Planes, trains, and automobiles

My parents always said I was a good traveler. When I was three weeks old my father graduated from Air Force bootcamp and earned some leave time before heading to his first duty station in Lower Michigan. The drive from San Antonio to South Florida consisted of quite a few stops – not only to feed me my many bottles of the day but to also cool the radiator. This radiator was my warm bottled milk’s heat source. Their stop-n-go system seemed to work out well for them (including my older brother who was about 2 1/2 years old at the time). It was my first travel experience.

Later my family would take advantage of our close proximity to the Milwaukee area by floating over to Wisconsin via the Lake Michigan ferry to visit my mother’s side of the family. From what my mom tells me, she and my father spent most of the ferry ride in bed or hovering head first over a toilet from motion sickness. The rocking of the boat affected my brother, too. Apparently I was superhuman and spent many hours running around the lobby-type area of the floor while other adults played with and took care of me. It is my first travel memory.

I don’t remember the flight to Italy, but the country became my home for the next four years. It was fairly cheap in those days to take the train into Venice (or anywhere in Italy, really) and spend a day walking around the city, visiting the square and listening to the string quartet while trying to avoid getting crapped on by pigeons. You were always exhausting yourself by shoving one foot in front of the other for what was probably miles and miles. The train ride home was always expected to be a time for relaxation and recovery. At least for my parents, it was expected to be. That is until I was allowed to use the train’s tiny little restroom all by myself. Like a big girl. I was five years old. Damn right. I was independent and about to experience my first travel mishap.

The toilet was metal and filled with blue stuff, much like a toilet on an airplane. I remember sitting very comfortably and humming a song, because that’s what cute little girls do when they’re trying to be big girls by going potty all by themselves. My dress was a red and white checkered thingamabob and my shoes were brown walking shoes. Boy, I sure was cute. Especially when the train hit a bump and the metal toilet lid came down on me and pinched my ass so hard that I went tearing out of the restroom, underpants tripping me up at my ankles as I tore down the center of the train screaming for my mother and declaring, “The toilet bit me!!”

Yep, that’s cute. And I haven’t been on a train since.

We eventually left Italy and flew back to the United States. I was about eight years old and very attached to my Strawberry Shortcake dolls so my parents allowed me to pack them and their little pets into a carry-on case. This would obviously give me something to play with during the hours-long flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Philadelphia. But when I say “very attached” what I really mean is “obsessed”. And when the heavily armed guard at the Frankfurt airport asked me to hand over my case, I gave him a very stern “No.” I even remember my father trying to coax me into handing over my dolls and I freaked out. NOBODY.TOUCHES.THE.DOLLS! After a few minutes, I won and we boarded the plane. Somehow I was seated next to an older gentleman who I found to be very nice. Until he asked to see what was in my carry-on case. Look, the guy with the high-powered rifle and ammo strapped across his chest didn’t get in and neither are you, Mister!

Unfortunately, that kind of behavior would get me arrested today. I’m pretty sure the TSA and local authorities wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if I was only eight years old and protecting my dolls.

I’ve only flown twice since then. When I was fourteen, my parents booked us all on a flight to Milwaukee from Washington, DC (my then home). Because I’m obviously an anxiety-riddled traveler, my inner senses told my brain to shut down completely and, as a result, I don’t remember a damn thing for nearly that entire week. Except for walking out of the Milwaukee airport after we arrived. Or drinking with my cousin and his friend one night. Or the man sitting next to me on the flight home to DC asking if I’d like to look out the window. I was so freaked out about flying that I completely blacked out (in a sense) and my body ran on auto-pilot.

That sucks. And I haven’t been on a plane since.

My next opportunity did come in the form of a gift. My aunt had paid for a non-refundable ticket to fly me to Milwaukee and stay for an entire week. Another cousin of mine was getting married and I had arranged for my best friend (who’d recently moved from DC to Milwaukee) to be my “guest”. I was excited. No, really, I was! My first time on a plane without my parents. ALONE. Then I remembered: I don’t like planes. My anxiety attack led me to the garage at 1pm where I proceeded to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes over the next two hours. When my mother came home from work, she didn’t hide how eager she was to be rid of me for the week (in that loving “Mommy will miss you but you need to go away” kind of way) by announcing we’d be leaving at four o’clock to take me to the airport.

Oh, no you won’t. I could already see the little gremlin pulling apart the wires from the plane’s engines and sparks were flying and setting off fires that were blowing out the power source to the plane and I was totally becoming John Lithgow. You know, from The Twilight Zone: The Movie? My parents watched me fall apart in their garage and I smoked another pack of cigarettes as I took those deep breaths that my psychiatrist had instructed me to take in between my hysterical sobbing. It was pretty evident that I wasn’t getting on a plane. So I didn’t.

My mother went in my place. She visited with her family, her brothers and their wives, their kids, their kids’ kids. Mom had a great time. And for sixteen years I’ve kicked myself for not just getting on the damn plane. But you know what? I still can’t do it.

So I drive. Everywhere. And I love it!


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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4 Responses to Planes, trains, and automobiles

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks for making me laugh in recognition. I also still prefer to drive everywhere, making any trip overseas, well, kinda complicated.

  2. Geekzilla says:

    Damn! I would get on a plane any chance I could get. When Jet Blue announced their all-you-can-fly-for-$500, I seriously thought about it. I would've gone on a non-stop flying frenzy for a month. No destination in particular – just back and forth between cities until the deal was over. Yeah, I would've smelled pretty awful after a month, but I would've been so happy!

  3. Chris says:

    So I take it that a future gig as a pilot is out of the question, eh?I hate when train toilets bite my ass.

  4. Windy Days says:

    Good thing we live so close, huh?You always make me laugh. Thanks for that:)

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