Traveling was supposed to be glamorous. At least it was in the mind of my mid-1980s, ninth-grade, small-town, Catholic-school-girl self. Maybe it was the AAA magazine that arrived in our mailbox every month, luxuriant palm trees and cyan skies on the cover, begging me to pore through it. Or the glossy pages of French Elle -- "robes de printemps elegant!" -- that my high school teacher let me borrow. Quite possibly it was the actors on now classic TV programs, the men with their fedoras, the women with their pearls, holding flutes of bubbly and engaging in flirty, pun-filled banter as they flew the friendly skies. Whichever it was, I believed that air travel as an adult would spell G-L-A-M-O-U-R as effortlessly as a sixth grader spells 'marscapone' in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Stepping out of my endless black limousine, I'd give a gracious nod to the skycaps as they gingerly retrieved my matching designer luggage. Once inside, the jetway would transform into my own personal catwalk as I sashayed to the gate, strangers wondering who I was, where I was going, and with whom.
Fast forward the reel to "Present Day," and I have been completely disabused of that notion. Air travel is anything but glamorous; it is diametrically opposed to the concept. Our arrival at the airport is usually with a group of strangers in a shuttle service that looks like a Dalmatian on wheels. Skycaps are now nonexistent, rendering it necessary to stumble over curbs and through ever-present construction zones with your bags. In the security queue, you must remove your shoes and walk on the grimy floor, exposing you to who knows what and destroying the fashion look you painstakingly put together in one fell swoop. A TSA agent inspects your luggage via x-ray, becoming intimately apprised of any feminine hygiene products you may use. If you've brought a sack lunch, another imposing agent will paw through it with a filthy wooden stick of unknown origin and whereabouts. If you're lucky, and the TSA agents on duty are well-fed and well-slept, it can be mildly pleasant and halfway efficient. If you're not lucky, you may encounter the dreaded drunk-with-power TSA agent who didn't make it as a drill sergeant and has found the perfect opportunity to be one here. One final note -- if your son collects snow globes and on your trip to Maui, buys one with a jellyfish enclosed inside of it, this will look like a grenade as it goes through the x-ray machine and your underwear and other unmentionables will go flying through the air as all hell breaks loose.
There was one trip where my original vision was made manifest, my sophomoric dreams fully realized. It was last summer, this beau voyage, on the mystical island of Bali. As we stepped off the breezeway and entered the airport in Denpasar, the eyes in every available head turned to my family. There was a look of wonder, of surprise, as if we were exotic birds on parade. Apparently African-Americans are not plentiful in those parts, and it is rare for the locals to see those with a chocolate-dipped skin tone up close and personal. A lean 6'3" with a salt- and-pepper goatee, my husband Tim probably appeared to be a newly retired NBA player. I walked by a group of Balinese women and heard whispers of "Michelle Obama" as I passed. As we went through customs, claimed our luggage, and engaged a shuttle, numerous people approached us, requesting to take a picture with us or shake our hands while offering a warm greeting. Our kids loved it. Hell, Tim and I loved it. So this was what paparazzi was all about. The experience was so sublime that I couldn't fathom celebrities' negative reaction to it. There was no need to punch anyone, or spout profanities and have goons usher people away. Just let it happen!
But alas, that experience was a rare one. It was back to all of the usual indignities on our next trip. On this journey, TSA had airport dogs on hand to sniff passengers' luggage. One of the dogs sniffed the luggage of a woman who was in line to my right, then went around to her rear and sniffed her bottom. The agents quickly pulled the dog away and scolded it, but not without a good laugh amongst themselves. Those of us who witnessed this looked at each other and shook our heads. Another day in the not-paradise that has become airline travel.
If I want back on my glamorous fantasy high horse, er, plane, I probably need to start flying first class. Rack up enough miles and become a VIP with access to expedited check-in and a sky lounge and some such. Or I could simply return to Bali.