Rest Stop

Thanksgiving time is hands down the busiest time of travel here in the United States.

It is estimated that there will be about 24 million people scuffling through the airports during the Thanksgiving season. If you think that is an impressive number already, that is only a very small portion of all travelers, as 90% will be traveling by car. And more than 50% of these road warriors will travel more than 100 miles.

If you are driving for long distances, you must be thankful for rest stops along the way, where you can pull over and stretch your legs, or take a toilet break, or even catch a few winks before you continue on the long road ahead. We have done long drives before and we appreciate the value of a rest area.

Iowa, where I reside now, is smack in the middle of America, and the house where I live is just 2 miles from I-80, which is a major road artery that connects the east and west of America. Interspersed along I-80 are some of the biggest and nicest rest areas you can find.

Though some friends of ours, who travelled from California to Toronto, or Michigan to California, or even shorter drive from Indiana to Colorado, and were passing through I-80, have stopped over our home for a break and a visit. Of course we did not charge them for bed and breakfast.

Yesterday morning, I learned that our place was some other form of rest stop as well. For the birds.

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I was out on my Sunday morning run, and as I approach a pond, I heard a ruckus. Lots of trumpeting and flapping. When I looked up there were flocks of geese circling above me.

They were taxiing for a landing.

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I realized that this season, with the winter approaching, is also a busy time of travel for the migratory birds, as they fly to warmer places. These birds travel from few hundred miles to several thousand miles depending on the species. Some will fly a few thousand miles non-stop until they reach their destination. While some will have some rest stop along the way.

Obviously these flocks of geese were stopping over in our place. Maybe it was for a quick bite and bathroom break. Maybe it was to cool their wings. Or maybe it was for a relaxing swim in the pond. Whatever it is, I believe it was due to our excellent accommodation. And we don’t charge them!

Below is a short video clip of this rest stop.

If only turkeys can travel and migrate too during this season. They would be flying (or running) away to some safer place. That is away from our dinner table. Yet the only rest stop they will end up this Thanksgiving is inside our belly. Aren’t you thankful you’re not a turkey?

In any case, wherever you are traveling to this holiday season, or wherever your final destination in your journey in this life, may you have a safe trip.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone)

Terminal Waiting

I already stated in a previous post that I really don’t like airports and terminals, because I associate them with goodbyes and separation. Just ask any overseas worker or an expat, and they most probably will agree with this sentiment.

Well there’s another reason that I abhor airports and terminals is because of the wait and the time-killing involved especially during long layovers. Not to mention if your connecting flight is delayed, then it can really be agonizing.

My last travel back home to the Philippines, which involved a total of 17 hours of flight time, with 2 connecting flights and layovers, includes a total of 23 hours from my airport of origin to my airport destination. That means I sit for 6 hours in an airport terminal just waiting. Six long idle hours waiting and doing nothing!

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Until I happen to have my layover in this terminal gate in Minneapolis, that killing time became a less tedious experience. In fact, it was even enjoyable.

The place was highly wired, with several televisions and many available (yes, empty!) seats with each individual iPad on them, with fast internet connection. The best part is it is free to use with no time limit as long as you are still in the terminal. Maybe they should offer this convenience with a cot so a weary traveler can even lie down and relax. That will be a dream layover!

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The annexing restaurant offers the same convenience of free iPad use and internet connection, with added benefit of ordering delicious food (though a bit pricey just like anything in an airport) and eating it in an unwinding atmosphere that you would not feel that you’re in an airport gate. But in truth, the terminal gate is a look away so you don’t have to worry of being left behind. However with these amenities, maybe you would like to be left behind.

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And what do you suppose I did with my almost three hours of layover in this terminal? I could not help it. I gave in. No, not the part of being left behind.

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Social Isolation

During our last trip, in a layover airport, while waiting to board in our connecting flight: here’s a snapshot of what I witnessed….

The terminal boarding gate was jam-packed with people. Almost all the seats were occupied. People were standing around, crowding the gate and hallways. Some were sitting on the floor as there were no more seats, and some were even lying (they must have been on a red-eye flight) on the ground. Perhaps some had several minutes to wait, while some had hours to kill. The minutes always seems slower in an airport terminal.

Aside from waiting to board the plane, there was also one thing that all were doing. They were either talking or texting on their phones, or typing or chatting on their laptops or tablets.

It is amazing that with our current technology, people can stay connected even how far away we are from home. We can speak, text messages, or on-line chat with our friends on the other parts of the world, even if they are in the international space station, and is literally out of this world. We even have virtual ‘friends’ in our Facebook, where we update them of our status (yes, even what we had for lunch) almost every minute. Or we can tweet messages and broadcast our thoughts (like in world domination) to the world. Or, like me, I can post something in my blog, and people whom I have never met can read and drop me a comment. These are people I would have never known otherwise, except through the wonders of the worldwide network.

I found an empty seat (a rare find!) and sat between two strangers. I pulled out the i-Pad, which we brought, mostly for the entertainment of ours kids during the long flight. I got busy too, checking on my ‘friends’. Sometimes I would lift my head and look around to the people around me, but all of them were absorbed, busy talking, and with their ear on the receiver of their phone, or their eyes transfixed on the glowing screen of their phone or computer, and their fingers preoccupied typing.

Then, a thought hit me. All these people cramped in one room, were all engaged in talking and communicating…….but not to each other.

Isn’t it ironic that the network that keeps us connected, also makes us isolated.

 

* (above image from here)

Goodbyes and Airports

I hate airports. No, it’s not because of the heightened security measures that impinge on our personal privacy. Nor it’s because of the long lines and wait times. Those certainly don’t help. But there is something more than those inconveniences that make me dislike airports.

Of course airport provides portals to different destinations and places. It may be the gateway to our dream that awaits us somewhere in the other part of the world. Or it may provide a getaway to an exotic place for a vacation. Yet airports to me has a different connotation.

Airports to me is a place where loved ones are taken away from their family. It is a place of separation. A place of painful goodbyes.

(image from here)

I can remember when I left for the first time for the US, leaving my family and friends, including my then girlfriend (now my wife) in the Philippines. The feeling was so heart-gripping and gut-wrenching, especially with my virtually unknown day of return. Yes, you may be excited to see the other side of the world, but leaving your known world and people who you love was never easy.

I know I share this feeling with millions of migrants, overseas contract workers (OCW) and their families. The feeling of utter loneliness of an OCW when he sits on the airport, waiting to board his designated plane, while the family that he left behind weeps, is maybe beyond what I can really express.

Two weeks ago, my wife had to go home to the Philippines for her brother’s funeral. And on her way, she took our kids to California to my sister-in-law, where they will stay until she gets back. When I brought them to the air terminal, the wave of unpleasant emotion I have for airports was rekindled. A certain sadness (yes, even though I knew they will be back in a couple of weeks) I thought I will never experience again.

The good thing about airports though, is that they also bring your loved ones back. That is, if they are destined to come back. This afternoon, I picked up my wife and kids from the airport.

I guess, airports can be a happy place too.