Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Travelers: stay alert and pay attention

     It wasn’t a remarkable day by any stretch of the imagination. Nor was it a travel day that I will remember for any particular reason. Simply put, and not by any predetermined plan, I observed folks through a more empathetic lens.
     At 5:35 am the van taking me over to the airport arrived at my hotel. The driver, probably as old as me, and more than likely, due to circumstances unable to retire, hopped out and greeted me with the prescribed, “good morning.” He loaded my suitcases systemically into the rear. He knew what he was doing.
     I noticed a worn copy of a paperback thriller – the latest Jack Reacher – folded cover up on the dashboard along with a red plastic container with food for his break time making the repetitive job go by faster.
     He followed the same polite routine he had perfected picking up additional passengers before leaving me off at the airport. “Have a nice day.”

     I looked into his weary eyes and wondered how long his day would be, and if there was a second job to contend with, too. I hoped not.  If it was so, he gave the impression that he could handle whatever was put on his plate.  
     After getting my ticket and passing through security, I had time in the departure lounge. Normally, I enjoy watching other travelers and their behaviors. However, I gazed beyond seeking out the unobtrusive folks in their place of work.   
     At 6:40 am I spotted a middle-aged woman cleaner coming down the long hallway. She had her routine down pat, and would methodically take out the green trash bag and replace it with a blank expression on her face.
     Where was her mind? Perhaps, she was worried about the bills that were overdue waiting on her kitchen table. Did she take care of an elderly mother? There is no way that I would ever know, but I reminded myself to be a little more appreciative of all the people who work keeping the airport clean and safe.

     As the cleaning lady headed further on down the way, I saw that she was limping a little bit hanging onto her cart, and her ankles in her serviceable black shoes appeared swollen. That dull ache must hurt unmercifully, and day in and day out, it had to be wearing on her body shuffling miles to clean up after the rest of us.

     At 9:10 am I was at another airport in another city and seated in a café for a midmorning snack. The counter was relatively empty and a couple of young waitresses were at the end of the row sharing pictures from their phones back and forth with a lot of giggling. One noticed me and came over quickly, greeted me with a grin and handed me a menu.
     “You two seem pretty happy over there. What’s going on?” I asked.
     You get proficient at small talk as a frequent flyer, and I was tired of those superficial spurts and babbles. I wanted engagement with a human being, and the waitress seemed to be a good prospect for a more meaningful conversation.
     The waitress proceeded to tell me about her kids in a school play last night, and that one of them had been back to school for only a week after surgery. She didn’t explain any further. Her friend was showing photos of her kids and their new puppy.
     She walked over to put in my order and I checked my iPhone messages. When it was time for me to leave, the waitress came over and gave me a big smile. “Hope your day goes well.”
      “You, too,” I said. “ Bet you can’t wait to get home?”
     I broke the stereotypical image of a traveler oblivious to those around her space, and surprised the waitress with a moment of kindness. And I left a decent tip, too, which I always do in thanks.
     At noon my plane landed. While waiting on the tarmac for the pod to connect, I watched the organized frenzy of the baggage handlers beginning to put the luggage on the cart for pick up at the gate entrance. Each one worked in tandem with his colleagues and it seemed flawless.

     One particular guy wearing a Denver Broncos cap covering his ears, was bopping to music on his headset noticeably out of sync with his fellow handlers, but no one appeared to mind. He had strong arms that hoisted suitcases with the ease of a weight lifter.
     He would take a few extra steps to display a dance move just knowing that a planeload of people were watching, or maybe he didn’t care, and he was in his own world of merriment hoping to audition for “Dancing With the Stars.” He made me laugh. Certain people know how to make the most of the mundane.
     By 1:05 pm I was where I was suppose to be, and tomorrow the day would start all over again. More hair-raising gate transfers. Chaotic terminals. Meals on the-run.
     Putting my sight to good use made me a more compassionate traveler today. I was not blinded to those quiet folks who assisted me getting from point A to point B.
     When I lay my head down on the pillow in a strange room, a van driver, cleaning lady, waitress and baggage handler raced through my mind. They were getting ready to start a new day. Thankfully, I had a little more time for sleep.