Good morning, Guten Morgen, Góðan dag! The Chronic Traveler has landed in Portland, Oregon, her beloved hometown!
Can you tell I am excited?
Already I have savored my favorite restaurant Gustav’s, the best German restaurant in town. Sipped the frothy and intense smoothness of a good German brew. Walked in the rain, allowing the mist to wash over me as if a baptism back into the fold of where I grew into who I am. Laughed until I cried with my parents – mostly out of sheer exhaustion – over a home-cooked salmon dinner. Read the morning paper, thrilled to see articles about my soccer team, the Portland Timbers. Envied my brother as he regaled me with stories of Timber Army fandom at the soccer matches (the Timber Army fans are a breed apart. I want to enlist. Badly.)
It was a long day of travel, starting insanely early when the alarm drug me out of blissful sleep into the harsh reality that it was still pitch black outside, the house was chilly, frost still held the garden captive, and it was 3:00 a.m. Yes, I set my alarm to that time, and yes, I still cursed and threatened its existence.
Several cups of super-strong jet fuel coffee and smarting, throbbing stubbed toes later, as I tried to quietly get ready without waking my slumbering husband, I emerged out into the pre-dawn day to catch the first flight out of the tiny regional airport. The birds weren’t even singing yet. Now that’s early!
Being just home from a several week sojourn in the Nordic world, I am still battle-ready for flying and packing and the rhythms of travel. But I was in for a rude awakening. After the ease of flying between Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, I had been lulled into forgetting just how frenzied and stressful US domestic flying can be. Oh, my frayed nerves, may they ever recover!
The regional airport in Appleton, Wisconsin is still a breeze, but suddenly seemed huge – larger than Reykjavik Domestic Airport or even the airport in the Faroes. A cavernous atrium of already weary Americans in suits and sweats, clutching tattered books and laptop suitcases as their dazed expressions broadcast their bewilderment at being up so early.
The real shock, however, came upon landing at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I avoid O’Hare like the plague, whenever possible. If I am going to experience delays, cancellations, irate passengers and bored, uncaring airline employees, it will always be here. Not to mention the intense bustle and hive of hundreds of people and multiple terminals. My senses were attacked on all sides. No one seemed happy. Everyone was in a hurry. Life is one big rush-hour freeway in the world of American air travel. Manners and courtesy fly out the window.
I already needed a quiet bubble in which to deep-breathe and recharge and I still had the long 4 hour flight to Portland ahead of me. Oh, how Iceland and the Faroes spoiled me with their ease and friendliness and romance of glamorous flying. It was time to dig deep down into my reserves of travel experience and rely on the trick that always gets me through. Bury my head in a book, tune out the noise with my headphones, and go into hibernation until I emerge from my self-imposed bubble at my destination.
It worked. Even through the seatmate who loudly complained about everything and could not be pleased by anything. Not even when the flight attendant kindly brought her a pillow and some coffee. The gentleman whose head almost burst as he fumed over the flight attendant’s request that he place his big jacket under his seat to free up space in the overhead compartment. The screaming baby, the kicking toddler, the general state of unhappiness in this large, cramped flying tin-can.
I tuned it all out, aware but detached. Mission accomplished.
And as we descended into Portland, the clouds thick with moisture – the clouds briefly parted and the sun illuminated the mountains, as if God wanted to welcome me home.
I walked out into the rain and gray of my hometown and sighed with contentment. There is no place like home.