I love to travel, and I am lucky to be able to do so, or rather I like the parts of travel that don’t actually involve the process of getting there. I enjoy the destination or the activity, but there is little that is worse than sitting in an airport at 5:00 AM or trying to sleep on a stomach full of rest-stop food in the back of a minivan. Those are the moments that make you wish that teleportation existed, so you could snap your fingers and appear on the beach, at the trailhead, in front of Big Ben, at Grandma’s house.
One such experience for me occurred after the Christmas break of my Sophomore year of high school. My parents, sister, and I had spent the better half of the two-week holiday at our second cousin’s beach house in South Carolina, along with an assortment of uncles, aunts, and grandparents. All in all, there were over a dozen of us crammed into the house, which didn’t have a steady internet connection, on a gated island community that generally had no draw except for the beach. For that week, the daily high temperature never surpassed 65 degrees, and most days saw at least some rain and a whole lot of frigid Atlantic wind.
My one uncle, Pete, who, though we love him dearly, is known for being a little eccentric, arrived for the week already somewhat sick. He proceeded to cough, sneeze, and complain unincumbered the entire time, despite the obvious irritation and concerns of all others present.
“It’s just a cold,” he said in response to our unease, “don’t let me get in the way.”
Halfway through the week, we went into town to a highly-rated, authentic South Carolina barbeque restaurant for lunch. I, being a foolish and daring teenager, ordered a massive rack of ribs, of which I ate four-fifths before beginning to feel quite ill. While walking around the quaint downtown afterward, I quickly became aware that something was up. Sure enough, I subsequently spent much of the remainder of the week, including New Year’s, laid up with what could only be Uncle Pete’s mystery cough.
The week finally ended, and we said our goodbyes, gave out hugs and piled into our rented Ford Focus bound for the Atlanta airport. It was there, in the seemingly boiling hot leather backseat of that automobile that I felt the illness crawl like some animal from my abdomen up into my head over that three-hour journey. Suddenly I appeared, standing in the lobby of the airport in line with our family’s luggage, staring at the ceiling as some demon poured boiling water into my eyes and ears while I internally cursed my Uncle Pete.
And the airport, which I had thought at that moment to be the worst place to experience some kind of mutant full-body flu only paled in comparison to my experience on the flight. Each elevation change awoke me from my ill slumber by sending searing shockwaves down my ear canals. What joy that must have been for the man sitting next to me, having a noticeably sick teenage boy restlessly sleeping mere inches away from him.
The travel experience, and I mean the journey, not the destination, is nearly always bad. Clichés to the contrary which imply some great significance to the act of getting places are lies because I don’t know if I’ve ever really gleaned anything from spending time in airplanes and airports besides the knowledge of how much I hate it. This is, however, the common experience of the airline traveler. Whether you are on your way to a weeklong Mediterranean cruise or off to a business conference in Tulsa, you have to sit together on this speeding tin can for several hours, hating your existence. At least, that’s what I think everyone else is doing, because I am.