Monday, June 03, 2013

Domestic Traveler

It's hard to believe that it's already June 3rd. The month of May screamed past me: my first year of theology studies came to a close, my German course started, and I began playing for Irish dancers just about every weekend. Over the past few weeks, I've flown to Cincinnati, Lexington, Chicago, and Detroit. This weekend I'm heading to Austin, followed by Chicago, and then Dayton. A week later I'll be in Iowa and then, ten days after that, Denver for three weeks.

In short, I'm wracking up the Frequent Flier Miles. 

As an Irish musician traveling with an accordion, airports can be a bit dicey. I once had to carry my accordion and an Irish dancing costume my mother had made for some child. Imagine the sight of a balding man, about the age of 30, carrying a pretty pink dress and an accordion. I'm surprised I didn't end up on Dateline or some TSA watch list. 

The woman who sent her son through
security with a dress and an accordion.
This is not to say that all travel involves personal embarrassment. On Saturday, en route from Detroit to Philadelphia, I managed to sit directly in front of  a toddler with some sort of spastic leg problem. He kept kicking the back of my chair. His mother had her own challenges, I reckon it must be peripheral blindness and deafness because she appeared to see NOTHING of what her child was doing. I comforted myself with  a promise that, when I disembarked from the plane, I would toast the little demon with a glass of wine at the Vino Volo in the area connecting Concourse A and B. Cheers, Jenny, you made my layover much more enjoyable!

Then again, sometimes my travels leave me more than a bit bemused and, well, confused. For instance, on Saturday as I tried to get through the security line at Detroit's Airport, I had a most remarkable encounter.

It begins pretty standardly: we are all of us waiting to go through the security line. Two lines of people stripping off shoes, belts, coats, removing laptops, etc., converging on one line to go through the little tube where you put your hands up and it takes a supposedly non-invasive picture of your body. By the time I got into the scanning line, it was about seven people deep. For the TSA agent, this seemed to be too much.

A larger woman with a booming voice, she muttered something like, "this is taking too long." So she raised her eyes, locked onto mine, and asked a most perplexing question:

Her: You got a hip?
Me (Completely caught off guard): ??????
Her: I said, do you got a hip?
Me: I have two of them, to be precise.
Her: Sir, I am in no mood to play around with you. Do you got a false hip? Can you go through the metal detector?
Me: I'm cool - my hips are natural. 

Since when, and in what code, does "You got a hip?" correlate to "Do you have a prosthesis that would disqualify you from walking quickly through the metal detector?" 

As I sat with Jenny at Vino Volo, I toasted the TSA agent with the second glass of wine. 

Years ago, before I joined the Jesuits, I was seated next to a passenger I could tell wanted to be very chatty. I was buckling my belt when she started asking questions of me: Where do you live? Why are you going to Atlanta? I didn't respond until she touched my leg with her right hand. Young and immature, I did the only thing I could think of to avoid talking to her: I looked at her, waved my hands around quickly, and said, "I'm sorry, I'm deb." I intentionally said "deb" over "deaf" for emphasis. Undeterred, the woman simply repeated her questions, only louder this time. Once again, I furthered my ruse and reiterated my claim to being deaf. 

I thought my charade was up, however, when the attendant came around taking drink orders and I asked for a seltzer water in my typical voice. Fortunately, my seat mate was dozing and didn't notice that my hearing had been miraculously restored. 

I'm not proud of it, although I do continue to find it funny these many years later. 

I enjoy travel to the extent that it provides an opportunity to collect stories. I always travel with a book but never with headphones: I need to keep my ear open to the environment around me, listening to people as they share their lives in the cramped quarters of an airplane. So often one can catch snippets of the various pilgrimages people are on, the journeys their lives are taking, travels we share in common for a few hours as we cross the continent and time zones en route to our destinations. Outside of our final destination we share little more than time and a willingness to share a story...or with some of the more comedic and inane travelers, provide fodder for future stories!

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