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Features and Series

Around America Part 5: Closing the Circle
By Mitch Traphagen mitch@observernews.net
Jun 21, 2007, 23:37

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Graphics by Jeff Fruth

The final part of a series

My journey around America ended much as it began - in an airliner. Despite complaints and news stories to the contrary, it can be easy to travel around the country today. And while bad news is often ‘The News,’ there is much good to report in this nation. Mitch Traphagen Photo
TAMPA
– While sailing up the west coast, a woman, erroneously believing I was a travel expert, asked what I thought was the best hotel in the world.  Even without being an expert, I knew the answer:  It depends.

A funky little motel on a Florida beach might seem like a horrible place in Minneapolis.  Likewise, a great Los Angeles restaurant could well make for a miserable dining experience in New York.  As a nation, we are the same but different – and that is something to celebrate.

The corner of the world occupied by our United States is vast and varied but still it seems as though the majority of us, white, black or striped, are largely pulling in the same direction.  Despite our differences, ‘We The People’ still holds true today.

In two weeks time I journeyed entirely around America.  It was a great adventure but I’m not certain I would do it again in quite the same fashion.  From the standpoint of being a reporter, there were a few things I didn’t think about.  The biggest problem was that I was left to write stories about one segment while I was already on to the next.  In other words, I wrote the Queen Mary story while I was aboard the Sapphire Princess; the story on the Midwest was written from completely non-Midwestern New York.  Mentally putting myself back in time to write the stories was much more difficult than I would have expected.

But the experiences made everything worthwhile.  In the end, it’s rarely the destination or the means of conveyance that will find a permanent home in your memories, but rather the people you are with – and the people you encounter along the way that will define an adventure.

The Sapphire Princess was a beautiful cruise ship, but it was the people I met that made it memorable – from the passengers to the captain and crew.  All of them in some way have shaped my life going forward.  I am grateful for that opportunity.  

Among those people, I was fortunate to have met Fay and David Edwards from Australia.  They had boarded the ship in that country and for the next month visited storybook islands before crossing the Pacific to Los Angeles.  From most perspectives, they were not wealthy; they have simply managed to budget an early retirement that included the adventure of seeing the world.

One leg of my journey around America landed me north of the border in Canda.  We are, however, of the same blood and much the same heritage.  
In Victoria, British Columbia, I stopped to watch a movie being filmed in a public square.  I was amazed at the attention to detail – a few moments of action would be proceeded by an hour of camera placement and measurements.  Overall, from that perspective, I think it’s safe to say that despite the glamorous appearance, acting would have to be one of the most mind-numbingly boring jobs imaginable.

While the crew herded the downtown tourists around the set, I somehow managed to catch the attention of someone involved in the film.  Perhaps that had something to do with the two large cameras and lenses hanging around my neck.  After hanging around for 10 or 15 minutes, a hip-looking guy in a ponytail and an earpiece walked up to me.

Fay and David Edwards from Sydney, Australia, spent nearly a month traveling halfway around the world aboard the Sapphire Princess cruise ship. It was only through travel that I had the opportunity to meet this wonderful couple. Mitch Traphagen Photo
Him (slyly):  “Who you shooting for?”

Me (not at all slyly):  “Excuse me?”

Him (still slyly):  “Who are you shooting for?”

Me (now somewhat slyly):  “For me.  Just for me.”

Then I packed up my cameras and left.  

And that, of course, convinced him that I was shooting for someone so big that I wouldn’t even mention it.  I’m not certain if he was happy or worried about that but I walked away knowing I’d told the truth.

On a flight out of Vancouver I was seated behind a legend in the music world.  Despite my desire to report upon my travels, I didn’t slide in next to him attempting to start a witty conversation.  Why not?  Because like all of us, he deserved his privacy – he may be a celebrity but he is not an object.  I did, however, use the restroom immediately after him.

In Denver, the famous man wrapped a scarf around his neck, donned a trench coat and sunglasses and quickly disappeared onto the crowded concourse.  I wasn’t interested in following; I was simply transfixed by being in Denver, as I once lived in the area.  I know it’s not manly to admit this but when I moved away and could no longer see the mountains in my rearview mirror, tears fell from my eyes.

Flying out of Denver, my face was glued to the window for an incredible view of the Rocky Mountains.  It looked like home.

I arrived in Minneapolis late in the evening and called my hotel for the shuttle service.  Within minutes, the driver appeared and the very first thing he did was to offer an apology for the cool weather.  Minnesotans love to apologize for things beyond their control – it’s all part of something called ‘Minnesota Nice.’

Speaking of nice, out of seven total airports visited during my trip around the country, top billing goes to the Humphrey Terminal in Minneapolis.  That is not the same as the main terminal – which is one of the worst airports I’ve ever visited.  The Humphrey Terminal is small and walking in is like entering a whole ’nother era.  I saw no lines of people, no one was running down a five-mile concourse to make a connecting flight  and no one seemed even remotely stressed out.

The ticket agents chatted happily with the passengers, the security people chatted happily with the passengers, the clerks in the stores (both of them) chatted happily with the passengers and even the passengers chatted happily with each other.  It was almost enough to make me suspicious.  What happened to the selfish and cynical planet I used to live on?

Despite our widely varied needs and desires, as a nation, we all tend to look in the same direction. We are all still pursuing life, liberty and happiness. Pictured above, families enjoy a street festival in New York’s Little Italy. Mitch Traphagen Photo
Near the gates was a children’s play area with a big mockup of a jet to play in.  Heck, I wanted to play in it.  Apparently in this terminal, unlike so many others, children having fun isn’t considered a threat to national security.


As for flying, I may have been a bit harsh in some of my past criticism.  Traveling exclusively on recently purchased, one-way tickets, I was fully prepared for the worst in terms of getting through security.  To make matters worse, I was carrying two bags chock-full of cameras, lenses and other electronic equipment.  With only one exception, I breezed through to my gates without a hitch.  Even the lines appeared to move faster compared to recent experiences.

The airlines themselves were… OK.  There is a cattle-car mentality that now seems pervasive in the industry and I’m amazed to admit that I miss the food service.  Gone are the odd little sandwiches and trays of suspicious-looking food.  Today few airlines offer even a miniscule bag of pretzels.  That situation creates a problem for those flying with connections, as there is not always time between flights to hunt down a meal.  Couple that with the new restrictions on what you can take aboard the plane and the result is often a crash diet for those flying longer distances.  The sole exception was Sun Country Airlines - which not only provided meal service but also lemon-scented hot towels to those in first class.

On the plus side, airline magazines have seemingly become excellent across the board.  I even pocketed one from Air Tran for later reading of what appeared to be an interesting article.

To travel is an interesting concept – the word itself implies the act is one of motion rather than destination.  I discovered that it is possible to easily travel the country with little planning and very little effort.  It was tiring, but everything worked as it should.  Only one flight was delayed and not a single piece of luggage was lost in the nearly 10,000-mile journey.  Everywhere I went, I encountered friendly people – just like the people you know back home.

For me, it was an adventure that was often beyond description.  Yet in reality, I was merely entering snapshots of other people’s lives – just as tourists to Florida may briefly enter my life.   Everything is relative.

This nation is incredibly diverse and often the needs and desires of one region vary from another – in some cases those needs may even be diametrically opposed.  Yet everywhere I went, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, I found people I was grateful to meet.  Despite our differences, We The People all still seem to be looking in the same general direction.

And now, as the journey around America comes to an end, perhaps you’d like to know what the best place I visited was.  The answer to that is easy:  It depends.
Given the right attitude, traveling is almost always an adventure - and particularly when visiting exotic locations. In reality, however, travelers are simply entering snapshots of the everyday lives of others. Pictured above, a bride and groom walk into the Empire State Building in New York. In the building, I was a tourist and this is a brief moment in their lives. Mitch Traphagen Photo

Story Links:

Photo Gallery

Around America Series:
    Adventures in Last Minute Travel
    Part One - Sailing into the Past
    Part Two - From the Outside Looking In
    Part Three - The Long Journey Home
       Tears, Laughter, and the One-Eyed Beagle
    Part Four - Meet Me In Manhattan

Resources:
    The Queen Mary Hotel
    Princess Cruise Lines
    Princess Bridge Cams
    Martha Bier (K&B Travel)
    Michael Perry (author, Population: 485)
   


© Copyright 2007 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing Company, Inc.

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Opening Windows to the Past Through Genealogy
Around America Part 5: Closing the Circle
Around America Part 4: Meet Me in Manhattan