My grandmother dresses up when she flies. She wears nice pants and nice shoes and a nice blouse and gets her hair done the day before. Traveling brings out the best in her. Husband does this, too, and usually travels with a jaunty hat, even though I ask him, “Are you sure that won’t bother you if you want to sleep on the plane?” He always says yes and wears it anyway, usually giving it to me to hang onto while he sleeps. I like to be comfortable, though not as comfortable as the teenagers in their sweats so baggy the bottoms drag on the dirty airport floor.
People in movies are always telling lies on airplanes. When your bags are stowed safely overhead, you can be anyone, from any place. Except not really.
One month after my twentieth birthday, I moved into the dorms at Tulane University in New Orleans for a summer internship. I remember landing in the South, leaning into the thick airplane window, listening to Ryan Adams, and marveling at the swampy marshes below. It was one of my first experiences with real independence, and I felt so grown. The three bulging suitcases waiting for me at the baggage claim marked me as an inexperienced traveler. Also, the fact that my mom flew out with me.
I spent most of law school denying the fact that I was still living in an insulated academic fake world. But my tortoiseshell backpack always gave me away on the plane.
The overwhelmed mom, whose life seems perfect and easy when you run into her on the internet or the street, can’t hide how loud those kids are on the plane. What’s more, the kids, and her mom-ness, are all anybody can see.
The self-important people give themselves away with their impatience as they wait for the plane to unload and insist on cutting in front of the little families to grab their perfectly-sized carry-on bags.
The list of travel stereotypes goes on: the religious nuts, the elderly folk just back from visiting their children, and the vacationers.
These days, the musicians stand out to me, with their knit hats and road cases covered in punk rock stickers. I think, I used to be one of you. And I did. For years, I carried my acoustic guitar everywhere with me, on the off-chance I might get an hour or a second to play.* But I’m not anymore, and I can’t hide it. Even though I feel more like one of them, or like one of those pretty girls in a gauzy skirt with nothing but a notebook and pen (or, these days, an iPad), on the outside I’m a lawyer. Suit. Briefcase. Blackberry. All of the things I stash away in a closet the second I get home from work. I’m okay with this. The musicians are all younger than seems possible and will probably be wearing suits themselves in a few years.
*I carried it when I traveled I mean, to other cities. I wasn’t like the guy at every party ever who forces everybody to listen to his bad covers (although, to be fair, the bad covers are generally better than the original creations).