Monday, September 5, 2011

Travel is exhausting but worth it

Here are a few observations from our quickie weekend trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., for the wedding of nephew Mark:

• Airport security is pretty ridiculous. You have to be at the airport two hours before the flight. Even on Labor Day weekend Friday at RDU, a very busy airport, we ended up with more than an hour to kill after getting through security. On our return flight on Sunday, the airport was nearly deserted. The Transportation Security Agency agents outnumbered passengers by about eight-to-one. Apparently just to amuse themselves, an agent announced that he needed to open my bag and look inside. He opened the bag, took out a container of talcum powder and announced he'd have to test the powder. He shook some powder out of the original manufacturer's container, releasing enough powder to kill everyone in the airport if it had been anthrax, and carefully dropped two liquids onto the powder he had captured on a little square of paper. "Looks good," he said, then took a plastic probe and ran it through my suitcase before sending the bag back through the X-ray machine again. The whole process must have relieved their Sunday morning boredom.

• We tend to think of where we live or where we were reared as the best place to be, but I found myself intrigued with the Grand Rapids area. Major roads have no development — commercial or residential — abutting the roadway. It's all set back behind trees and other greenery. A wide sidewalk paralleled the road, even rural roads, giving people a place to walk or bicycle. What a great idea! Michigan seems designed for outdoor activities — kayaking, canoeing, biking, running, etc. And the topography is beautiful — forested rolling hills similar to what you might find in the Morganton or Mount Airy area. Of course, we were there in September, not February. I suspect the winters are brutal.

• When first invited to the wedding in Grand Rapids, my first thought was "home of the Gerald Ford Presidential Library." We didn't make it to the presidential library, nor did we make it to the famed gardens my wife wanted to visit. A two-day whirlwind trip left almost no time for personal activities.

• For the first time in more than 15 years, I rented a car. The agency gave us a "free upgrade" to a larger sedan instead of the compact we had reserved. I got to drive a Hyundai Sonata, which was roomy and drove beautifully. From my couple of days' experience, I'd say the Sonata is a rational alternative to an Accord or a Camry.

• Trips are exhausting and discombobulating. The rush to get to places on time, the unfamiliar surroundings, the anxieties, the scheduled activities all combine to tire you out. Being one place one minute and a thousand miles away three hours later plays tricks on your brain and your body. I'm convinced that humans were not meant to travel like that. Even a weekend car trip of a couple of hundred miles wears me out.

• There are occasions when it's important to "be there." Saturday's wedding was one of those occasions. Although I gulped at the distance and expense when I first learned of these wedding plans, there was never any question that we would go. Weddings are joyous occasions for bride and groom, and it is essential for them to be launched into their new life by those who have played important roles in their original, separate lives. You need to be there to see them off and to keep them close for the rest of all of your lives. Some of my greatest regrets in my life have to do with the funerals I missed. They were too far away; I had too many other things to do; the timing didn't fit my schedule. I missed final goodbyes to beloved aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandfather. At the same time, I missed helping support and feeling the love of grieving family members. It has been said that distant family members too often only see each other at weddings and funerals. Don't miss any opportunities.

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