Standing Safely in the Steps of Another Person’s Horror

Barcelona El Prat Airport, February 2015

Barcelona El Prat Airport, February 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015, I traveled, along with Kyle, Eli, and my lovely and long-time friend Emily, from Rome to Barcelona, landing of course in Barcelona’s El Prat Airport. We flew a low-cost European carrier, Iberian owned, Vueling Airlines. As my boys correct me, “Mom, it is Welling, not Vueling,” I picture myself in a SNL sketch dressed as a circa 1983 lip-glossed flight attendant, with an Eastern-European-looking fur hat firmly attached to my big 1980’s hair.  In my mind, I begin speaking, and as the words escape, earnestly I replace the v’s with w’s.  “Thank you for flying, “Welling.”  I giggle out loud as I imagine my arms waving. Directing passengers to their seats I continue,  “We are wery happy you are flying with us.” Smacking my lip-glossed lips together I conclude, “Buckle up!  Now we fly you to wisit your willage. Ahoy!”

Dave, Kyle, Eli and I travel as much as possible.  I have mentioned our travel addiction before. When we are not day tripping, we are road tripping, and when we are not road tripping, we are flying. I am often asked “are you ever home?” And honestly, I do not know how to respond. When I do (depending on my mood), I answer with a warm laugh, maybe an eye roll, or by uttering the familiar cliché, “home is where the heart is.” In all seriousness, that is what I believe.  My home is wherever Dave and the boys happen to be.  Our life is nuts. It always has been. A life of travel compliments our insanity, and consequently our money, credit card points, and every free second is directed toward adventure. Most importantly, travel pushes us out of our familiar and constantly teaches us how to flexibly bob, weave, and adjust to our unpredictable everyday. We are currently living in a San Francisco Bay area hotel, by the way.  Our car was broken into two days ago. Bobbing and weaving is what we do.

European travel is my current favorite. Our trip to Rome, Barcelona and Southern France is our third trip to Europe in thirteen months.

Here is how we made this trip happen. We were flying to Europe on American Airlines miles. I could get us to Rome, but not fly us out of Rome.  Last time we were in Rome, we flew out of Milan, but this time, after working the Award-Miles system, I found that there were no flights out of Milan. Instead, I found that we could fly out of either Barcelona or Paris.  I am not a fan of gloomy weather, and I knew Paris in February was cold, wet and dark. I knew Barcelona was at least ten degrees warmer and sits on the sea. We also wanted to hit the road once Dave arrived midway through our journey. I knew if Paris was anything like London, and I have been told it is, that it would be hard to get out of Paris by car. Plus, we were traveling right after the Charlie Hebdo attack. I knew my mom wanted to know we would be safe, meaning she wanted to know that we would avoid Paris. I opted for the warmer weather, easier access, and my mom’s peace of mind. It was that simple – a dice roll of pros and cons.

Flying between European countries is most economical, even cheaper and faster than taking the train (sorry to burst your bubble, Europass-backpack-romantics).  Using online forums, research, and now our personal experience, I have deduced that low-cost European carriers are the best way to get from point A to point B, if not the only way.  Most of the low-cost carriers are owned by larger airlines.  Vueling is owned by the Spain-run Iberian Airlines. Lufthansa owns Germanwings, and if a major airline does not own a low-cost carrier, and you buy your ticket through major airline, you will most likely be flown on a low-cost carrier regardless.  Along with Vueling, we have flown intra-Europe on EasyJet, Flybe, and British Airways.  In truth, I didn’t see much difference between British Airways and EasyJet, for example. Meaning on all of these airlines if you want any food or beverage, you pay for them. It seems like today on both low-cost and major airlines the flight attendants operate like sales associates, advertising their goods the entire flight, even trying to sell the passengers jewelry. Yes, jewelry.

Our Rome to Barcelona travel day was typical, which meant I would insist on early airport arrival. And here is how I would get us to the airport on time. First, I would not sleep the night before (not a wink).  I would also pack the night before (and re-packed the next morning). I would set my alarm to go off at two separate times (3:30 am and 3:45 am – done).  I  wake up before my alarm goes off (I did), only to have it go off while I was in the shower (that happened). I would second-guess my steps (always), and thus to help me unravel my second-guessing, I would constantly Skype my travel agent, Dave (done, did, and photo verification included here). Dave is a most awesome Skype back-up, by the way.  I would triple check everywhere and everyone (just ask). “Where are our boarding passes and passports?” I exclaimed! To which the boys would answer, “Mom. Look, See. They are in your hand.” Travel days never get easier.

Skype-ing with Big Daddy

Skype-ing with Big Daddy

I wanted my boys to feel safe, even though I was utterly confused (on the inside).  I arranged for a car to pick us up, which is a big deal, because I make my boys walk everywhere, or take public transportation.  At 6:55 am our car arrived, and we said goodbye to Rome, the place I like to call Disneyland-town, Italy. We drove through the city reminiscing about what a great trip it had been. Let me add this travel tip: if you need a travel companion, may I suggest my friend, Emily. Not only does she know her way around a map, she is not afraid to talk to strangers, to ask for directions, or to laugh with a group of nuns.  She can disarm a meltdown-y child, or children, as the case may be: “Hey Eli, if I am your favorite jerk, I know it means that I am part of the family.” Best part is Emily is absolutely no drama.  She did not impose a strange PMS regimen on us. We did not have to give her space to be sad, or figure out any of her moods, for that matter, because she wasn’t moody. She did not demand. She did not boss. She did not dominate, and we did not have watch her drink herself into a stupor.  She laughed when I swore, and I swore a lot. “Swear more if it helps.” She urged. She walked because we like to walk (I think she does too), and she ate gelato everyday without complaint.  High fives to you, Emily!  You will always be our Amelie [smooch]!

We arrived at the Rome Airport earlier than we needed to. We checked in our luggage, which was not necessary, even though all the online forums insisted it was. We found our way through security where I noticed we lost Emily. I looked back to see her luggage being searched. And here is another reason our travel companion rocks. “Did they take anything?” I asked as she walked back up to us. “No. They let me keep all of it.” And by all, Emily meant everything that we had left back in our Rome refrigerator. Eli heartily supports my claim as he relays the story to Dave, “Dad, she cleaned our refrigerator out.” She had a stick of butter, a half a bottle (way more than 3 ounces) of the yummy balsamic syrup, some yogurts, maybe a loaf of bread, and a selection of fruit. “Airport Security did not take any of it?” I think.

Circled in green is the infamous Balsamic Syrup

Circled in green is the infamous Balsamic Syrup

Time to get on our plane came. We were exhausted. The line was long. Emily and I stood there while the boys sat close by.  Emily and I talked about how we met all those years ago. Even though we were in college at the same time, our friendship began because we both worked as writers in high tech. We talked about the first Los Angles-based Internet World we were at together. “Remember when we sat in the hall talking?” “Yes. Vaguely.” Emily responded. “I was pregnant with Kyle and I did not know it. The only odd thing was I could not stop eating Lucky Charms.”  We laughed. The boys were standing with us again. The line moved along. We gave the gate agent our boarding passes and accompanying passports. We were moved  to a shuttle bus, not a plane.  What? On the shuttle bus we held onto our remaining luggage and waited.  Finally, they drove us to our plane. By the time we boarded our Vueling Airbus A320, the boys were literally punching each other as I simultaneously whisper-shouted (ah, the whisper-shout, a trick of all moms. I was probably death-gripping at least one of their wrists too), “Stop it! Stop!” We saw the plane was not as full as they told us it would be and thank God. I took this opportunity and quickly I pointed to one side of the aisle, “Kyle, stop talking. Sit by the window. Now! Move.” Pointing at the opposite window in the same aisle I urged, “Eli, stay. Stay by that window and do not talk! Look out the window and shut your mouth!”  Both boys complied.  Emily and I first say next to each other, and with the extra room, she moved next to Kyle so that we were positioned in the aisle seats across from each other. We took in a deep breath and then ate an apple from Emily’s refrigerator stash.  In seconds I heard snores from a sleeping Eli, and Emily and I continued to reminisce.

Our flight was quick and uneventful.

Before Emily moved to her aisle seat. Rome to Barcelona, February 2015

Before Emily moved to her aisle seat. Rome to Barcelona, February 2015

A Sleeping Easy E

A Sleeping Easy E

Life, choices, perspective, chance, are all words I have been thinking about today. I also keep asking myself, “Should I be afraid? Should I stop flying?”

Just over a month ago I stood in Barcelona’s El Prat Airport. Dave’s return flight took him from El Prat through Germany. He flew Lufthansa Airlines.  I wonder about these 149 people, 149 people who had their choice taken from them.  I am certain they could replace the words I have written here with their own. I am sure they could tell you what it is like to travel from Northern Virginia to Europe, or what it is like to be a foreign exchange student from Germany. I wonder if they thought the Barcelona airport was as weird as I did with its two very separate terminals.  Did they use the same bathroom?  Did they fall for the trick we had? And by trick I am referring to the signs that direct you past all of the stores instead of the exit? Did they find the “free” airport internet as annoying as I did? I am sure they were on Facebook, and I am certain they called a loved one to say goodbye, or “I will see you soon.”  Did they need to spend their remaining Euros like Emily did?  She bought a shirt for herself and her daughter at the airport  Desigual store. Were they nervous like I get? Or was flying easy? As many planes as I have flown in, as much turbulence as I have felt, I cannot imagine what it would be like to know that I was going to die. I can’t imagine the pain of those they left behind. I do not know them. I do not know the 149 people who died on Germanwings Flight 9525. The closest I can come to knowing them is our shared experience.  Meaning  I know the El Prat airport and I know that type of plane. These people were living their lives.  They were setting their alarms once and maybe twice.  They were late. They were early. They had dreams. They had bad days and good. I am sure of that. I have no words for them except to say that I am sorry your days were taken. I am so sorry your choice was removed, and I am very sorry you had to be afraid. No one deserves to die like you did.

One of the reasons I went to Barcelona instead of Paris is because I wanted to assure my mom that we would be safe. And we would be safe because we would be far away from the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  It is a false sense of safety, I know. None of it makes sense. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had their choice taken away too.  Even though there had been threats, and they had security, I bet the Charlie Hebdo people thought they were safe when they went to work that day. My guess is that these 149 people did not have to think about whether they were safer than the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. They did not have to because facts and logic would tell us all that they were safer than an outspoken political cartoonist.  I do not know what to do with this information. Processing it hurts my head.  If I look at it one way, it would seem that none of us are safe. Another reality is that none of us should stop living.

My mom recently told me that she is afraid to fly over the ocean. I told her that I share her same fear. I also said that I make myself breathe past it. “Mom, every time I fly I am afraid. Instead of checking out or giving into the fear, I make myself pay attention. I listen to the flight attendants. I locate the exit doors, and then I remind myself that some things are out of my control.” I buckle my seatbelt, grab the hand of “my closest” family member, then the engines rev up, the plane begins to move and it takes off. All the while I remind myself to breathe.

Vueling Literature

Vueling Literature

It is not easy. Meaning, not being afraid is not easy for me. How I move past my fear is this.  If I remain afraid, I remind myself that I will not move forward. If I let my fear of flying take over, for instance, I would not have seen what I have seen. I would have never stood inside the Coliseum. I would have never been able to drive the crazy Amalfi Coast road. I would have never seen a sea turtle on a Kauai beach, or ridden on a Hong Kong funicular railroad.  The Cliffs of Mohr would be a postcard image, and Carcassonne would simply remain a board game my boys love to play. I most certainly would not have seen my dear friend try and then get a half-full bottle of balsamic syrup through the Rome airport security.  And most importantly, I would not know how well my boys, Dave and I do wherever we are. I would not know that you fight everywhere. You get tired everywhere. People are mean everywhere and people are also awesome everywhere.  I know life happens. I know accidents happen, and if I had refused to get on an airplane, or push myself out of my comfortable, I would not know a life different than my own.

Me Driving the Amalfi Coast. How crazy is that?

Me Driving the Amalfi Coast. How crazy is that?

And really, maybe that is why I travel. I want to see beyond myself and I do not want to be afraid.

I only wish being fearless and pushing personal boundaries would cancel out the fact that we also live in a world where some of the really bad and preventable things happen because of someone else’s terrible and irrevocable choices.