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Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?

…but it sure does take some time waiting to get on! Two-hours (as suggested by airlines) to check in, get rid of bags, and go through security is a realistic estimate; but when you have a long trip ahead of you, it just adds to travel time, not to mention the waiting at the other end. It’s also a stressful two hours; I find that when I get through all of that and to the gate, I heave a sigh of relief, and can finally relax. It also means that I have put my fate in someone else’s hands until I reach my destination.

We go to Scotland every summer, and Seattle (from the east coast) twice a year to visit my daughter and family. Both of these are tiring trips. But if you want to go places and see people and sights, that’s what you’ve got to do, so I’ve just accepted travel for what it is — a means to and end.

We recently went on a week’s trip to Spain and two of those days (long days) were spent in travel and in waiting in airports. We had a lot of time to people watch and personally I find it fascinating. When someone displays an unusual behavior, I watch them more closely and make up little stories about them, or remember events in my own travel history that may account for their actions.

There’s the harassed mother trying to cope with three children, one of whom is a crying baby, while trying to advance to her gate. Been there, done that. Obviously it’s easier when a dad is in the picture. I remember traveling with my husband and four little kids and how difficult it was. Those are good memories now; somehow I’ve blocked out the difficulties and frustrations — but I remember exactly how that poor mother, or mom and dad feel.

There’s the rushing, self-important travelers, hurrying, eyes focused, heedless of those around them, pushing relentlessly to their destination, missing all the little vignettes playing out around them. Some of them probably don’t have to rush; that’s just the way they live their lives.

I often initiate mini-conversations with people — everyone seems to be in their own impenetrable shell; it’s interesting to crack that outer layer and see who’s in there. Sometimes you are rewarded with a peek inside or a smile that changes their whole appearance, so that you feel that you have indeed made human contact in a self-absorbed atmosphere. I rarely find that someone barks backs at me with a “leave me-the-hell- alone” comment or sneer. I think I just want to see the humanity in some of the people streaming past me, to be reassured that we are all cut from the same cloth.

Traveling is not fun; being on an airplane for hours is uncomfortable and boring. But I’ve gotten far more patient and accepting, and see no point in making the waiting unpleasant with frustration and irritability. Sometimes it’s just best to make the wait worthwhile, watch, wonder, read, and know that there’s a pleasant destination at the end of the trip, even, or especially, it it’s home.

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