On Solo Travel and French Kissing

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Sure, solo travel has its risks. Getting mugged, beat up, getting lost, feeling lonely, doing something stupid you wouldn’t have done if someone was there to talk you out of it are all possibilities.   But think of the benefits. On the benefits list I would include again getting lost and doing something stupid you wouldn’t have done if someone was there to talk you out of it, because define “stupid”. One may define a situation of swerving the car off to the side of the road to jump out to chase a moose into the woods for a photo as stupid. In my defense, I grew up in So Cal where wildlife safety was not a topic beyond rattle snakes. Moose etiquette was not in the curriculum so it was not until showing off pics of a moose blurred between trees that the sharp inhales and wide eyes clued me in that moose trampling is a thing.  How about a photo shoot of a grizzly about twenty feet away napping soundly? Truly, I don’t know what woke him up in the second half of the photos but they look gre

Struggles of a Frequent Flier


There is a place where white noise rules and strangers are comfortable within personal space boundaries. The vibration is soothing, even butt numbing, as I relax into a quasi comfortable position in an uncomfortable chair. It has the smooth leathery feel of an arm chair - an arm chair without the extra cushion and wide space for laying across and pillowy arm rests to fall asleep on with a good book, of course. The contrast to that feel takes me home to my arm chair at my heaven on the river. That heaven has the blasting white noise as well, though from a very different and more welcome source. There are many places to fall asleep there with the buzz of white water, though lacking the soothing vibration, while breathing fresh air under trees that have already seen more seasons than me and will see many more to come. 

Nature is calling to me in more ways than one. The walk down a narrow aisle, when I bring myself back from my forest bathing day dreams to my current reality, requires a bit of a balancing act and avoidance of brushing up against book-reading, sleeping and laptop-busy like-destined strangers. While existing within the personal space bubbles of others is acceptable in this scenario, physical touch is not and is avoided at all costs of comfort. Arm rests in the middle seat are off limits if your neighbor is not a friend or relative, if they are it’s every person for themself, and wide hips in narrow aisles are frowned upon. The aisle is clear of fellow traversers as I pass through narrowly avoiding the elbows of those lucky third who are in that aisle seat with the allowable arm rest. But, alas, the red x’s of doom are over the small green lit non-gender neutral figures indicating a place of privacy. I’m stuck standing right outside the door practically in the service station. This will be awkward. Everyone knows what is happening while you are in there. Well, I suppose there are a few possibilities, some more taboo than others. Regardless, there will be that moment of eye contact where they know that you know that they had their pants down just moments ago for one undignified act or another. The moment comes, the moment passes, and now my turn for personal space, though not much of it. The walls of this place are so tight that turning in a full circle, even for a 5’2” modestly proportioned patron, is next to impossible. Well, I suppose those wide hips that narrowly avoid aisle elbows are a factor. 


The surroundings are entertaining. A smaller than average target gives even portapoties some credit. The miniature sink looks like something out of Disney’s It’s a Small World. The hidden paper products under different metallic covers make this a great game of Hidden Pictures. But the real show is when the button is pushed on the toilet. I was told my whole life that you have to close the toilet lid before the toilet flushes because it opens to the sky outside and creates air pressure dangers. I have some issues with this supposition. First, where do the contents go? It’s absorbed and dissenigrates into the atmosphere? Lands over fields below as fertilizer? Competes with birds for target practice on passersby? Questions unanswered though none pleasant. I’d like to think there is some better form of sanitation system with a holding tank. It’s 2023. Let’s go with that one. 


The deed done and the perilous trek to return to my cozy quarters is met with a roadblock. Uh-oh, bad timing. I’ll be following the snack cart down the aisle for quite some time. That’s ok. The people-watching is fantastic from this vantage point. Children jumping in seats are my favorite, especially when it is clear that the parent is quite self conscious because the row-mate is not part of the kid-minding crew. The look of annoyance by itself tells the story. Then there is the laptop-busy patron with the scowl, potentially because they are concentrating or because the kid behind them just kicked their seat hard enough to jolt it. The kicked in this case is not able to enjoy that relaxing vibration of the uncomfortable seat. The book-reader is engrossed. Looking over their shoulder I blush at the words on the page but continue reading, of course. Awkward when they sense the presence and look up over their shoulder and catch me in the act when the cart has already moved ahead about 8 feet and I’m clearly lingering like a creep. Moving on. The sleeper has become even more comfortable since I last passed. Mouth agape with some occasional snores audible over the substantial white noise which must be quite the joy for a bedmate and certainly for the row-mate stranger. 


Back to the uncomfortable, faux-leather-bound reclining seat with the off-limits arm rests and the soothing vibration. The forest bathing day dreams that can come from this position are the real treat for the next insert-number-of-hours-here length of the adventure. The dreams never come. While I was away, my row-mate has either developed nerve to socialize, run out of off-line content on the phone they’ve been staring at for insert-number-of-hours-here or has decided that the journey is the adventure and they are wasting it away when they could be making life, nay, route, long friends. 


No exchange of names required as topics delve into kids, spouse(s), education, career and full resume, reason for travel, number of frequent flyer miles, favorite books and movies. The 11.6 minutes this conversation took comes to an awkward stall out with insert-number-of-hours-here of travel left. I now know more about this human than most of my co-workers of five years and we will now sit in each other’s personal space bubble in uncomfortable silence. Such is travel.


The jolt of turbulence and announcement for all to be seated spawns a new topic. Reaction of surprise (a bit dramatized for the sake of conversation) allows the new icebreaker to move the lasting friendship forward into a competition for most dramatic past terrible travel experiences: stories of friends on planes that were emergency landed, stuck in Manila for two days after missing a flight, the latest headlines of plane crashes. Six point two minutes. I just hope there is an eaves dropper with travel anxiety that we’ve just cured of the nasty habit of listening in on the conversations of others. 


Despite the continuing turbulence, the vibration turned massage, it’s no longer stimulating the conversation so fake sleep will give less awkwardness to the continuing silence. I was incorrect. Introduce more awkwardness here. The fake sleep has backfired with the neighbor’s sudden realization that we’ve neglected the topic of pets but realizes with the exclamation that they’ve (by appearances) woken me up. There is much apologizing and forgiveness to follow but the topic of pets must not be neglected. As the conversation about current pets appears to be running out of steam, past pets, since birth, of course, must be addressed. With each story comes the demise of each which has really brought up the mood. I just hope there is an eavesdropper with animal obsessions that we’ve just cured of the nasty habit of listening in on the conversations of others. And we’ve now succeeded in killing (no pun intended) 7.1 minutes. More to say on this topic than on travel dramas, apparently. 


Awkward silence and noted that fake sleep is not a solution. Out comes Mine Sweeper, I have to try to look busy for quite some time. After quite some time, finally, saved by the bell! Landing shortly at our destination. The plane has landed and as the passengers all stand, bent over with head angled on the ceiling, long before they will be up for exiting, the imminent goodbye looms. “What was your name?” I don’t actually care but this is the customary goodbye to my long-lasting friend. And now we stand again in silence as everyone departs ahead of us, one from the left row, one from the right, one from the left, oh, whoops someone snuck out ahead of their turn. Oy vey, four rows ahead someone is struggling with the overhead compartment. Tongues are clicking, audible sighs, what a noob. Finally my turn. Eye contact with my friend is now over and we follow each other out and try to go separate ways or at least at different paces to the same destination: purgatory, aka baggage claim, where we will stand on opposite sides of the carousel to avoid each other. 


Baggage claim requires an inordinate amount of patience. If you do not check bags as a habit you are in the smart, fortunate lot. The test of patience can be characterized as a gauntlet. Task one: find the correct carousel. I, of course, was not listening on the plane when it was announced (Mine Sweeper was engrossing), so I try to find a flight status board that lists the numbers. Not there. Crap. Mmmk, well this isn’t such a huge airport. I’ll walk past each of the 64 carousels until I find the right flight number on the carousel itself. Ah-ha, bingo. There’s the sleeper. He looks very different without his mouth agape. Let’s look around to see if I can find others I recognize. Oh, yep, there’s the book-reader making eye contact with a look of suspicion, as one might look at a stalker. Task two: stand back patiently awaiting the very loud and obnoxious tell-tale buzz of the carousel starting up. Task three: keep watching. I’ve now seen some of the same bags on the rotation six times. Mine will be here any minute. There aren’t many left so it will be easy to spot. There it is! Task four: push through the remaining obstacles (travelers) to get to the carousel in time to grab it. Task five: chase your bag as it chugs along away from you because you missed your window. Task six: awkwardly yank it on to the ground with as much grace as the seasoned traveler that you are. 


Done! The journey is the adventure and this has been one with nothing unusual to write about and so I do. …hold on. Did I remember to arrange pick up?




Comments

  1. Great post, and so true!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Perils of flight. Intriguing. We have a story of bathroom shenanigans to add to your repertoire

    ReplyDelete

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