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Observations: Saying Goodbyes

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image My Dad, Bruce Traphagen, was a romantic guy. I like to think I’m a chip off the old block, but that may be giving me too much credit. I’m working on it, though.

What has happened to romance?


Last week I had an hour to kill while waiting for my flight home at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The weather was actually survivable for January in Minnesota so I sat outside of the arrivals area where travelers were dropped off for flights. I soon became fascinated with how people said goodbye to their spouses or significant others.

It was nearly an even split of husbands dropping off wives and vice versa. Perhaps it was the stoicism derived from the Northern European ancestry of most people in that northern state, but I didn’t notice a lot of passionate goodbyes.

In the days before 9/11, when I would drop off my wife Michelle for a flight, I would walk her to the gate and, more often than not, even wait to watch the plane take off. Unfortunately, with the heightened security at airports these days, that’s generally not possible anymore. When I left Tampa earlier last week, Michelle, as usual, insisted on a long hug and a romantic movie kind of kiss, and then she kept waving and blowing kisses until I was out of sight on the tram to the airside (wait, was all that too much information?). That’s the norm for us, but it certainly wasn’t the norm for the Minnesotans I saw last week.

For the most part, the couples I saw would give a very brief hug and, perhaps a brief kiss. One young mother with a baby strapped into a car seat, spent several minutes talking to and kissing the baby before she grabbed her luggage from her husband. They took a few steps apart and then apparently realized they forgot to say goodbye to each other. A quick hug and a kiss and she walked into the terminal without looking back while he and baby drove off. Another woman just gave her husband a quick pat on the back as he gathered up his luggage to enter the terminal. Neither of them looked back.

Then there was the somewhat-past-middle-age couple with a look that said, “We’re comfortable, relatively affluent and happy.” They met at the trunk of their car as the husband pulled out his luggage. They did the brief hug and kiss thing, and then he whispered something into her ear. My guess was that it was an inside joke between them, or it might have been a simple reminder that he was flying some place warm while she was stuck in Minnesota with the snow flying. Regardless, as they separated, he was chuckling and she mouthed an obscene phrase that ended with the word “you!” Then they both broke into laughter. They waved at each other as she drove off. So, one couple out of a few dozen showed a trace of romance.

Just when I thought romance was nearly dead in Minnesota, I noticed a man about my age sitting in the window seat of my aisle. As the plane pulled back from the gate and the windows of the airport were visible, he turned his light on and waved repeatedly out the window. I have no idea if the person he was waving to saw him, but I thought that was pretty cool. For him, just the chance she saw him was apparently good enough.

Is it just me or is romance being challenged in this era? In Minnesota, I was able to talk to my Mom about her courtship with my Dad. They lived in towns about 20 miles apart and sometimes would write each other twice a day. Real letters with pen put to paper and a postage stamp. You just can’t send a romantic text message on a cell phone in my opinion. You really can’t even send a romantic email. It’s just too impersonal — there is simply no comparison between cursive handwriting and dots forming words on a computer screen.

For dates, my Mom would dress up and board a train that would carry her to my Dad’s town that was so small it wasn’t even on a highway, but like most towns back then, it had a train depot. It is amazing they could do that more than 60 years ago, but we cannot today. The passenger trains are long gone in that part of South Dakota, as they are in much of the nation.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but it sure seems like romance has taken a back seat along with a lot of other things in this age of technological progress and the economic downturn. That’s kind of surprising, too, because being romantic does not have to be expensive. If nothing else, the web should be feeding us with good ideas. And, in my opinion, you can be a romantic without being sappy.

Trains are romantic, you can wave goodbye on the platform, watching the cars pull out of the station. Today, the best you can do is stand in amongst an impatient crowd before a heavily fortified security checkpoint at an airport. That doesn’t exactly lend itself towards romance — which is partially what, I assume, created and influenced the cursory goodbyes I saw out in front of the Minneapolis airport.

In a stack of my Dad’s paperwork that my sister Pam had undertaken the monumental effort to organize, was a completely filled out application for a leave of absence from his extremely stressful and time-consuming job as the Dean of Students and acting president of a large community college. In his typewritten justification, he stated he wanted to take a few months off to work for a local newspaper. He was a romantic. He not only discussed G-rated romantic things about my Mom when I was a kid, he believed in them. He also must have believed, as he typed his sabbatical request, that he may have found a way out of the rat race that certainly must have been a romance damper for him. The man worked very long hours.

I’m convinced that in addition to writing stories, what he really wanted was to reclaim his soul and to look at the world in a different way, to remember what the good stuff looked like.

The application, now 34 years old, was filled out but remains unsigned. He died shortly after typing it, and he never did get to work for the newspaper. Sometimes I tell myself that I’m kind of-sort of fulfilling his dream. It is one of the few ways I can compare myself to him, a man who stood so tall in so many respects.

I took a train from downtown Minneapolis to the airport as light snow was falling over the city. The train is a fairly recent investment, and it seems to be a good one. It not only provided a fast way to the airport (avoiding the traffic madness on the city’s freeways), but it was inexpensive and nearly packed full with travelers, Mall of America shoppers and office commuters. Using my cell phone, I shot pictures out the window for Michelle to see and relive some of her life growing up in that city. I spent an hour watching the goodbyes and then boarded my plane, bound for home.

At midnight, I landed in Tampa and walked past gates and shops that had closed hours before. A crowd of people from my flight filled the tram that took us to the terminal and there stood another crowd of people waiting to greet us. While I can’t tell you if the hellos in Tampa were as stoic as the goodbyes in Minneapolis (because I only saw one person in the waiting crowd), I can tell you that hellos are much better than goodbyes. But I’m sure you already knew that. Romance may be more challenging today but it isn’t entirely gone. Sometimes it just takes looking at things differently to remember what the good stuff looks like.

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