Every once in a while I see the things people post on Instagram or Facebook while they travel.

Almost always they’re selfies, with the traveler (usu. female) in a fetching frock, sunhat, and groovy tote. Strolling along a sunlit tropical beach. Eating bouillibaisse in a striped sailor’s jersey in Marseille. Chatting gaily with colorful local characters in Greece, Australia, Thailand. Packing smartly, effortlessly hailing cabs, whisked to whatever airport in air-conditioned limos.

My own travel is an entirely different affair. I look upon travel as sacred obligation, pilgrimage, and mosty penance. Taking a picture of myself is the absolute last thing I want to do or post, and when anyone asks to take a photo with me I have to restrain myself from snarling and make a grim, heroic effort to smile and comply. Not that I hate the way I look. Nor is it that especially whilst traveling I am far from my best. It’s just….why?

No, everything has been pared down over the years. Nowadays I barely even take pictures of the landscape. And when people start larking on with the names of “fabulous” restaurants in the area where I’m going, I hardly know what to say. I couldn’t care less. I will look up the nearest local Catholic church, the gardens, and the museums.

I’ll go to Mass. I’ll look at the flowers and trees. And I’ll walk.

The pilgrimage starts the moment the gate to my house is locked behind me. Over the years I’ve developed a weird aversion to, or refusal to purchase, or a habit of simply not buying food at an airport. I saw a bag of pistachios for 17 bucks at the Norfolk VA airport the other day!

It’s kind of a game: pack a bag of snacks the night before and then, like someone whose plane has crashed in the Andes, that’s all I allow myself (with the addition of pretzels or Trader Joe’s-like Speculoos cookies, and a Diet Coke or apple juice on American) till I land and can find a market.

This most recent trip, I bought a bag of dried apricots, half a large bar of dark chocolate with candied ginger, a bunch of shelled pistachios, and two pieces of olive bread toast with butter wrapped in aluminum foil, the latter of which, trust me, tastes pretty darn good when unwrapped at Dallas-Fort Worth around 9 am Central when you have been up since 3:45 Pacific and completed the first leg of your journey.

I landed in Dulles that day around 4:30, took an hour-long train into the city, checked into my hotel and set out around 6 pm for my daily walk and a (largely fruitless, as I may have mentioned) search for provisions. By the end of the week, I had added to my horde a bag of olive oil crostini and a hunk of Dubliner cheese, half of which I ended up ferrying back to Tucson.

In between I ate blueberries, yogurt, a pear salad, an apricot croissant, a delicious salmon dinner, and a bunch of Panera food at the catered Retreat for Artists in which I participated over the weekend.

And walked about 100 miles mulling, pondering, inwardly arguing, despairing, exulting and praying.

So as not to make my hostess rise at 4 am to give me a ride, I’d booked a 3:45 pm return flight from Norfolk to Tucson through Dallas, knowing the whole trip such a move was dicey as the later in the day the higher the chance of delays.

Sure enough, the Dallas to Tucson leg was five hours late–I rebooked and left at 11:30 pm instead of 7 (a mere 4 1/2 hours late). I almost folded during that time and bought an $11 sushi which I knew would be tasteless, hard and dry (as is true of all airport food, or all the airport food I’ve ever had), but made do with a Starbucks dark roast and nibbled away at my remaining cheese, crostini, pistachios, and apricots. I had one square of chocolate left–again, like those people who are stranded on Everest or shipwrecked! It tasted delicIous and I was quite proud of myself, and grateful.

Meanwhile I had already walked a few miles that morning and walked more through DFW which is now like an old friend. One of my favorite spots is way at the end of C terminal, like Gate 40 or so. There’s a place you can sit with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and look out over a freeway and a bunch of airport utility vehicles and watch the workpeople in their orange safety vests yukking it up and getting shit done.

From there if you feel like strolling, you can walk all the way to Gate C1, which has got to be a third of a mile, and then there’s a long walkway between C and D terminals which is usually pretty deserted, has windows on both sides, and again has a friendly view of freeways. If you wanted to you could just sit by the window, charge your phone from an outlet, and contemplate the state of the world and your soul.

If not, you can walk to Terminal D, and if you feel like it, bang an immediate right, which will take you to the chapel AND to a large bank of seats (no outlets, though) that are also almost always deserted, and that look out over a bunch of airplanes. I love these melancholy views and semi-deserted spots in the midst of so much humanity, and the people-watching is stellar. It’s simply unbelievable who walks by: large families with the women in saris; people who look on the verge of suicide; a barefoot young man with a lapdog sprinting to…?

All the while I was toting around a probably unconscionable weight of carry-on luggage as I will not check a bag unless under duress and would have been fine except I’d had books shipped to sell at a talk I gave which I’d been assured would go like hotcakes but of course hadn’t so rather than put someone to the trouble of shipping them back had shoehorned them into my luggage.

I mean, really, what am I going to take a selfie of myself eating four-day-old Dubliner cheese and bowed down like a beast of burden at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport as I look forward to a 12-hour plus trip home? My introvert self having been around people nonstop for a week and thus depleted to within an inch of its/my life?

Praying, however, the Rosary!

The truth is this is what travel is like for practically everyone so why don’t we just tell the truth and make a joke of it? As The Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” says: “It ain’t no pleasure in life.” Granted, the guy’s just shot a family dead, but the underlying thought is sound.

No but seriously, in fact there’s something about airports, even being stuck in them sometimes, that I totally like. The airport becomes your world so that every little detail, event, smile or mean word assumes a huge significance. Then again, no-one can get at you or to you at an airport. You’re suspended in place and time, and you have to descend into a kind of larval state simply not to lose your mind. I always tell myself I’ll read but there’s constant noise and you’re in constant angst as to when and whether your plane’s going to leave and all the stuff you have to do (and that you pray will go right) once you land.

Still, I did get a bunch of reading done during my trip and especially at the airport, including the first third of Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (Scott descended into alcoholism and nervous breakdown-land with the strain of writing The Raj Quartet and I have just ordered a biography of him) and most of Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars, and months of back issues of the Times Literary Supplement, to which I just re-subscribed.

I arrived home around 1 a.m, thanks be to God, rose at 5 and by 7:15 am was at Larry H. Miller Fiat/Dodge dealership, where I spent another 3 1/2 hours waiting while they fixed my passenger side window, which was stuck down ($587 to replace a something or other, not the window but the mechanism). This was of the absolute essence, as it’s over 100 degrees practically every day here in Tucson and also I’m driving through the desert to St. Andrew’s Abbey above LA a week from Sunday, and these days you never know what will be wrong, whether they’ll have the part or have to order it, etc. So getting that fixed was another huge relief.

Now all I have to do is spend a couple of days raking, sweeping, watering, filling birdfeeders and writing my column and I’ll be almost caught up!

Underneath all the surface activity (or inactivity)…my heart is kind of bleeding for our country, its people, its government, its spirit. One thing about leaving home is that you are exposed to points of view and ways of thinking and life that are not shocking, exactly, but deeply depressing. One thing about airports and car dealerships is that you are forced to see if not listen to an endless stream of incomprehensibly demoralizing crap from television screens (in fact, unable to bear the TV voices any longer, after a while I went outside the dealership yesterday and sat in the broiling sun).

Why would anyone want to watch a wrestling match or cheesy home improvement show when they could be schlepping miles through an airport, starving to death, in existential torment/loneliness, quivering with excitement at the prospect of making it through a whole day on cheese, crackers and dried fruit, and weirdly, triumphantly joyful because it is all, all, all an offering; a laying down of body, blood, effort, heart for the citizens who are barricaded in their homes with their arsenals of weapons, for the suburbanites whose lives are so circumscribed they look upon a person who takes a simple walk around the neighborhood as a dangerous oddball and a threat, for the drug-addled ranting on the streets of Washington, DC (“God is delivering us from Babylon–WHITE PEOPLE!“).

For the many friends and strangers who hosted me, took me out to eat, listened to my talks, fed me, accompanied me to Mass, guided, helped and welcomed me.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

The thing about travel, or this mode of travel) is that it appeals to my attraction for extremes. Extreme (if mostly self-imposed) discomfort (under the best of circumstances); extreme gratitude and relief upon returning home.

I don’t know WHY everyone doesn’t do things MY WAY!!

17 Replies to “MY WAY”

  1. Alicia in Tampa says: Reply

    As usual, Heather, your writing is just the thing to stir me from the doldrums. Thank you. I wonder if St. Andrew’s Abbey is where you are becoming, or have become, an oblate. I look forward to your further sharing about that endeavor. I’m curious about which books you were selling at the talk you gave in (I think) Virginia. Was it “Parched”? I recently bought “Fools for Christ,” and am savoring and being edified by it (ans with others that I have acquired, or borrowed from my local public library).

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Holy Desperation and Shirt of Flame, Alice–I brought 10 of the latter and they all sold and probably half of the 30 I ordered of the former, so it’s not as if NO books sold…this is always a problem with having books shipped–you never know so inevitably order either too few or too many…So glad you are liking Fools for Christ! And someone showed up at my talk with a battered copy of Parched, which I loved…thanks for the words of encouragement!

    2. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, St. Andrews, I’ve already written of it a few times… and for instance.

      1. Thank you!

  2. If you are ever in the Denver airport, there is an outside area you can reach at the end of the B concourse, I think. Oh the places you will go… 🙂

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh good to know, Carol–and that you can actually go outside in an airport is a TOTAL bonus! Probably someone, somewhere, has put together a guide to airports concentrating on the little nooks and crannies where introverts can go for a moment of solitude…If not, someone should!

  3. Beauitiful article Heather, I have been in the the airline industry for 40 years and my layovers are attending daily catholic mass and on occasion attending AA meetings throughout the world. The beauty of the Catholic faith is no matter what part of the world you are in, the readings of the mass are the same, we are in community as a faith. The beauty of AA is the same, no matter where you are in the world you can attend an AA group and be in community . I have always considered my job a sort of pilgrimage on every trip, Lord what do you have in store for me, in every encounter – the blessing of meeting new people and always spreading Gods light of love .Thank you Heather for being a light and for beings part of the solution in our world today- FIAT FIAT FIAT.
    Sister in Christ

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Colleen, how beautiful! Thank the Lord we have people like you flying the friendly skies and helping out us weary/excited travelers…There’s so much more to be said about travel as pilgrimage. As you say, each time, no matter how outwardly “routine” is an adventure…the people, the schedule, the hundreds of tiny details. So much has to go right for us to make our destination…and about 98% of it is completely beyond our control…so it’s a great opportunity to live in the moment…I’m always utterly astonished that the thing goes through more or less as planned…that somehow there’s always a bathroom, always someone to answer a question, always a snack if you really need it, I’ve always pretty much packed what I need…and as you say, always a Mass and a recovery meeting, the same the world over…Next stop: NYC via LaGuardia in August…Safe safe travels and thank you for all you do for us, Sister in Christ!

  4. Last Sunday, awaiting the 10:30 (last flight of the day) which arrived after 1 am, just as you said, I did the sit a bit near 2-3 generational families to enjoy their lovely reunions. After that, a walk around saying the Rosary, the Chaplet of Mercy, checking book shop, stopping at Information Desk to share riddles, then another sit a bit worked.
    Don’t you just love when a single sits down awaiting the enamorata? That is worth the wait. Airports do not have homeless or poor people so it’s usually joyful with kids, pets and tons of souls made in God’s image. We haven’t even discussed the Flight crew and other employees.
    Pilots are super conscientious, honest and diligent; remember, they have families too. I’d vote for anyone who worked as commercial pilot
    Re your power windows, the same just happened to moi. That master switch not only controls your windows but also door locks. Here in Tampa was $321. 200 for Honda dealer and rest for my local, honest family owned mechanic who services our volunteer emergency squad.
    Heather, thank you for loving our Catholic faith and telling us how you weave it through you livelong day. Blessings galore.!!!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes! Love all of this! You hit upon one major ray of light that shines in darkness in the Airport Experience, and that is children. I keep my eye out for them now and they are the bravest, most stalwart creatures, their little faces set with courage and forbearance as they’re yanked along clutching their stuffed elephant…the whole setup is hyperstimulating and overwhelming to the nth degree and–I’m talking about three- or four-year-olds–and you can see them struggling to take it all in and not burst into tears or collapse…Exactly the way I feel so my heart swells with commiseration! And as you say there’s a whole Mystical Body of people into whose hands we commend our bodies if not spirits when we fly, including the flight attendants, the pilots, the people who clean the bathrooms and empty the trash. the Starbucks barista. One of them left a lovely comment, reminding us that prayers emanate from many quarters other than our own…Thanks for taking the time and blessings galore to you as well…

  5. I was exhausted after reading your airport experience, it reminds me of why I really never look forward to airplane travel. When I do travel, I do try to make the best of my time at airports ….people watching…..I imagine that I am minor back ground character in a sit-com of other peoples lives for a brief moment I ordered a used copy of Wind, Sand and Stars last week, not knowing what really to expect. Thank you for sharing your airport sitcom.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Exactly, in a weird way an airport at any given moment is like a giant theater stage to which we’ve made a temporary entrance as a minor player/character actor…You have to descend (for the waiting in the airport and then the flight itself, a whole other “adventure”) into this state of kind of suspended animation, where you’re actually doing very little but that leaves you afterward utterly exhausted…It’s all pretty interesting and also trips are like snowflakes, ha ha, each one unique…Wind, Sand and Stars had many beautiful, DEEPLY felt passages and is of course especially poignant in light of the fact that Saint-Exupery died in a plane crash, the circumstances of which still remain a mystery. Also he and his friends were often delivering/transporting mail, a mission they took as a sacred honor and essentially were willing to die for…mail deliverers are a whole separate category of heroes…anyway, stay safe out and up there!

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    You are possibly the only person I would say to…….I wish’t you were my neighbour, dearest Heather!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh I would totally sweep the sidewalk in front of your place, and I’m very quiet! Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  7. Love this- from the aversion to selfies to the wonderful tips for flight and airport penance.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      If we think airports are hard, think of what refugees and migrants and the displaced must experience…thanks, Elizabeth!

  8. Melanie Poser says: Reply

    Because of my disabilities, l don’t travel. I can always count on your beautiful words to experience it in my mind.

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