Monday, March 20, 2006

Get Me to My Flight on Time

When it comes to arriving at airports, there are two types of people: those who relish cutting it close and those who like to arrive nice and early. I'm emphatically the latter, married to the former.

One could say that airport arrival strategy reflects one's entire philosophy of life. Since I'm a worrier (as anyone who reads my blog regularly will know), I always plan for the worst. So, naturally, a trip to the airport must take into account the possibility of a dire traffic jam, long check-in lines, and still-longer security lines, followed by random selection for a special search (resulting in complete pat-down and removal of every last item in my meticulously-packed carry-on bag).

My husband, Eric, suffers from none of these concerns. Though he devotes considerable energy to worrying about the likelihood of catastrophic events (asteroids, pandemics, earthquakes), he never sweats the small stuff. He assumes traffic will be moderate and we'll breeze through check-in. Should security lines be long, he reasons, they'll move us to the head of the line if our flight is about to depart.

Eric wouldn't necessarily agree with my characterization of him as a risk-preferring, last-minute arriver. Instead, he sees himself as an eminently sane traveler, able to rationally gauge how long it will take to get to the airport and make his way through security. As he sees it, he leaves enough time, but not too much. To him, more than half an hour at the gate is
way too much.

I, on the other hand, regard myself as the sane one. Airports are pretty pleasant places these days--no smoking, more places to eat and shop once you get past security, even wi-fi. How delightful to arrive and make it through security with an hour to spare and plenty of seats available at the gate, where I can settle down with a Starbucks decaf mocha and a good book. Even our dog, Cosmo, a frequent traveler, seems to like the airport ambiance and is content to sit on my lap and take in the scene.

Eric had hoped that the new automated check-in systems would speed things up so he could convince me we didn't need to arrive quite so early. But Cosmo put the kibosh on that pipe dream. Automated check-in isn't permitted when you bring a pet along. This means we have to wait in the regular check-in line, the one that's always the longest. No more curbside check-in for us, let alone the automated kind.

Recently, Eric made a valiant gesture, a peace offering in our ongoing airport-arrival struggle. For my birthday, he presented me with a certificate (laminated and indestructible) declaring that he'll leave for the airport as early as I want. Fabulous, as far as it goes. The certificate guarantees acquiesence, but doesn't promise the acquiesence will be entirely gracious. Eric still can't quite hide his disbelief when I suggest a good time to leave for the airport, generally an hour before he'd like to leave. Still, he's lived up to his end of the bargain and my travel bliss is almost complete. Now, if only I could get him not to go off in search of a magazine just as the plane is about to board.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Very Small Circle of Friends

I was working on the Monday New York Times Crossword Puzzle and the clue was "Indian city of 13 million." I had the first letter, "D", so it took no time to fill in the blank spaces with "elhi"--Delhi. Just when I was feeling smug because, with that word, I'd managed to finish the easiest puzzle of the week, it hit me--thirteen million people, and I don't know a single one of them. In fact, take all one billion or so people on the subcontinent--I'm not acquainted with even one human being. Add China, Indonesia, Russia--don't know anyone who lives there, either. In France, I have one friend and a few relatives I've never met; in England, a lovely couple we met on a recent visit. And that's about it. If the world is a global village, I must live on the moon.

The extreme narrowness of my acquaintance first struck me forcefully during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Like most Americans, I was horrified and riveted by the unfolding scenes of chaos in New Orleans. I have neighbors who were concerned about friends and relatives made homeless by the storm. But I realized that I myself don't know a single person who lives in the entire state of Louisiana, let alone New Orleans, unless you count a friend's daughter who attends Toulane and an old college friend who, last time I checked, teaches there. I can't even claim an old college friend for Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico, or Utah. And the list goes on.

I've lived in places that can justly lay claim to being cosmopolitan--
Manhattan, Boston, Palo Alto, Chicago, Miami--and I've regarded myself as someone with friends from many different backgrounds. On reflection, though, that's not quite true. My friends may have different religions, different professions, different ethnic origins, but most of them, like me, grew up in intact middle-class families, went to good colleges, moved to suburban locales to raise their kids, and currently live in or around Boston.

I love my friends. I just wish I had a few from more far-flung places. All these years I've thought of myself as worldly and sophisticated. Turns out I'm just a small-town girl with a very small circle of friends.