I’ve had the opportunity to travel beyond our shores lately and apart from feeling uncomfortable and uneasy about the environmental impact of air travel, I find airports exhaust me.
The vast majority of people in these places are under pressure – from the workers to the passengers. There are deadlines, rules and regulations trickling from every neon light, and lots of scared-looking people expecting something to go wrong at every step of the process – “if my luggage is too heavy, I put all my liquids in the plastic bag, should I go to the loo but I can’t leave all this stuff unattended, can I make it to the gate in time?
Traveling can be a nerve-wracking experience. Many people, like myself, become tense before or during travel. I develop a chronic fear of losing a piece of luggage, my book, passport, phone or wallet.
I was traveling alone last week and every now and then it occurred to me that I had lost something. I began strip-searching myself, shaking myself off and looking for one of those travel essentials I thought I’d lost. I must have been a sight to behold, standing in the middle of the terminal building, trying not to spill my coffee as I wiggled and tied myself into a knot, tapping my free hand on the various parts of my clothing where I found it Missing items might have been hidden.
One of my mistakes is that I’m not consistent. I never put my passport in the same pocket again, and even if I consciously choose a place to keep it, I will unconsciously put it somewhere else.
Likewise, is the book I am reading under my ox or in the pocket of the bag or have I left it on a seat somewhere? Whenever Mahatma Gandhi was accused of being inconsistent, he replied that consistency was the virtue of a donkey. I think I took his words too much to heart and spent my life beating myself up.
I also tend to panic blindly wondering which pocket my phone is in, or did I leave it on the counter when I bought that cup of coffee?
Last week I was talking to a friend at the airport after I checked in. Suddenly I exclaimed, “Oh no, no, no.”
“What’s happening?” he asked
“I can’t find my phone,” I replied.
“It’s in your ear, you eejit,” he said, “won’t you talk to me about it?”
When the kids were younger, I was a total disaster at the airport on a family vacation. I turned into Mr. Bean going through security.
It was bad enough that I was trying to take care of myself, but having a bunch of fledglings to take care of made me a total dump. In fact, the kids have since told me that they conspire to go through security with their mother and prefer to confuse and stress me out rather than confuse and stress them out as well.
You laugh about it now and remember the sight of me trying to take off my shoes and belt while emptying all sorts of things out of my pockets. I could end up dividing my stuff between four or five trays.
Hard to believe, but in one of my previous existences I worked in the travel industry. I remember getting very sound advice from a former British Airways stewardess on the best way to approach travel. “There are only three things you need to think about when you travel,” she said, “your passport, your ticket and your money, you can buy panties anywhere.”
Whatever it is to buy knickers everywhere, these days all you need to have in your possession is your phone and passport. Everything is on the phone: plane tickets, boarding passes, bus tickets, hotel bookings, money – everything.
Soon the passport is also on the phone and it doesn’t take long for the phone to become a thing of the past. Perhaps facial recognition technology carries all the information needed to prove that you are who you say you are and that you are the person who booked and paid for that travel package.
Such a development will be a great boon to people like me who have two versions of my name and can be stuck between the two when it comes to air travel.
Everyone knows me as “Jim” but according to my passport I am “James”. More than once I’ve been stranded at an airport where I’ve been told I’m not the person booked on that particular plane. After booking as Jim I showed up as James. If you have two names, nobody wants to know you.
Anyway, my last trip went well, apart from discovering on the way home through security that I still had the key to the Airbnb in my pocket. Oh, and I left my unfinished copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet on the plane.
Matters of Great Indifference Volume 2 – a collection of these columns – is available in book form at www.jimobrien.ie
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/jim-obrien-how-the-struggle-to-hold-on-to-ones-wits-and-bits-has-become-a-planely-stressful-event-42197193.html Jim O’Brien: How the battle to save his sanity and his teeth has become a downright stressful event