Often what travel writing leaves out is the travel. I write about temples and ruins, museums and beaches, and hotels and restaurants, but that glosses over the rough ride of today’s sometimes brutal travel industry. People ask me if I like to travel. What seems like a ridiculous question for a travel writer really isn’t. I DON’T like to travel. I like to BE somewhere else. I’d beam there if I could.
I caught a 7 a.m. flight to Detroit today on Northwest Airlines/Delta and I actually received a bag of peanuts. (Cynical me wondered, as I pondered the label, what happened to all those salmonella nuts from last year.)
I changed planes in Detroit for Atlanta having enough time to buy coffee at McDonald’s and spill it on myself. Thanks to the legendary million-dollar lawsuit it left me chilled not scalded. I didn’t get my cranky on, however, until I visited the restroom in the terminal. Total pig sty and the janitor stood in the corner working his thumbs over his cell phone like a video game kid who skipped his Ritalin for the day. (May I insert 3 cheers for Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where despite the massive amount of territory, the janitorial crew runs a pretty clean ship and the toilets have the automated Saran-Wrap sleeve unwinding over the seat at the wave of a hand. I’ve actually had the cleaning guy knocking and waving the mop under the door so obsessed was he to get on with the cleaning.)
Traveling is a royal pain more often than not, and after reading about the ironic conversation of the ill-fated pilots of the February 12 crash I am more and more doubtful of the safety margin (though statistically I know that’s unwarranted).
About five minutes before the crash, Shaw had shared with Renslow her fear of flying in icy conditions, according to the transcript. “I don’t want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I’dve freaked out. I’dve [sic] had like seen this much ice and thought, ‘oh my gosh, we were going to crash” (CNN)
Sheesh. As we taxied down the runway the plane took on an exaggerated rhythmic bouncing with a creaking to go along with it. I watched over the seats as heads went up and down like bobbers in a boat wake and it all started to seem funny and unnerving at the same time. The whole plane squeaked like an old bed in a honeymoon suite and I was reminded of the scene in Delicatessen where two characters sit on the edge of a bed bouncing in unison to ascertain where the faulty spring was. The least of the puttering junk heaps I’ve owned as cars never had such a suspension problem. (A Delta MD88, if you wanted to know.)
A couple weeks ago when I returned from Japan I flew in a plane with pieces falling off the wall in the restroom. The same trip a year before, one-third of the video units were disabled for the entire trans-Pacific flight. For a majority of my itineraries for 2007-2008, at least one of the typically four segments of each round trip was canceled or delayed for either a crew needing sleep or a mechanical issue. (American Airlines) Broken parts on a plane, like the ominous faulty tray-table latch in Final Destination*, make me nervous. If this has gone unrepaired, what else is being overlooked? When a flight is canceled due to mechanical problems while I am at the gate, how close were we to having a mechanical problem in the air? More and more I am finding foreign airlines, even budget airlines (such as Air Asia) are flying bright spanking new planes, while all I ever see in the US are the raggedy refuse of the 20th century with seats that eventually generate profits for my chiropractor.
But at the end of the day (an annoying cliché but in this case a literal statement) I landed safely and on time. All’s well that lands well.
*A movie I watched during a layover with a group of my students as we were embarking on a school trip abroad. The exact same initial scenario of the movie minus the air disaster (but we had to wait until we departed the next day to be sure.)