Here’s my column in today’s Greenville News, on the blessings of not flying this Thanksgiving.
As I contemplate the Thanksgiving just past, I am thankful that friends and family traveled to my home. In part because I’m blessed with family, blessed with house and job, food and health. But I’m thankful for another reason. The location of my various family members does not require me to set foot on an airplane.
I recently took a whirlwind trip to San Diego, California for a speaking engagement. How amazing flight is! We can cross mountains and oceans, continents and hemispheres. We can make meetings hundreds of miles away and be home for dinner with the family. And all of it while watching the news as if we were in our living room (except eating what we want), in a climate controlled, ever-so-slightly reclining chair.
And yet. Among the many activities of modern life, I doubt if any are as demeaning to the human spirit as commercial air travel. For instance, on my recent flight from GSP, I checked in a few minutes past my 60 minute window. I know, there has to be a cut-off. But it required me to go home (to Oconee County) and wait 12 hours for my next opportunity to fly. (It was a blessing, as I had church and lunch with family. And mind you, it’s rather serene passing through Seneca, Clemson, Easley and Powdersville at 4:30 and 5:30 am.)
I returned and wound my way through security. Ah, security. When I travel with my wife, she says to me (as I begin to take my shoes off and grumble), ‘be polite…you don’t want to go to jail.’ I find our current system of airline security…’less than optimal,’ as it were. ‘Take off your belt. Put your laptop on the conveyor belt. Take off your shoes. Move it along people. Come on. Step through.’ Since Jan wasn’t there, I was reminded by the sign that said, in essence, inappropriate joking might result in arrest. So I kept my raging thoughts to myself and smiled.
I ultimately made my flight, checking my bag to the tune of a soul-sucking $25, then wedging myself into a small seat on a small aircraft on the way to Houston as non-checked bags, possibly containing bodies, were forced into various compartments by people still in possession of their $25. In Houston, I snacked quickly, boarded, then wedged myself between two individuals whose dimensions made it more comfortable to merely hold my hands above my head all the way from Texas to San Diego, as if being robbed. Not to mention that my ‘row-mate’ to the left made odd grunting noises over and over, while awake, and while both playing on his iPad and watching the pay television mounted in front of him. ( I wondered if he were contemplating eating me…grunts can sound rather like ‘yum’ in a dark cabin.) I remained vigilant and survived, arriving in San Diego late at night but safe and sound.
When I returned from San Diego back to Houston and Greenville, I did something I had never done before. I road the golf-cart/shuttle in the airport. When I told the driver where I was headed, a little proud of my ability to walk quickly, he said, ‘you better get on.’ It turns out I had arrived at Concourse C but had to find my way to Concourse Z, subsection 15, sub-subsection alpha, orange, gate square root of 6.
You see, when one goes to Greenville, SC from larger cities, one often has to leave from remotely located, obscure parts of large airports. After riding on the transport, riding on the train, running some more and finding my way to what I thought was the tiniest concourse in Houston, I was directed down another hallway, and another, and yet another until I came to a small door with a sliding panel and had to knock three times then whistle. A man slid it back and asked if we were there for the flight or the poker game. Outside our biplane was ready and waiting.
I’m not blaming anyone. Lots of people, lots of planes, lots of destinations. It’s difficult to keep flight affordable, safe and (relatively) on time. I understand. And I felt for the dejected, overworked clerks, flight attendants and pilots I saw, for whom the glory of flight had long since passed, as evidenced by their mussed hair and desperate sprints for the exit doors. God bless them all.
I’m just saying, ‘thank you Lord for keeping me on the ground for Thanksgiving.’