The woman regarded me over the American Airlines check-in counter with disdain. I had just flunked an important test, the biggest one, the one where they won’t allow you to walk around the crowd control tape and proceed on your merry way towards snaking Security lines, and an intimate experience with the TSA agent next up. I smiled wanly, hoping she might interpret this as a friendly grin. I was trying really hard to make it look friendly, even if the thoughts running around inside my head were not.
I wanted to go on vacation, and only she barred my way. She had my passport, which had not expired. Its photo sort of looked like me, if the counter agent would only use her imagination.
Cupping my hand over my mouth, I breathed out slightly; there was no halitosis. I had dressed nicely for the (extended) day, in a comfortable, swirly skirt and boots. In spite of the tedious flight coming up, I was not wearing pajama pants and fuzzy slippers (although there were at least three women in the check-in line behind me who were). Was that a mistake on my part? Maybe. Better planning on theirs? Possibly, except that I wasn’t going to be caught dead in fuzzy slippers, and since we were boarding an airplane to fly a long stretch over water, well, better safe than be laid out in bunny slippers.
I smiled more broadly, and she pointed with a long, black-manicured nail to the red digital numbers on the side of her kiosk.
“You are overweight,” she told me. “Two-and-a-half pounds. You’ll have to pay extra.”
From her perch behind the counter, I knew she couldn’t see my butt, so I guessed she wasn’t speaking of my size, but even so, she was criticizing me. In the grand scheme of life, two-and-a-half pounds is not something to cry about, except when you’re trying to fly someplace.
Behind me, Dr. K cleared his throat, a sigh of “figured as much,” escaping from his lips, and he began opening suitcases, rearranging our stuff in the hope that the two bags might even out at the required 50 pounds. He had figured as much, literally, because whenever we pack to fly somewhere, he drags the scale out of the guest bathroom (where I’ve stuck it away since I don’t want to be tempted to stand on it), and hoists the suitcases on top, weighing in. It’s a very judgmental experience, having little to do with what I weigh, and everything to do with the fact that I’m a rotten packer. And now, everybody in line behind me at check-in is going to know exactly how rotten I am at packing, and they get to see what I’ve packed, while Dr. K is rearranging it.
I was under his scrutiny from the moment I began laying out items. His questions vacillated between the pairs of shoes I’ve packed (six), to how many sweaters do I really think I’m going to need in sunny Spain (a lot, because I like sweaters), and always, always concluding with, “And did you remember to pack the travel umbrella?” (No, which is why we own seven of them, one for each vacation when I’ve forgotten it). It doesn’t matter that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, nor does it matter that my friend, Diane, whom we’re meeting in Sevilla, has texted me daily with the weather (and clothing recommendations) update.
“Sunny and dry in beautiful Sevilla today,” Diane chirps happily. “Light sweater at night, nothing more. Rain is holding.”
Ten days anywhere when you’re not certain what the activities are requires some thinking.
I tell Dr. K this, and still he insists on that umbrella. What holds minimal importance for him is that I want to be fashionable for all activities in which we will participate. For this trip, the variety is extensive, with potential for biking, hiking, sightseeing, dining, Flamenco-ing (or viewing, at the least), and strolling amongst the clothing-conscious and elegant Spaniards.
“High spiked heels and skin-tight jeans!” marvels Diane in several texts. My silent response to that was, “Yeah, right, that’s nice for them, but not for me.”
Which is why I suggested that we bring along an extra suitcase. It made sense to me, allowing us roomier packing, and that über bonus, the option to bring home souvenirs.
This was an ill-conceived idea, because I had opened the door to the big, bad “S” word. Souvenirs. We do buy them, on occasion, but not always with resounding good luck. There were the two bottles of Kahlua we packed (and checked) into a duffle bag on our honeymoon over thirty years ago to Cancún. The bag showed up on the carousel with the welcome aroma of coffee liqueur; it made all waiting passengers grin, until they noticed the sticky black ooze dripping from the bag, onto everything else nearby. When I was eight, my sister and I had to bring home identical red Dirndls from Germany, because we identified with Heidi, that wholesome Alpine heroine, and planned to wear them while drinking our goat’s milk from bowls while surveying the Alps (or the Rocky Mountains, which were close in stature) from our gemütlich mountain hamlet. There was also a time when plane travel wasn’t nearly so intimidating, when you could bring just about anything on board. The antique antebellum bust of a southern belle (rescued from a plantation fire), laurel leaves wreathed about her white, marble curls, and positioned on Dr. K’s lap during a flight home from Savannah only prompted remarks of, “How pretty,” from the flight attendants. Today, they would tell you it was a lethal weapon and make you get it off their plane, fast. Shipping isn’t always a good idea, either. We once went deep-sea fishing in Mexico, caught a sailfish, and spent $750 to get it mounted and mailed to our (small) house. It never showed up. I’m kind of glad now, because it made me think twice about hanging an eight foot fish up on the wall.
For the most part, there is no extra suitcase allowed, and no room for bringing home memories to display on our shelves.
But we do have pictures. Thousands of them, artfully arranged by Dr. K into thought-provoking movies, accompanied by music guaranteed to set our hearts thumping and planning for the next vacation. It may sound maudlin, but a photo of a beautiful meal about to be enjoyed, a vista seen, an unusual architectural projection observed, laughing friends and children — all those things build connections, pathways in our brains, which, when watched again and again, recreate an experience better than anything else. In a 2012 study, psychologist Ryan Howell of San Francisco State University used data from the Beyond the Purchase, a website that collects data on shoppers’ purchases, finding that it was the uniqueness of experiences which created happiness, and the individuality of what was experienced, rather than the acquisition of more goods and materials. Paying for an experience, and recording it through photography, ingrains it, which over the years, creates memory. Sounds coming from a plume of crashing ocean waves, the smell of a delectable bouillabaisse, a spiky jazz beat in a New Orleans music hall, all that floods into our minds when we see a picture. The best part of it is that a picture can be collected on an SD card you can stuff into your pocket.
And that costs nothing when you go on a plane ride.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.