O PIONEERS

I remember reading about the brave souls who traveled in the “olden days.” The Ingalls family, the immigrants in steerage, the Donner Party. Back then, travel was a grueling exercise in survival. Travelers had to carry their food, lash their livestock to the wagons, heft blocks of salt and cones of sugar around, and prepare for journeys that lasted days, weeks and months. 

Then the world turned a few times, and traveling evolved. When I was a teenager, I remember taking a direct flight from point A to point B. There were stewardesses serving delicious food on little trays with linen napkins and tiny salt and pepper shakers. There were hot towels and legroom. Everything was free, once you stepped onto the plane. I don’t even remember any overhead bins. Travel was fun and exciting. 

I just returned from a cross country trip. The recession has turned the clock back: I feel as though I have a kinship with both the pioneers and those huddled masses.

Because it now costs money to check bags, all travelers these days strap their earthly belongings to their backs, and haul full suitcases on board. The process of getting on the plane now resembles loading immigrants into steerage. On my last flight, things I could never have imagined were shoved into overhead bins.  One man brought what looked like a cello case, and he was determined that it would fit overhead. After what seemed like hours of cramming, other passengers threatened to kill him, and he relented and gate checked. He barely escaped an onboard lynching. 

You can’t get free food in airplanes any more. So people bring their own. I was reminded of all the books I have read about travelers in pioneer days, packing food for the trip and putting it in their carpetbags. The woman across the aisle from me brought salami on rye with a huge dill pickle. Very aromatic. The mother in front of me brought enough Cheerios to feed a battalion, and they rolled all over the aisles, creating a fine oaty powder. There were a few pizzas onboard, and at least four large submarine sandwiches. My seatmate offered me half of his falafel. 

I am at a loss to explain why the woman across the aisle brought her chicken along. It clucked companionably through most of the flight, but did get a little restive during the turbulence. There was some crowing. She wanted to hold him on her lap, and the flight attendant had to tell her that the chicken had to remain “stowed safely under the seat in front of her.”  I have never shared a cabin with a chicken before, but perhaps traveling with livestock is a new trend.

Travelers in days gone by never expected to get anywhere fast. Trips were extended experiences. This has become true once again. I don’t care which is your point A and which is your point B—it will take you an entire day or longer to get there. The days of the direct flight are over. However, airports have responded, and they now have lots of attractions for “lay overs.”  I nearly bought a Tisson watch in Atlanta yesterday.  I could have rented a “minute suite” for napping.  If so inclined, I could also have gone to church, made my own sundae, or had a pedicure. This was possible due to the fact that most everybody who travels must spend at least four hours in between connections.

After a ten hour travel day, I arrived home tired and hungry. My arms ached from carrying around my computer, my purse, and my roller bag. I was dehydrated from eating all those peanuts. I had a crick in my neck, despite my buckwheat shell neck pillow. I felt as if I had been traveling for weeks.

So I now feel great kinship to the Ingalls, and I am beginning to understand just how the Donner party went astray. Perhaps THAT is why the woman had her chicken with her.

I may start traveling with a goat, just in case.

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