My wife and I don’t like to travel. She hates flying. I hate being away from my desk. Also, frequently when we travel it involves seeing our families and that’s no fun for anyone.
A few years ago when we had to go east for the Holidays it dawned on us that almost everybody we encountered was in much the same state of disoriented discomfort . Airports are really just food courts full of the under slept and the disgruntled. We made it our mission to be better natured, more patient, more charming and more generally cheerful than any luggage-dragging, flight-delayed traveler has any right to be. Whenever we travel, we strive to project a sense of joy and ease so that we do not add to the general level of stressed negativity in the world around us. We call this ‘wearing our travel faces,’ and the moment we adopted the habit, travelling became significantly less miserable, our families significantly less intolerable and the moving walkways more like a goofy amusement park ride than a series of conveyor belts for human cattle gliding through the shopping mall of the damned.
Recently, a paycheck I had been eagerly awaiting came with a note suggesting that I wait ten days before depositing it on the same day that new loud renters moved into the condo next door to our home. On my way home from a gig at which the producer had asked me if I could cut my prepared story from twelve minutes down to seven – and then five – I sent my wife a text from the shoulder of the 405. “Triple A is coming to help me with a flat tire,” I typed with my thumbs.
She responded, “Call me when you’re rolling again. The garage door opener burned out so I’ll come open it by hand.”
I thought about how much garage door repair was likely to cost. I thought about the check I couldn’t deposit for a week and a half. I put my hands in my pockets against a chill, freewayside drizzle. My phone made its little “you’ve got a text” noise and I pulled it out to look at it. My wife had typed at me, “Breathe and smile when the tire guy gets there. Travel faces for everyone.” I thought about the guy who had to drive around in the rain all night changing other people’s tires and how amazing my wife is to think of such things when she’d just learned that she would be covering all the dog-walking responsibilities alone in the rain while I waited for the repair truck.
I made friendly conversation when the guy arrived and chatted with him while he worked. The Auto Club covered the cost of the service, so I tipped the guy twenty bucks and he smiled in a way that made me think the he had not felt valued and appreciated in quite a while.
People talk a lot about how life is a journey, not a destination as though that holds the key to happiness. I don’t think that’s really it at all. I don’t think it’s about the journey or the destination. I think it’s all about the travelers. It’s easy to let ourselves turn into angry passengers, helpless in a world of air currents and weather patterns, moving sidewalks and unmoving doors. But with just a little bit of conscious effort, we can smile, chuckle at the delays and make sure that through the vagaries of the voyage we remain, all of us, good traveling companions.