It’s 2:10, boarding time, finally, for a flight that should have left four hours earlier and had brought us to the airport two hours before that. A voice announces the boarding sequence: before anyone else, children and their guardians, the disabled, the elderly.
“Is that us?” I turn to my husband, who looks at me momentarily, pensively, nods his salt-and-pepper head, and closes the book he’s been reading. How else, indeed, could we be described? All the same, it still gives me a jolt to be thus classified, and to have to come forward to be recognized.
Now they’re giving us the priority we didn’t get in the distribution of the lunch boxes in atonement for their tardiness: I had to line up with the rest of the general public, irrespective of age or health. Himself intent on working up an appetite for a proper lunch in Cebu, my husband could not be persuaded to line up for Chicken Joy.
Me? I have an inordinate fear of starvation, a condition common, I’m told, to people who lived through the war, as I myself did, if hardly consciously, being a tender toddler then.
I even try to preempt hunger and eat before it occurs, especially at airports, since scrimping seems to have become the rule with the airlines, a rule that applies in particular to meals and snacks, thus a rule that goes against a habit of mine.
This I have observed becoming the case increasingly on domestic flights within the US, although never in Business Class, where, as factored in for surely higher margins, food arrives on demand.
As it happens, Economy travel is all we would allow ourselves in good economy and conscience— my husband’s, particularly. I bring cookies and nuts and, where they prove inadequate, I have Tums for hyperacidity.
In fact, just about everything in flight now costs extra, even earphones sometimes (once I was already beginning to learn to lip-read the in-flight movie when I observed that earphones went free with it). Luggage is harshly limited, both checked-in and hand-carried; each bag had better measure exactly right or you’re in for an expensive surprise. As it is, there’s enough to deal with on the ground—security measures can be repressive, depending on the moment’s levels of Western fears of terrorism.
I had my own personal fears, to be sure. When my children were small and I traveled alone, I grappled with Erica Jong-ish fears. Crashing was the main fear, and leaving orphans behind its main consequence. On one multi-flight journey, I took out insurance from an airport teller machine for each hop (the service appears to have become a thing of the past).
Now, the great senior concern is insurance that covers medical expenses that may be incurred during a trip, a requirement by certain host countries for travelers over 60. Few insurers, I’ve learned, would take those over 70, but the coverage is so neat and comprehensive that a customer need not worry if he happens to end up flying home in a box—up to three family members will fetch him and accompany him home, the return trip free of charge, along with its attendant expenses.
In any case, no reminders of our own mortality can stop us. In fact, I don’t know what can. With the children all grown and sturdy enough to be left alone, traveling opens a magical door to a getaway from everything and everyone, including ourselves. Indeed, as travelers, we seem more adventurous, bolder.
Not even weakened legs could stop my own mom from traveling beyond her 80s, thanks to the wheelchair, which didn’t impress Dad. Wheelchairs were, to him, “only for cripples.”
It’s this precise macho thing that not only ended his travels, but made walking very hard for him—and for me, too. Reaching my own limits of exhaustion, I suggested a wheelchair.
“What for?” he had the nerve to ask. “I don’t need it.”
“I know, Dad, but it’s me who needs it.”
We really ought to welcome the privileges of our years and look at the wheelchair as both a blessing to us and a relief to those who care for us as well as to the rest of the public, whom we have fallen out of step with.
I’m not myself ready yet for the chair, but I will take whatever it is out there—a carpet for two—that will allow us our precious escapes.