The journey begins…

My journey started on an unusually warm fall day, the sun pouring into the train as it left Philadelphia behind and traveled north.  A few seats away three college students (one man, two women) were getting to know each other.  As I half- listened to their banter, I was reminded of the many people I have met on trains and planes, and how moving from one place to another  means the crossing of others’ paths.

Almost reaching Newark Airport, I met Borat.  If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand.  He had come to the US for 5 months from a distant country (Turkey).  He wore a cowboy hat.  He was friendly but not quite sure if he was on the right train.  And for the last 5 months he had driven a Mr. Softie ice cream truck in Trenton, NJ.  He admitted to being worried about what could have happened to him on the streets of Trenton, but in the end he had survived.  I only had a minute or two to speak with him before we reached the station, but it was definitely a case of life imitating art imitating life.

Several other notable short encounters followed.  Riding the “AirTrain” to the terminal, two airport employees stepped into my compartment:

First woman:  “Yea, I gotta work some extra shifts to pay down my debt.”

Second woman:  “What debt to you have?” (heavy New York accent)

First woman:  “I had to take out a loan to pay off my credit card debt, because I couldn’t have any debt to get a job in Terminal B.”

Second woman:  “What?  That’s crazy.  We’re in a recession, everyone’s in debt!  How can they say you can’t have any debt?!”

First woman:  “That’s the way it is in Terminal B… you gotta pass your security check and you can’t have no credit card debt.”

Second woman:  “That’s crazy, these days everyone’s in debt.  All I hear about it debt. Debt, debt, debt…”

At the check-in counter:

Airline employee:  “You’re going where?”

Me:  “Tajikistan…Dushanbe.”

Airline employee: (to supervisor)  “This guy’s going to Amsterdam, then Istanbul, then DYU – how many free pieces of luggage does he get.”

Supervisor:  “He’s going where?”

Airline employee:  “Uh…DYU…”

Eventually she determined that I got one free piece of luggage, but never attempted to say Dushanbe.  And yes, even international flights are now charging for more than one checked bag.  Nothing is sacred…

On the plane as we prepared to takeoff:

Flight attendant:  (In a very serious tone)  “I have just walked through the cabin and I CANNOT believe the number of electronic devices I saw out.  EVERYTHING with an ON/OFF switch has to be turned off.  I am going to walk back through the cabin and I better see every device turned off!” (Lesson:  Don’t fool with Delta flight attendants, or you might get a ruler on the back of the hand)


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