Planes, Trains, and Good ol’ Fashioned Walking

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a truly beautiful pinnacle of organization and the unity of the whole world. Although there is always something under construction and having to fly through it probably doubles the time a direct flight would take, I have grown to have a certain fondness for and excitement about flying through it. My favorite pastime during a layover consists of “surfing” (no hands, that’s cheating) on the train shuttle that connects the terminals in an extended pseudo-figure eight fashion. When I, a 9 year-old soul in a 19 year-old body, surf the train, people seem to appreciate that someone is trying to have fun and perhaps provide some lightly humorous entertainment by rocking and rolling with the bends of the track, and casually trying to look in control when I get knocked back into the wall by sharp turn. I guess this describes my attitudes towards travel. You surf through it, take the turns and slows and fasts by adapting, get slammed back against the wall, and even end up standing on one leg hoping for the turn to subside while people look at you funny. No need to freak out, you can always recover from a turn you misread, and somehow, everyone in the airport or station is O.K. because we’re all in it together. Maybe I’m describing a metaphor for life rather than just travel. (Further reason why DFW is awesome).

My CR journey stared in Colorado Springs and brought me through DFW as a send-off point for my European adventures. I found myself riding the train shuttle, as children do, and noticed an older Asian man glancing through through a short stack of boarding passes. As I thought of offering assistance, he was brave enough to ask me for help, perhaps because I appeared less intimidating or angry-looking as the hooligan who was falling and floating around the train. Without words, he gave a seemingly universal signal for help in the same way that I would ask my first grade teacher for guidance by looking concerned and humbly holding my paper towards her. I glanced through his boarding pass, noting that he was headed further still to London from a gate between D1 and D16. I stayed with him until his stop came, but realized I had time and there was more at stake here than me getting to my friends a little earlier. I hopped off with him, not really saying I would take him to his gate, but both of us knew that’s where we were headed. I tried to say something, but the language barrier was firm, and nothing got through except letters and numbers. I walked with him to gate D15 flying to Heathrow. As we walked, I thought about the despair he may be feeling, the feeling his face subtly showed. I tried to say “this is your gate, you can wait here until it’s time.” He softly spoke the only English I had heard in the conversation: Thank you. What would I hope for if I was from a foreign land navigating an American airport?

I realized that in the scope of the trip, that would soon be me; of course, that did become my circumstance upon arriving in Frankfurt, Germany. I deplaned and realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to wander (at least the German airports have a decent amount of English) before acknowledging in humility that it would be best to ask for help. I asked for help, was guided in the right direction, and thanked the staff member who worked with me. I realized that airports are uniting of peoples and all the ends of the Earth, but that yes, language in airports can be also be divisive. However, the universal language is kindness.

Trains are a whole other ordeal. Train schedules are stricter than plane schedules as every stop is entirely dependent on the previous once, and no one facilitates you gently getting on board. Flights never leave early, sometimes trains might, or maybe that’s just because you actually never know when exactly they’re going to show up. Traveling in a pack of 18 presents its inherent challenges, but we’re a resilient bunch. Leaving Berlin for Munich, Dr. P gave us the task of retrieving our bags from the hostel and meeting back at the Friedrichstraße Station I have come to know and love. I am grateful to our team for enthusiastically chugging over to the hostel and making it back in near world record time, and good thing we did. The train schedule was not what we thought it was and all of a sudden we had 4 minutes to be on our essentially “can’t miss” train. Christian cued up “Chariots of Fire” on the boom box and we ran. As members of our team dove into the closing train doors, I realized the bonds that hold this group together and the magnitude of this sacrifice that was necessary for our team-what kind people. We had made it.

Travel stress is seemingly unavoidable. It’s hard to not feel any kind of firey motivator when traveling from A to B. Or A to B to C to D, W, X, Y, and Z. My disposition is that being personally frantic is a hindrance to my success in getting to any gate or station. Perhaps I’m just programmed to put on racing blinders and “Go” (Thanks Pa). In that moment when something has to get done, failing is not an option. Of course, it is, but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there. It’s completely alright to fail in traveling, we all have and still will in our travels throughout life. I think that after these train experiences, I realize the importance of planning ahead and arriving early (good work everybody), and no matter how each person handles it, being able to get things done, which I think we as almost-adults are starting to get the hang of.

Our third mode of transportation is something that we almost-adults have been doing since toddlerhood: toddling (or walking). We have been trekking quite a ways in our days here in Germany thus far, and the marathon does not appear to be slowing down. The urban way of life seems most conducive to walking and utilizing the U-Bahn/S-Bahn subway system. I love the adventure of walking, and having to actually be aware of where we’re going and not just rely on a guide to show us. A wise man once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.” That’s the importance of walking. I could probably navigate the streets of Berlin on foot better than the streets of Fort Worth because I had the opportunity to learn and notice without flying by it. One of my favorite things about these cities is the space in between the significant landmarks. Every destination has to be arrived at somehow. What makes the city feel like a city and not a mass-scale museum of sculptures and picturesque paintings of landscapes is the travel from place to place. We get to chat and invest in each other, see the actual German comings and goings of the day, and take a wrong turn or two along the way. Admittedly, I could definitely work on walking slower (shout out to Andrea for using everything but a tape measure to describe the difference between our legs and stride lengths), I get a little excited sometimes.

We’ve mastered the Berlin and Munich U-Bahn/S-Bahn systems together, and there is still much in store for us as we go. Mollie and I got bamboozled by a ticket machine for 20 minutes, and Cole (who held our ever-important tickets) got bit by some very aggressive subway doors that separated our group mere moments after we had come together. Learning, like travel, is a process.

My favorite song is “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It says, “Home is wherever I’m with you.” The thing about travel is that you aren’t still, and aren’t at home, but are moving to ever different places. But, the message of the song holds true, and I find that although I’m not in Colorado Springs, or at TCU, I am home with my dear friends. Travel doesn’t mean you can’t be at home, it means finding a home with people who are willing to surf the gnarly travel waves with you.

(Don’t worry Mom, home-home will always be home with you. I love you.)

-Joshua