Doug Bruns

Travel Bitching.

In Travel, Writing on January 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

Airports are such an interesting microcosm, everyone rushing around, on their phone, clutching a boarding pass between their teeth while towing an overstuffed bag on wheels. The airport is a kingdom of singular self-interest. Can I get past this stationary person on the moving walk-way? Why does the TSA agent single me out for a pat-down? When will the queue move? Will there be overhead storage left for my overstuffed bag on wheels?

Travelers are tribe nomads without the communal grace of a tribe. Travelers are myopic in focus: get from A to B with the least amount of hassle. Most travelers are blind to other members of the tribe, even the ones in need of tribal support, the elderly, the young, the confused.

The airport is the place where the most cherished of human attributes, joy, enthusiasm, compassion, are too often left curbside along with drinking water, guns and knives. The result is not Lord of the Flies, but it is sometimes close.

I try not to give myself up to this hopelessness, but usually fail. I admire the agent who pushes the elderly lady to her gate, smiling and chatting her up. There is much to learn from the pleasant young lady who wishes me a good day when I buy a pack of gum, her daily grind being so, well, very grinding.

It seems the airport microcosm is where self-interest most prevails and the better edges of human nature are chipped away by the press of elbows and bags and the mounting pressure of advancing departures. Should mother nature grace this scene causing delays the tribal nomad retreats deeper into the tent. There stored deep in the darkest corner is collected the garb of anger, outrage, and the cloak of self-righteousness.

This sounds so very upsetting, yet the experience is not necessarily so. Granted travel is hardly fun for most of us. The travel situation is nonetheless electric with the tension of anticipation: I am going home. Or, the mystery of a new venue awaits me. Or, I will soon be united with those I most love. Or, can I close the deal?

The tribe will put up with most anything for the reward at the other end. My personal problem with that notion is the fashion in which one gives of oneself to the future and suffers in the immediate. I don’t have a fix on such things, but I know that such practice betrays an ignorance of the present moment–a value I hold dear despite the unpleasantness. I believe the present is where I most need to live despite the occasion of wishing otherwise.

I reflect on this–and then, in the air and almost home, I look out the window and see the surging blue of the North Atlantic, the ribbon of land I call home, and my pulse begins to race. Look there, a lighthouse! And there, a lobster boat cleaving the water! My heart sings! “Why do men travel rather than sit still?” wondered Chatwin. Because the view is so very wonderful! Because without it, home is less marvelous!

I  leave the tent and fall into the embrace of my tribe.

  1. Reminds me of the great wildebeest migration that can take place at a river crossing. If on the other side of the river there is only one or two exits up off the bank and onto the plain a bottleneck develops, but the wildebeest continue to enter into the river anyway and just trample over each other avoiding the crocodiles or lions taking advantage of the bottleneck that forms. Intersting that this herd mentality or swarm intelligence is actually the opposite of self-interest and it is a collective “we” working together to overcome the obstacle, rather than the thought process that is actually taking place in our own minds.

    • A really good and fine point, Kevin. I am familiar with the swarm intelligence you speak of found in nature and your comment makes me wonder if it is ever exhibited by human beings naturally, that is, without it being drilled into them (I think of the marines, for instance). Yes, of course: people of often crushed in a crowd, aren’t they? But I guess I would call that swarm unintelligence. Is there any example of spontaneous benificial swarm intelligence, I wonder?
      Thanks for the thought, and the note, and reading..of course.

  2. You describe the tribe of Travelers well. A subset of individuals from many different tribes, all with varying degrees of consideration for the fellow-tribesman. It is easy to spot the difference in these customs while walking along the streets of New York versus Chicago or San Francisco, for example. The emerging Travel Tribe urges those from more genteel cultures/tribes to toughen up or be without an overhead luggage space.

    A further pitfall…. when travel-partners are on different ends of the crowd-behavior-continuum, grumpiness is sure to fluorish. Thanks for reminding us of the benefits.

    • Ah yes, the tandem team tribe, a certain combination of mood and potential disaster. Imagine, for example, one team member leaves something behind, a daypack, let’s say, and must go and retrieve it as departure looms. The team member is racked with guilt and perhaps has jeopardized the entire adventure. The remaining member, perhaps rightfully miffed, maybe humored, removes from the situation a few degrees, protective of her calm–in this random example a “she”–and thus the team is further strained. Oh, the weight of it all, the stress, and who is to tell how the parties might reconcile, if at all! But, less the stress of travel, the same thing occur and, though one or the other might be upset, the emotional investment is nothing by comparison. Yes, the stress of going from A to B, at the hands of others and in the midst of the unknown, and in some cases, the unwashed, might be best avoided by the less stalwart.

      I’m just sayin’…

  3. An occasion for which the Germans invented the word….schadenfreude!

    You got it.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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