Friday, November 26, 2021
Nov. 26, 2021

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Estrich: Travel not what it was

First pandemic-era trip sparks a yearning for security of home

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It is my first time traveling since the pandemic – my first plane ride, my first trip in from the airport, my first hotel stay. It feels like a big deal. I – who flew across the country every week for years – am scared. Of what, I don’t know.

There is a lesson here, and this is it: The world has changed. But what has changed even more is me. I am not the person I used to be. And I miss her.

The old me used to travel like the world was my oyster. Race for the plane, fill up the overhead bin. Places to go and things to do, I was a busy person in a busy world.

The airport is just as busy as it used to be, and the plane is just as full. But my sense that all is as it should be, that the world is right, that the people behind the masks are my countrymen and women, my neighbors, my fellow adventurers, is entirely gone.

From my seat on the aisle, I watch the mother board with her toddler. The little girl is so excited. The mother looks so nervous. I wish in that moment for a baby to take care of and, even more, for someone to take care of me.

Grow up, I tell myself. You’re only going to New York. For less than a week. No biggie. I keep it together for the long flight. I keep it together for the endless trip into the city at rush hour. I keep it together in line to check in at the hotel. I am almost there.

Too entitled

The hotel is too expensive. Too fancy. Even the name is fancy. The Regency. I didn’t pick it. I don’t belong. They give me a tiny room. What does it matter, so long as it’s warm?

It is freezing cold. It may be the smallest and the coldest room in the place. I call the operator. No heat. No one comes. I call the operator. No heat. No one comes.

And that’s when I lose it.

A lady in a mink coat with enough luggage to fit every item of clothing I own is holding forth at the check-in desk. She must be somebody, although I have no idea who. No, the thing is she thinks she is somebody, and therefore she is, and therefore they are treating her like she is, while I cower and glare and feel about 2 inches tall.

New vulnerability

There was a time when traveling made me feel big, like a big person in a big world. Now I just feel small. An annoyance in the lobby. A problem to be gotten rid of. The ultimate sense of vulnerability.

For almost two years, my house was not my castle but my refuge, the one place I felt safe. And it was that sense of home, that sense of safety, that carried me through these long months.

To get me out of the lobby, they sent me to another room. And here I sit, in my coat, because hard as I might try, I can’t get this room to warm up either, and I am just too embarrassed, too small, too vulnerable, to face that lobby again.

The president signed his big infrastructure bill yesterday. In other times, he might get a boost in the polls. But he won’t, I’m sure. Because things just aren’t OK. Nothing is OK. I’m lucky and I know it, and things still aren’t OK.

When I say I want to go home, it is not simply my house that I miss.

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