Connections: Route Talk

It is wonderful to travel so far so quickly, but terrible to have to leap over all the hurdles it throws in your way

    Air travel is a conundrum, at once wonderful and terrible. It is wonderful to travel so far so quickly, but terrible to have to leap over all the hurdles it throws in your way.

    (By the way, if our family friend Maria Matthiessen is reading this, I warn her that she should stop right here: I’m about to engage in a binge of what she calls “route talk.” And if you don’t get that reference, I refer you to a recent episode of the public radio program “This American Life,” about the five topics that without fail make conversations boring.)

    After Christmas in Nova Scotia, my husband and I hopped, skipped, and jumped down to Massachusetts for New Year’s. Although we encountered no ice storms, no canceled flights, and no geese on the runway, we almost missed our connection in Toronto. I don’t think we would have made it to Boston at all if my husband hadn’t used a wheelchair when we transferred planes.

    The modern airport can be like an obstacle course you’d see in a movie about military training, can’t it? It really isn’t a user-friendly space. Not everyone is able-bodied enough to hike the long distances between gates and security checkpoints; and not all airports have people-mover conveyer belts or carts to take the tired, the lame, or the aged from one holding pen or line to another. Airport navigation is about the only circumstance I can think of that can make a person feel grateful for being reliant on a wheelchair (though I guess athletes who participate in wheelchair races probably consider that sport to be another upside).

    As is so often the case, our flight was a half hour late arriving from Halifax into Toronto, and after we landed — “deplaned,” to use the lingo — we had to move like Ethiopian middle-distance runners to catch the connecting leg to Boston. Three different airline assistants moved us to the front of lines when we went through security (for the second time that day) and then United States customs.

    We arrived at the departure gate with frazzled smiles on our faces, just as boarding was announced for “those traveling with children or needing assistance.” Since there were only a few daily scheduled flights that would have gotten us down to New England on Canada Air, I felt certain the wheelchair had spared us a night in Toronto.

    Some time ago, a woman of a certain age whom I barely know confessed that she was in the habit of requesting a wheelchair in airports even though she didn’t really need one. Perhaps guilt loosened her tongue, but who knows? Maybe she was bragging about her wiles. I myself shoot dark looks at those drivers I sometimes see parking in places reserved for the handicapped, ever watchful because my husband has, and needs, a handicapped tag. I don’t believe in taking advantage of it when I am alone in the car.

    Our trip from Nova Scotia to Boston took 14 and a half hours, a little longer than a nonstop to Beijing or Dubai. Looking at a map, I think we might have rowed the 300 or so miles across the Gulf of Maine in better time.