Friday, May 29, 2015

Transporting myself to Toronto

On the way from my home town to Toronto this Wednesday, I got stuck in the Philadelphia airport for about eight hours.

Being stuck in airports is a bit of a specialty of mine.  When flights are getting cancelled right and left, I play a secret game I call "Be the most cheerful person in the airport."  I'm freaking-good at this game: someone grumps at their kids, and I make the kids an origami frog.  I win!  Someone else snarls at the ticket agent, and I smile at the agent.  Another win!  Clumps of travelers huff in frustration that the flight got cancelled, and I give thanks that we're safe on the ground instead of plummeting to our death in a plane that got struck by lightening.  Yay!  I win again!  

I have a personal reason for being so cheerful during long layovers:  airports are actually one of my most productive work zones.  As long as I can get away from the television screens and their waah-whah-waah noises, I find that an airport is a perfect mix of stimulation and lack-of-distraction.  I'm away from kids and colleagues, and sometimes I'm even cut off from the internet, so the usual distractions in my life are removed.  But the setting is unfamiliar enough and noisy enough that I'm not inclined to sleep or daydream.  So I get lots of writing and reading done.  An enforced airport layover can be a bit of a blessing in disguise (with non-negligible emphasis on "disguise", of course).
Avoid the TVs!!!!

Bringing along supplies is crucial.  I never expect that the job of the airlines is to entertain me or feed me, so I come prepared with food, with my favorite travel scarf/blanket, with books that I can read and then toss, and with a pile of long-postponed work.

While the East Coast thunderstorms were busy grounding flights in Philly, I got busy in my own way.  I solved a math problem that a former-student-now-colleague wrote for me, and then wrote up a blurb about the problem that we'll get to use in our next book.  I put finishing touches on a talk I'd be giving at the conference I was going to.  I banged out a bunch of emails.  And I even had time to read a few chapters of a book that had been sitting in my suitcase, waiting for the next airport delay.

So it was a lovely coincidence, as I was surrounded by many stressed-out people, sitting in this hugely industrialized, hugely noisy, and hugely commercial place, that I got to re-read Thoreau's On Walden Pond.  That grumpy old curmudgeon, he says I shouldn't have flown to Toronto at all; he says it would have been cheaper just to walk.
One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the [train] cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country."  But I am wiser than that.  I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.  I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is 30 miles; the fare ninety cents.  That is almost a day's wages.  I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road.  Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have traveled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and then arrive there sometime tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.  Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.
Travel has gotten somewhat more expensive in absolute terms (the IRS puts driving 30 miles at $17.25 as opposed to 90¢), although less expensive in real terms.  But the relative cheapness of travel means we're inclined to wander farther.  My own trip costs about $500, including airfare and shuttles and such, for a journey of  400 miles each direction.  I'm not inclined to walk 800 miles instead of driving or flying, y'know?

But even if I don't transport myself in the walking sense, I'm happy to transport myself into realms of productivity; I didn't walk my way to Toronto, but I worked my way to Toronto.  Thoreau would not approve; he would have tsk-tsked the whole mass-transit situation.  But he also would have sucked at the Airport-Cheerful game, giving me yet another chance to win a round, leaving me the undisputed, reigning Cheerful Champion of the Philadelphia International Airport.   Game, Set, and Match!


  1. Good for you!! I take water and food also; on my trans-pacific flight I also had my Pashmina, a gift from a dear friend who has lots more money than I do. I bring reading material too. This trip though I didn't lug my laptop along, but I did use my daughter's while I was with her. Congrats on solving the math problem, I have little aptitude for that sort of thing. I hated word problems about coins in a pocket--just take them out and count the darn things! LOL I did study accounting and can balance a checkbook to the penny every time, so I guess I'm good for something.

    1. I had to look up "pashmina" -- but hah! We're sisters!

      I have a cotton version (not wool) that I carry with me. In fact, I'd been working on a blog post about this, because I love it so much. Now I'll have to get to work on that. -MM

  2. practicing gratitude, yes being grounded is less bad than plummenting, and your "winning" (LOL) attitude are wonderful, this made me smile

    1. Thanks so much. It's definitely worth bonus points in the game if you can make other people smile, too.

      By the way, on the way back home from Toronto I totally lost a round to a 5-year-old kid. He was thrilled with EVERYTHING. "Look, Dad! Trees!!!! Look, Dad!! Cars!!! Look, Dad! The wheels are coming out of the plane!!!" He made everyone on the whole plane smile.

  3. I try to be cheerful in airports because so many people are having bad days, but I've never thought to make it a competition. I think this idea will help me up my airport cheerfulness game! (Maybe we will meet in an airport someday and have a cheerful showdown.)

    1. A cheerful showdown would be awesome. That's a plan! (Maybe we could even form our own team and compete nationally . . . )