusion to come from that debacle was that people no longer trust (or even care about) the experts—meaning knowledge, information, facts.

My other seatmate was a young man from Utah, off to Amsterdam to meet a couple of friends flying in from Hawaii. This was his first trip abroad and his longest plane ride yet—two weeks ago he was in Hawaii, but that was only six hours long. They had rented a condo in the Docklands for six days and were looking forward to bicycling and barging and visiting the museums. His excitement made me envious. I don't get excited anymore over travel. I get anxious. Though maybe I should rethink that: maybe what I am is excited? Why put a negative term on the feeling?

Now it's about 5 p.m. and I am sitting in the Costa coffee bar in Heathrow Terminal 4 enjoying a nonfat latte, looking out over the airport. Exotic carriers— Gulf Air, Kenya Airways, Air Mauritius, Royal Brunei—out the window, and exotic languages and modes of dress all around me. Next flights on the board go to Paris and Amsterdam, Dhaka via Sylhet, Jeddah, Rome, Seoul, Milan, Abu Dhabi, Muscat.

I arrived before 3 and was told my flight to Tel Aviv—scheduled for 10 p.m.—will be delayed, perhaps until midnight. I need to check in at 7 and undergo a security check (by the Israelis): no simple boarding pass for that part of the world. Fortunately, the far end of the terminal, past all the duty free shops, is quiet, and I was able to find seats not separated by arms and take a snooze. I have found that the best defense against jet lag when arriving in Europe is to take a two-hour nap right around 4 o'clock the day of my arrival. Maybe that short nap will help.

As for today's travel: the other day I commented that I do not like the travel part of travel. Since then, two people have offered a different perspective. Cynthia: "I love the travel part of travel, so it is possible to love it—that moving through space, the fun of different airports, the taking off and landing, seeing how I will respond to all the different things that happen. But it's the movement I love the most." And Charlene also said she enjoys the airports: people watching, going into the shops, the comings and goings, the in-transitness of it all. She also loves sitting in a seat for ten hours—but that part, no, that part I will never love.

I'm trying to expand my thinking on that front. Right now, sitting here with the hubbub of voices and the sound of the espresso machine and the piped-in music (Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line"!) and the planes taking off and the airport personnel in their bright yellow safety jackets out on the glistening brown tarmac and the flashing lights of the Kenya Airways plane as it taxis forward and the pinks of sunset slitting through the violet-gray clouds—right now, I am quite content. It's good to be here.

And... if I'm going to get my 10,000 steps in today, it's going to have to be a multiple tour, back and forth, of Terminal 4. I can do it.

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