Archive for December, 2010

If You’ve Heard of “Mesaba,” This One’s For You

There is no getting from New York City to Sioux City, Iowa, (aka, “Where I Grew Up,” and “Yes, the airport code really is SUX”) without passing through the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. I love walking past the gates where my flight from NYC lands and fantasizing about jetting off to somewhere new. Last week, I strolled past queues of passengers bound for Shanghai, Tokyo, and Amsterdam. Sigh…

But past the exotic locales seen in the big terminals, we find the real Minnesota-ness of MSP’s Terminals A & B. Any big city transplant who originally hails from towns like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Rhinelander, Wisconsin; or Bemidji, Minnesota, will smile knowingly with me at their mention. Terminals A & B, my friends, are where the puddle jumper planes take off. The destinations get progressively less exciting. And the Midwestern-ness, progressively more… er, Midwestern. If you’ve ever heard of Mesaba Airlines, you, too, dear reader, are from the Midwest.

It’s a brilliant place for people watching. I like to guess at people’s stories; their reasons for travel. A true Midwestern farmer type would never “waste money” to fly from Minneapolis to somewhere accessible by car in a mere 5-6 hours. Over Christmas, the terminals are packed with 20 and 30-somethings who fled the small towns for the big city: they (ahem, “we”) can be identified by their in-vogue wardrobes, high-heeled shoes (women), effective use of hair product (men), and intellectual liberal-leaning reading material (all around). They have a point to prove.

The other young refugees returning to the motherland for Christmas are those who fled single-digit winter temperatures (Europeans, I’m talking Fahrenheit) for warmer, greener pastures. You will recognize them by their Arizona State sweatshirts, their vocal and frequent complaints about winter driving, and their annoying commentary about how warm it is in wherever-they-just-flew-in-from.

I’m progressively acclimated to the Midwest as I step first, into the Minneapolis airport, second, into Terminal B, and finally, on board the plane. Boarding that 50-seater bound for Iowa is a vastly different experience than hopping on any plane on the east coast. People smile, first of all, even when you sit in that empty seat next to them. The vocabulary is different on these flights, too. Just try asking for “seltzer water.” And I overhear chatter about things like the price of corn and cattle futures, things I had forgotten existed after so many months and years away.

Most people want to talk, for better or worse, often for the duration of the 45-minute flight. I’m usually traveling this route on three hours’ sleep, but when I can push through my New Yorker cynicism and exhaustion, this can be absolutely lovely. More than once, I’ve met someone who knows my family back home, or have been so touched by my conversation that I felt compelled to introduce my fellow traveler to my family upon our arrival in Sioux City. This time around, that was Shirley. More on her soon.

It’s funny, it’s sweet; sometimes endearing and sometimes eye-roll-inducing, but you know what? It’s home. And it is what it is, so you might as well embrace and enjoy it. I ran into a cashmere-clad couple waking down the jet-bridge in Sioux City last week carrying a Dylan’s Candy Bar tote among their Vuitton carry-ons. I stated, more than asked, “You’re from New York?” We discovered we had been on the same flight from LGA. The woman sighed with as much urban exasperation and snobbery as she could muster, “Yeah, it was like a cross between a day care and Noah’s Ark. Babies everywhere. And the dogs… It was all ‘two-by-two.’”

At LGA, I probably would have joined in the rant, especially while proudly whizzing through the expert traveler security line. But her sarcasm and negativity just seemed a little out of place at Sioux City Gateway. This is the Midwest, after all. It softens us up a bit—or, at least, it should. I just smiled and wished them a merry Christmas.

It turns out that simple friendliness has become as exotic as Shanghai and as sought-after as sashimi in Tokyo. I’m going to stash a little bit in my carry-on to smuggle back to my big glamorous city. I hear Midwestern kindness is this season’s “new black,” and it will certainly warm things up a bit. Isn’t that why we all left in the first place?


When in Rome… Or, perhaps, Hartford


As I just confessed, I’ve been spending a lot more time thinking about writing (and about traveling; and about travel writing) than I have actually writing.

So, when I had to make a couple short trips to Hartford, Connecticut, for work, I thought a lot about making the most of whatever kind of travel I have the opportunity to take. Was Hartford on my “top 20 destinations” wish list? Not quite. I don’t think it would have made a top 100 list. But, it’s somewhere I’ve never been, and I was traveling on someone else’s dime. Granted, it was a very non-luxe dime, but this budget traveler is easily pleased. As long as she’s well-fed.

So, in the spirit of making the most of life, here are some moments I loved in Hartford, Connecticut:

  • It’s a state capital. As someone whose childhood included some very proud moments memorizing state capitals (and winning spelling bees), visiting a heretofore undiscovered capital city made me happy. In a geeky sort of way. (Did I mention the spelling bees?)
  • New England snow falling, shining in the lights of Connecticut’s 200-year-old Old State House, with a glimmery Christmas tree street lamp decoration nearby? You gotta stop and smile for that. But not for too long, because it was freaking cold up there.
  • I was working in a big office tower with two or three separate elevator banks, a couple of banks at ground level, a concourse with several restaurants upstairs—and it took me no more than 30 seconds to spot the green mermaid smiling at me, tiny logo though she was, and discovered the secret path through a back door to get my afternoon Americanos without venturing outdoors. Thanks, Starbucks, for being both ubiquitous and consistent.
  • Eating delicious food at a trendy place for what feels like a 20% discount over New York.
  • Friendly, fabulous New Englanders. I had people offer me rides, jobs, copies of their novels, drinks, and rooms in their homes if I ever want to vacation there. I love meeting new people when I travel.
  • Discovering that not all of Connecticut is WASP-y and posh. Hartford was kind of rough, yo. Not all over, but I drove through some patches that evoked my drive from Park Slope to JFK down Atlantic Avenue. (Let’s just say it’s a door-locker.) I’d subconsciously stereotyped Connecticut as uniformly idyllic. This qualifies as a “moment I loved in Hartford,” because I love learning, even when it means I’m wrong.

I’m not planning a return to “The Insurance Capital of the World” any time soon, but I’m glad I went, not least because it opened my eyes to the pleasure of exploring just about anywhere, even when “anywhere” isn’t so sexy. Since I came back from Europe, I’ve been reminding myself that great “travel” adventures are to be had even here in my own city. All that’s required is opening my eyes, slowing down enough to be surprised, and a little willingness for adventure.

There’s room for that in every life traveler’s budget.

Where I Have Been

It’s embarrassing to log in to start a new blog post and realize it’s been nearly two months since I’ve written. I feel like I owe you an explanation.

If only I had one.

There was the “I’m going to write a novel and I don’t have time to blog” moment. I only got 5,000 words down.

I took 10 days off to pray and focus with a few friends around the world. Words were received and given, to be sure, but I posted none of them here. In fact, I’ve kept many of them all to myself, promises I’m owning but holding close to the chest.

And then there was the surprise—to me and my mom—trip to Iowa to celebrate Thanksgiving and my mom’s 60th birthday in one fell swoop. Six more days, accounted for. But the rest?

“Time flies” is such a cliche, but it just does. I’ve settled into a routine, changeable and busy though it may be, the last couple of months: work, life, service, other work, friends, third job work, etc. Having a career best described as “a little bit of this, a little bit of that” doesn’t sound like it would lend itself to creativity-numbing routine, but here we are. Here I’ve been. Since October 28, apparently.

As 2010 winds down, I’ve been thinking a lot about what fosters creativity and what prevents it—and how I can encourage the former. Like so much in life, I think it comes down to a combination of choosing faith, stepping out of fear, and just sheer face-like-flint determination (e.g., actually putting my fingers on the keyboard rather than thinking philosophically about the creative process.)

I’m not a huge “new year’s resolution” setter; if I realize something in my life needs to change, I’d rather start working on it immediately than push it off. But this is a good time of year to take stock. I’m gearing up with renewed energy to focus on true priorities and up the ante on my dreams next year. I’m putting the big rocks in the jar today, and one of those is writing.

So, I’ll endeavor to not disappear on you in the months to come. And if I do, feel free to ask me, “Where are you?” We all need a priority realignment once in a while. Believing for each of you, and for myself, the faith, courage, and strength to boldly pursue your dreams in 2011.


Where I’ve Been

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