I think it’s travel that does it to us. Every time my husband and I skip town, we start to act a little odder.
That would explain our visit to Madame Tussaud’s in London a long time ago. We got tired of looking at wax statues and threw ourselves down on a bench between some of the display rooms. We heard voices approaching us, so we stopped talking and froze in mid-air. The voices (and their owners) got closer to us, then stopped.
“Look at them!” a woman said. “They look so real!”
“Amazing!” someone else said. “Very life-like.”
They kept walking, probably to go check out Marie Antoinette or Muhammed Ali, and we started to breathe again. Till some other tourists came along and vibrated with pleasure at Madame Tussaud’s genius in capturing these two young hippies between the rooms filled with statues of celebrities. Genius, sheer genius! Hey, it wasn’t easy. After a while, you begin to miss breathing.
Now, we’re older and allegedly more mature, but something about travel makes us shed the years and any shreds of dignity we may have acquired. Take yesterday, when, I assure you, the airport in “Casablanca” had nothing on the Austin airport. Nearby Dallas-Fort Worth Airport had shut down because of storms, which meant everything in Austin froze. College students sat on the floors, firing up their laptops. Normal people became rage-aholics.
A frazzled-looking young woman with a toddler at the end of a leash stumbled past me. The kid stopped every few feet to emit a blood-curdling shriek. Waiting in line for coffee, I uttered the prayer of other afflicted middle-aged people: “Thank God my kids are grown.”
After we waited and waited and waited, we finally shuffled onto a plane. My husband and I sat together, in front of a cell-phone screamer who had a passion to let the world know his problems. “DFW is shut down!” he wailed to one voicemail after another. “My flight to Dayton has been moved way back! I’m going to be late!”
One message after another. Tragedy! Delays! Dayton! God only knew when he was going to get there! Good-bye!
Well into the seventh or 45th message, I began to get resentful. My husband, a/k/a Mr. IPhone, was busy tapping in messages. He wasn’t even listening to the endlessly-looped tale of woe behind us. To even things up, I took to jabbing him in the ribs every time the word “Dayton!” was mentioned. He jabbed back.
Finally, the plane took off and the refugee from Dayton shut up. We were heading into a landing in Dallas when the flight attendant began to rattle off some connecting flight into.
“Can you believe that?” my husband said, in a louder-than-normal voice. “No flights to Dayton for the rest of the day!”
“My God!” I said. “Not Dayton! What — have they shut down the whole state of Ohio?”
“Sounds like it,” my husband said.
Silence from the seat behind us.
“Oh, no!” I said. “Why Dayton? Of all places?”
We landed. The flight attendant announced we could use our cell phones. For some reason, the guy behind us didn’t fire up his cell phone again. Maybe he’d already called everybody he knew. Maybe he just couldn’t face more bad news.
“I guess we’ll have to go to Cincinnati, instead,” my husband said.
“What’s that great song about Dayton?” I said. “You know, the one Tony Bennett sang?”
The guy from Dayton strode past us, eyes on the floor. He didn’t even stop to tell us the name of the song. His expression was frozen and fixed. You know, kind of like one of Madame Tussaud’s statues.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)