‘We Have a Real Problem!’: The real reason people travel in the US

Do we travel to complain about airports more than simply to, you know, get places?|
Carlos Garbiras
Carlos Garbiras

“She had a yeast infection, but for several weeks, she thought, ‘low key,’ that she had the clap,” the girl sitting across from us at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport told her friends in an oh-not-so-whispery voice.

If you are unfamiliar with such lingo, all you have to know is that clap is not a magical disease that makes you involuntarily clap at different times of the day. Nope. The “clap” is code for gonorrhea, and no one claps for it — not after getting it, not when itching, and not when confiding in someone that they have it, not knowing this person will use it later, at an airport, as a persuasion device to convey the importance of a yearly physical.

Don't think for a second I am trying to make you jealous about the glamour of airports and travel. Not all conversations one overhears are this glamorous. As a matter of fact, the one conversation I hear the most at airports — and the real reason I believe people travel — is actually a rather inane exchange.

But first, let me share what I think are the top three reasons people go to airports.

Coming in at third on the list of reasons we go to airports — to travel places. That's right. Going places is coming in third because if we are honest with ourselves, we don't rally want to leave our homes.

Coming in at second — to have our days ruined by TSA agents. The Transportation Security Administration assumes, and rightly so, that we can't come up with ways to ruin our own days. So they put TSA agents between us and our planes. These “agents” have way too much power and don't know how to use it.

So, naturally, they abuse it.

Coming in at first — and the conversation I hear the most when traveling — is to loudly rank the airports we have been to.

That's right.

As I move through airports for work or family vacations, the one conversation dominating all others regards the airports people have been to. Invariably, that conversation always ends with how nothing is as bad as having to go to LAX.

It is cool to hate the Los Angeles Airport. It is particularly cool to hate LAX if you live in the Los Angeles metro area. No Angeleno worth its Celtic river salt, or their unfinished movie script, would be caught dead in LAX.

No, siree, not when you can fly from Bob Hope, John Wayne, or Daugherty Field.

I have flown out of LAX.

As a matter of fact, except for La Guardia or JFK, I have flown out of all the airports people say are the most difficult to travel through, like Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Dallas — not to be confused with Dulles, which I've also flown to and it is not memorable enough to even remember, which i don’t.

I don't get the animosity towards LAX. It grew with the city, it responded to the city and, honestly, have you been to Los Angeles? It makes sense that LAX looks the way it looks.

I understand that LAX is a big city airport. I have found myself arriving at my gate only to find out that my gate is not a gate but a bus stop. So I line up with everyone assigned to this bus stop and wait for the next bus to take us to another little airport within this giant airport. And they do it by driving in the middle of the fairway and avoiding airplanes that are about to take off or land, and once you are at that terminal, you feel like you are in a different, much smaller, more exclusive — but not nicer — airport.

When the San Francisco Airport Commission assigned architects to design Terminal 2, they requested a space that felt calming and happy while capturing the essence of the city. They forgot to account for the fact that no one's happy or calm when traveling.

As a traveling salesman, I can tell you this is something I see at every airport I go to. Everybody is upset and likely wondering how they fell for this myth from Big Travel, where we supposedly can only find ourselves by traveling to new places.

It's a scam, because you can see not one person enjoying themselves. But we get on with our travel itinerary to go visit the next big tourist attraction everyone is talking about on our Instagram, when we probably haven't seen one tourist attraction in the vity closest to us. We buy into the idea that only travel will make us whole, as if happiness is just an airplane ticket away.

It is so buried in our general consciousness that we simply accept it.

Take the New York Times best-selling book “Eat Pray Love.” According to the book, you can't eat, pray or love at home. You have to go other places to do that. The book should be named “Travel, Eat, Travel, Pray, Travel, Love, Travel Back.” Sure, a less enticing title, but a more accurate one.

And if you can't afford to travel, then forget it. Happiness is not for the poor.

So we all move forward with our desire to travel, our desire to find ourselves in a more exotic destination and not in the exotic location in which we actually live. And because of that, we find ourselves at airports talking about all the airports we've been to, while loudly hating on LAX.

Which — and I really mean it — is not that bad.

At least it is better than having the clap — even if “low-key.”

Carlos Garbiras is an award-winning essayist and storyteller sorting out a topsy-turvy upbringing in Colombia, the immigrant experience in California, and unconventionally raising two daughters. His essays have been published by Scribe, The Memoirist, Your Tango and other magazines.

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