My Sicilian friend is driving. Being English (I feel English, but the Olympic games is minutes away so maybe I need to be British for a while) we are on the wrong side of the road. But, while this has concerned me in the past I am quickly “dexterised”.
Reacting quickly to what I find unpredictable traffic situations he explains his “highway jungle” theory.
“On the highways we are like animals; some of us get together in herds, safety in numbers, others try to hide … not be seen. Some think they are superior, some act like hunters, intimidating, separating, picking on … you understand?”
I do – I get it, absolutely! I promise myself a time slot to think it through … er, maybe tomorrow?
Tomorrow we are making the journey homewards. This necessitates some travel arrangements. We must return from a superb break, relaxing, inspirational and invigorating and though I love my life the return seems like a trip back into some tortuous mediocrity. I realise that this feeling will pass, but I am also reminded of the highway jungle theory.
Travellers switch identities, I believe, their role dictated by circumstance. On arriving at the station platform we bought tickets from a very helpful man who said he spoke English (and then did so extremely well!) we are constantly checking that we are on the right platform. We do this by surreptitiously looking at the luggage tags of other passengers, listening to their conversation and by asking the waiter at the café. We are happy to be part of a group; indeed we actively seek to be part of this one… “if they are going to Palermo we are all right and all together. Great!”
But once the train is arriving, our natures change: we shuffle with various degrees of aggression, using suitcases to create space, defend territory or obstruct the passage of people a few minutes ago we were happy to be identified with. I want a seat! I want to be able to put my suitcase on the bottom shelf so I do not look like a weak idiot when I have to both balance and manhandle it at our destination.
Then on the train we count the stations, check the names to confirm we are travelling in the right direction, part of the group again, perhaps a little smug because the man with the teenage daughters looked awkward lifting his bulging bag up and could not make it fit the space. Could have been me?
There is some kind of stampede to get off ( a little worried, as always, and knowing how completely irrational this is that the train doors will close and the train take off before I can be on the platform), so I struggle to be in the middle of the herd here. We scan the place for the exit, a slow movement starts, we join in, luggage rolling obediently behind.
Another scan inside the terminal. Check in desks? Baggage drop open? A collective sigh, we all now realise the hotel, the pool, the bar, the friends are fast becoming part of history.
Eye contact, brief, knowing smiles.
“Are you going to …?”
“Yes, we are too …” (relief!) “… had a good time?”
Which check in queue to join, get the luggage dropped off, more flexibility. Proper conversation for a while, hive activity. Then becoming individuals again – the search for coffee… out of the hotel too early for a proper breakfast … leave the group, get to the counter, get some fuel in!
And I need some reflection time – the past week has been a splendid zoom of conversation and sights, getting to re-new acquaintances, meeting new people, using a little Italian to get by, trying to learn more. The coffee and biscuits help. XXX
A little later I will be reassured by being in the club again. By the monitor that gives out flight gate details. Gate 6 is shown.
“The flight to So-and-so is gate 6?” somebody will ask, though really we all wanted to voice the same question, “is that right?”
We all concur, grunting something like: “That’s what it says up there!” or “Seems like it, let’s go and see shall we?”
Then we stream towards the said gate. Is it a race? This is a budget airline; first at the gate will have first dibs on the seats, so logically first place in the queue and first to board the plane, getting choice of seats. Some try to get an edge, using the moving footway, getting hand luggage trapped around legs or teetering momentarily. The “lounge” is initially confusing, take your time to assess the area, where is the actual exit that will lead to the plane… and are you sure? Which way will the queue actually form? But do not wait too long or the prime spaces will be taken – by the herd.
Then it’s settle-down time again, it’s OK to be part of the larger group, we check each other out … yes there’s the lady with the koala bear on her oversized rucksack (what some people will try to get on the planes these days eh?), the man with the two teenage daughters … you remember both have tickets for your flight – ergo, this must be the correct gate.
Somebody else will start the queue – the final queue for the day we fervently hope – and the rest of us can feel superior (“it’s far too early to queue up yet!”). But inside I am going through gunfighter routines. There has to be an optimum time to join the queue. That will give enough time to sit and relax, but ensure that we are sitting together. Of course, this means that, although I may be sitting I am definitely not relaxing!
And, of course, there will be the “priority boarding” queue that defeats the rest of us. Outwardly I smile at the parents with children under the age of, well, whatever the lady says, but inside I am reminding myself that maybe next time we should get one of us a priority boarding. That one then could save the seat for me …
Then it’s our turn, we shuffle forwards, smile, nod, and – phew – get seats together.
Next time? Is there going to be a next time?