Yesterday, I had to fly to Louisville for a board meeting, just in time for the sequester cuts to start to reach airports. It took me as long to get from LaGuardia to Kentucky as it normally does to get to Merida. First, after we had boarded the plane, we learned that United’s co-pilot overslept or something, so the flight was going to be too late to meet my connection in Cleveland. Off the plane we went and back to the gate, a small basement area that was probably first designed as a holding cell for unruly passengers. An agent rebooked me on Delta, which I found had a brand new and beautifully designed terminal, and now I’m really hoping they resume their direct flights to Mérida from New York City. In the meantime, we have another Mérida trip coming up soon, via United, and I’m actually dreading the travel day.
It makes me think back to how travel has changed since 1974, the first time I flew on a plane.
1974: We leave glamorous (to a 9-year-old) Philadelphia International Airport to fly Delta to Disney World. How do I remember the airline? Because the pilot himself (who arrived on time) took the time to give me a little Delta logo pin to proudly wear on my shirt. Does that even happen anymore? I grew up in my grandmother’s house, which was kind of stuck in 1947, so I definitely remember the mod swivel chairs and burnt orange shag carpeting at
the Latham Hotel in Orlando, and spinning around in that chair shouting “luxuryyyyy!” On the color TV, I watched Nixon resign. I remember orange groves, but I also remember sipping orange juice through a straw from a plastic orange. I remember Disney a little, too, especially the haunted house, although I missed the opening of Space Mountain by just five months. That was the real cool ride back then. Travel was kinder to tourists back then. And pilots had real swagger.
1988: When I was just starting out in adulthood and planning my own vacations for the first time, the first trip I considered was Yucatán, which to me was just Cancun as a base to see Mayan or Aztec (I was fuzzy on this) ruins. I was young and there was no Google, just a color tri-fold brochure from a downtown travel agency who had a big terminal to check flight schedules, and even print out plane tickets. Then I learned of a kid from town who was in a Yucatecan jail somewhere, and her frantic mother was having trouble getting him bailed out. So I went to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf instead. How I wish I hadn’t chickened out, but anyone around back then will appreciate how hard it was to get information on anything. Now information is everywhere, and our big challenge is sorting out the junk from the real. So I traveled with complete naïveté. I loaded up on souvenirs from Pier One Imports, which I thought was a local shop with stuff you couldn’t get out East.
1990: My first foreign country came a year or two later. I chose England, a good “starter” country because they speak a language I can pretty much understand. A childhood of watching PBS helped me adjust to the accents. My big mistake was landing on a Sunday morning, finding much of London closed. I asked a policeman the directions to Trafalgar Square, where my hotel was. His accent was harder to cut through than I thought. The clerk at the hotel was kind of snotty and the room was awful. It had a plain ceramic sink by the bed, and the toilet and shower was down the hall, which I didn’t expect. I just checked out its ratings online, and it’s still bad. But for two weeks I was able to hop from hotel to b and b, with just my backpack and no reservations. Each town had a tourists’ aid booth with a nice little old lady to guide me. In Windsor/Eton, I nearly ended up on a park bench because of a big event at the race course, but word-of-mouth found me in possibly the last bed in town, the guest room of an Eton professor. In Brighton, on the coast, later, and the guesthouse proprietor there asked me to be his American contact so he could get ad rates for magazines in the States. Communicating across the Atlantic was expensive for a small-business owner. I traveled alone, and by the second week I had overdosed on cathedral tours. I lucked out at the airport, though, because no one was at immigration control, so we sailed through without delay. Europe was so distant back then.
Around the same time: Paul’s first trip to Mexico was also in his 20s, before we met. He traveled stag along with a couple, who had an infant in tow. He stayed at an all-inclusive Club Med in Ixtapa. All-inclusives are supposed to make your trip worry free, but when his parasailing experience went horribly wrong, and he grazed some treetops and just managed to avoid going splat into a wall. My first Caribbean trip was taken with an earlier significant other, who had planned to go parasailing, as it happens. I begged him not to, and the day we were scheduled to fly him like a kite off the back of a boat, the winds were too strong to do it. What a relief.
2001: The last time I was able to ignore security at the airport was on Sept. 10, 2001. Security could be awfully lax back then. Paul was flying back from North Carolina, and I went to meet him at the gate. Having no luggage, I just walked around the security checkpoint. You can’t even get to the gate without a boarding pass today, which is kind of a shame. I took the day off from work, and we had lunch in Greenwich Village. I always felt the Twin Towers towered a little too menacingly over my beloved Greenwich Village, and I remember looking at them that day thinking just that. I don’t think many people felt too warmly about the World Trade Center; the neighborhood around it barely felt like Manhattan. Who knew that in a day, it would become a symbol of freedom and national pride.
2004: Considering a catering career, Paul and I took a culinary course together. This being an early sign of our mid-life crisis. Our community college offers 4 credits to tour Paris for 10 days, looking at restaurant kitchens. I had not one memorable meal, at least memorable for the right reason. We visited the Eiffel tower, but only got up as far as the tower restaurant, which was interesting enough but geez – couldn’t the group leader have allowed us go to the top of the tower?
2008: Our first cruise happened just before Mérida landed on our radar. Mom gave it to us as a wedding present, and I supplemented the travel budget with money I earned selling a domain name I had parked. We saw Italy, Greece, and Turkey and spent all kinds of money we wouldn’t have spent had we known we’d soon be planning a second home in Mexico, which at that point wasnt on my will-visit-someday list. On board, we also discovered that we were not as middle-aged as we thought. Everyone else on the cruise seemed so much older, and sort of country-clubbish. A very bland country club. Only four people turned out to the Friends of Dorothy meeting, and I was kind of annoyed that the ship’s agenda would use such an antiquated euphemism to describe the meetup for gay and lesbian passengers.
Today, it looks like the air traffic controllers are getting refunded. Terminals are getting nicer and nicer and grungy ones (like United’s gate A1A at LaGuardia) are increasingly unacceptable. Oh, and I’m flying home from Louisville via United on Sunday. Connecting through Cleveland. Let’s see how that goes.