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olivia’s stations and trails – month one

January 28, 2010

Anticipation is innate to travelling. After you set the departure date, you wait for it to arrive. The night before you leave, you don’t pack what you need; you pack for the possibilities. Depending on how you’re getting there, you wait to board. When you’re en route, you’re just waiting to get to the destination.

Once you’re there, you realize that while you planned specific moments, there’s a bunch of in-between stuff that didn’t make it into the itinerary. And because the in-between stuff is mostly a multitude of perfect little blank slates, you can fill them in with whatever happens. If you don’t, you just wait for the next thing on the schedule.

I’m all about the in-between stuff. Like most people, I have some sort of plan when I get to a new and exciting place: a few tourist traps, a few local gems, signature foods and drinks. And in between, I’ll be on a street I’ve never heard of, see something that’s other-worldly to my eyes, and have a closer look. This is usually when I make up my own little stories of the place I’m in. I imagine the glory days of the now-abandoned Joe Clarke’s Celtic Crafts, and I wonder about Joe Clarke. There’s the oddity of how junk food is packaged in a completely different way in other countries, sometimes it even has a whole other name. And a favourite is eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, and listening to the accent; or, if the language is unknown to me, I have even more fun guessing what they’re talking about based purely on their intonations.

Another important in-between is the time you spend in stations, between A and B. It’s rare that anything of note happens, but because you’ve got nothing better to do, you pay attention.

On the day we finally left Orlando (too much waiting goes on there), a woman and her young son went to the check-in counter at the airport. American Airlines, I’m not afraid to say, has gotten into the rotten habit of not assigning seats until the last possible minute so they can oversell flights. The woman asked the ticket agent if she could ensure that her son be seated next to her. “I’ve got a 10-year-old,” she said politely, “and it would probably be more pleasant for everyone if we stayed together.”

Meanwhile, said 10-year-old, no doubt seeing that I was clearly spying on his mother, approached me. “Can I sit here?” he asked, pointing to the chair next to mine. “Sure,” I said. And then the chatter began. Mostly his. It would start with a question, like, “are you just getting back from the holidays?” And no matter what my response was, he made sure to answer his own question in turn. I could see what the mother was worried about. I was a chatty kid too. You never know what’ll come out of our mouths, especially if an unwitting adult indulges us in banter. His mother didn’t want to risk any inappropriateness, but it’s funny that her son wouldn’t at all see it as irreverence.

I was struck with how comfortable the 10-year-old was with strangers. “He’ll score on Frosh Week,” I thought to myself. His mother eventually found two chairs next to one another in the waiting area, so he joined her and promptly started yakking with the elderly gentleman to his left. Later, on the flight, he was seated near my husband and, recognizing him, provided regular reports on his experience. Luckily the flight only lasted 2 hours.

And then we were at Chicago O’Hare, with only a few minutes to spare between landing and boarding our flight to Dublin. Even with such a short in-between, waiting is a sport at Chicago O’Hare. It’s a merciless jungle of overlapping priorities, and you’re on par with everyone else.

Incidentally, George Wendt was signing books at Hudson News. If you’ve ever been to Chicago O’Hare, you’ll understand how it’s an accomplishment that I even noticed.

Olivia Collette

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