The Power of Maps to Manage — or Provoke — Our Travel Fears

There’s a great existentialist saying out there:

“You’re a ghost driving a meat-coated skeleton made from stardust, riding a rock, hurtling through space. Fear nothing.”

Once we as travelers — or aspiring travelers — have had a couple of minutes to conjure this mental image, we usually either smile or feel overwhelmed. Do you feel any bettter about buzzing around in a jet above that thing called earth when it’s already hurtling through the galaxy? Yes, we know we’re always rotating around the sun. But we don’t think about it much. We think about where we need to go. About relative distances. When we talk about traveling, though, we talk about going “far away.” But far away from what?

Ask someone who loves to travel the world where “home” is, and they might say that the whole world is home. Anywhere you look, there are three things: a horizon, a sky, and a sun. But asking someone to visualize exactly where they are on the globe can upset their sense of comfort. Who hasn’t been in Kazakstan, the Arctic Circle, or Madagascar in a nice hotel room eating Cheez-its and watching BBC when they take a look at a world map in their travel bag and felt marooned and suddenly lost? That feeling is: where am I?

Take one of those long flights on a cheap airline that offers no “entertainment” except the flight monitor screen showing you inching over an ocean or a continent. These little maps can really upset some people, and they look outside. Yep, out there is the sky, the horizon and that nice sturdy wing that will soon be coming into close contact with some familiar asphalt. Other people (probably those aisle-seat people for whom it’s “not just about the extra leg room”) can’t get their eyes off the map. They need to know where they are, and they rely on that visual map like a graphic compass.

If you’re an anxious traveler, the point is to know what type of person you are — one whose fears are alleviated by using and watching maps — or one who isn’t. Personally I need a sense of where I am on a world map at all times to feel comfortable. being a meat-coated skeleton hurtling a rock on a different piece of the stardust is part of the thrill of traveling for me. When I’m in the Arctic, can I sense mainland Europe and Africa being “below” me? Yes, that awareness is always there. If it wasn’t, I’d feel marooned. My mind would play tricks on me. When I’m in Northern Norway, I need to know that I’m closer to Alaska than I am to New Brunswick. If I didn’t, I’d feel lost. I’d go outside and literally take the sky, the horizon, and the sun for what they are — those things that are everywhere — and I’d get disoriented. I’d become afraid. Those things that are so familiar to me — the sky, the horizon, and the sun — would become a menace. I’d be back home, but in the Arctic.

You, on the other hand, might have ditched your map in Oslo. This is your new home. That’s north, that’s south, that’s east, and that’s west. You’re on a different chunk of planet Earth, but who needs specifics? You want a street map and nothing more. If you look at a world map, you might feel overwhelmed, because you might notice that you’re awfully close to the “edge,” in danger of falling off. You feel like Columbus, determined to prove that the horizon can never be reached. The key to alleviating your anxiety is to forget your geography class, and keep moving without thinking about exactly where you are. You’re an adventurous meat-coated ghost with a soul desire for adventure, hurtling on a rock through space.
arctic700

The Cruise Ship that’s Still Waiting for You

Rotterdam in The Netherlands is often overlooked as a tourist city.  It’s big, it’s cosmopolitan, it’s flashy, it’s gritty, and it looks and feels nothing like Amsterdam.  Perhaps it’s “the other Holland ” — a maritime wonder, a reflection of multicultural Europe, a port that is just secluded enough from the Atlantic to make you feel like you’re in the heart of the mainland.  I found myself there this February as a matter of curiosity, and a desire to explore more of The Netherlands than just its canal-laden tourist treasure.  The SS Rotterdam hotel was my stop for just one night.  Yes, a hotel entirely consisting of a massive docked cruise ship.  The receptionists are dressed like sailors, and the guests are among the more unique and colorful you’ll find on the travel trail.

Henry and Laetitia, I think, were the only other people on my floor (level?  cargo hold?), and they were both wearing enough navy blue and white to embarrass a  J Crew himself.  They were both about 70, and they saw me doing my aerobics out in the nice flower gardens in front of the ship at 3 am to burn off my jetlag.  Now, I’m not normally that talkative at 2 am, especially with French people who are ballroom dancing on a balcony in the middle of the night, but it didn’t take me long to engage with this couple from Toulouse, France about just why they were enjoying their stay so much.  They had never been on a cruise before, although they dearly wanted to.

“This is as close as we’re going to get,” Laetitia told me.

“We’re afraid,” Henry confessed to me.  “We’re older, we get on a cruise, there’s an epidemic on board and we both get sick, the winds or the water kick up and one of us slips on the deck and breaks our leg, or who knows, the thing sinks.  We don’t trust cruise ships.”

They had their laundry list of places they wanted to sail, but “couldn’t” sail: St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Canary Islands, Alaska, the Shetland Islands.  Laetitia had survived a near-drowning incident when she was 20, and it soon became clear to me that this couple was held back as much by that as by fears of shipwide contagion or starring in a reality remake of Poseidon.  How do I tell a woman who’s 70 that she could be enjoying herself so much on a Princess that she won’t even realize she’s hovering above millions of gallons of what nearly killed her?

I offered my various visualization strategies, and by the time 4 am rolled around, the “sailor” tour guide in the “control room” was starting to wonder about us.  “Is everything in your rooms to your satisfaction?” he asked

“Can you do one of your ship tours right now?” I blurted out.

“Right now?” he said.

“Yes.”  Well, we got our $100 worth in the form of a walkthrough of the engine room, the chart room, the control room, and everything else with an electrical panel on it that we could keep straight in our heads.  Why did I go?  Because I’ve coached anxious flyers to overcome their fears via cockpit tours, and this seemed like basically the same thing except for a ship.  I see that point where people are too relieved and happy to remember exactly what was holding them back.  Can two retirees still have that feeling of restless desire to make up for lost time?

“I don’t feel like I’m on water,” Laetitia said, “I feel like I’m on an island.”

Yes, I persuaded an elderly couple to go on a cruise ship tour in the middle of the night, and then to book a riverboat cruise down the Danube a week later.  I’ve been helping Laetitia work through her unresolved fears about cruises via email ever since.  Henry won’t talk to me; he says I remind him of Kate Winslet for some reason, and then he just thinks about Titanic.  Fair enough, Henry.   But send me a postcard from the world’s largest floating post office.

The SS Rotterdam in The Netherlands

 

Confronting Racism During Travel

It’s a fact: most people in Europe don’t interact much with Latin Americans.  Even as multicultural as Europe is today — with sizable immigrant and migrant populations from the Middle East, Africa, even the Far East – there are only tiny communities of people from places like Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica (for cultural and linguistic reasons, Spain is the obvious exception).  Many people in the ex-Communist countries can’t remember the last time they met someone from Latin America; many have never even heard the term “Hispanic.”  So what happens when you’re Latino and want to visit Eastern Europe?  Especially in the middle of Europe’s polarizing refugee crisis?

I was approached last month by Alissa and Alfredo Morales (who let me use their full names in this blog entry).  They’d lived in California since they were children; Alissa was born in El Salvador and Alfredo was from Mexico.  Racially… they looked Middle Eastern.  What would usually be a sensitive topic was laid out very bluntly over Skype.  On their honeymoon this August to Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, Alissa and Alfredo had repeatedly been mistaken for Syrian refugees, and the result was shameful and humiliating.  They were asked at a Hungarian train station how long they’d been on the road to Germany.  Alissa was repeatedly asked if she was pregnant.  Upon boarding a city bus in Cesky Krumlov, they were asked for their passports — for a journey that lasted five miles.  They’d been detained at a small train station at the Slovakian border for two hours while customs agents went through all their belongings – in “response to increased security concerns.”  They were kicked out of a department store in suburban Prague for a reason they still don’t know (the store manager spoke only Czech and German), but strongly believe had something to do with the fact that they resembled no one around them.

“Our honeymoon was ruined,” Alissa told me tearfully.  “What could we have done differently?”

I had to think about this for awhile.  Finally I told Alissa that there are two truths: 1) people’s natural curiosity about foreigners can often override their bias, and 2) deep down, people often want their worst thoughts about others to be proven wrong.   I had learned this while traveling in rural parts of Russia where, to say the least, people aren’t big fans of Americans.  Alissa and Alfredo were surprised by what I had to share, and I was equally surprised when they told me they wanted to “redo” their honeymoon by going back to Budapest in late October.

“We were so upset and distracted on our first trip that we didn’t get to see or do half the things we wanted to,” Alfredo told me.

Needless to say, it took exceptional bravery to want to go back, and we continued to work together.  I told them that no two individuals are going to change how frustrated Eastern Europeans feel about their tiny countries being “invaded” by migrants.  Alissa and Alfredo admitted that most of the time when they were out and about on their trip, they’d turned angry and bitter, and this probably hadn’t helped how they were perceived.  Alissa, I said, you’re going to have to smile.  Talk with strangers; go out of your way to do it.   They will know soon enough that you are an American.  Those bored train station attendants who look like they want to give you a hard time? Ask them if they can take a picture of you two.  Heck, they are already staring at you.  If you ask for a picture, you are most obviously a tourist, not someone who is there to claim asylum.  Make friends with the people who “have” to like you because you are buying their services: your hotel reception staff.  You can rely on them for help if you get “detained” in the city.  They know you are Hispanics, Americans, tourists.  Even the most biased people will help you in the interest of doing business.

Alissa and Alfredo always took great pride in being independent tourists and exploring on foot, but we agreed that the chance of them being stopped by bigoted police was lower if they were on the Hop-on Hop Off bus — and they agreed.   I told them  to spend a little extra money to take a taxi than a city bus, and to have their American passports ready to show at the train stations rather than having to rummage for them and give some restless Slovakian time to demand what’s in their bags.  The reality is, it’s a lot easier on a short trip to work around and avoid people’s suspicions than try to alter their stereotypes or worst fears.  I told them, You’ve been to Hungary before; you know what to expect.  The worst is over.  Now you just have to do it again – the difference is that this time, you’re going to enjoy it.

They took off on their “new” honeymoon on October 24, and I heard back from them a couple days ago.   They sounded relaxed and excited.  They were staying at a much smaller hotel this time where they had a great relationship with the husband and wife owners,  who gave them some pointers of their own and found them an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange.

“We’ve found the only Mexican restaurant in all of Budapest,” Alissa said.

“How is it?”  I asked.

“Well, the manager asked me to cook a dish for him,” she replied.  “I took it as a complement.”

Well done, Alissa.

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Phobias vs. Fears: Which Control us More?

At some point in our lives, most of us will develop a phobia.  Some of us will develop a few of them, actually.  Phobias come in so many forms, and many of them are so common, that most of us don’t have a problem talking about them — and they kind of ride along with us through life, like a minor sore on the back of our head.  We even joke about phobias; they’ve become part of the popular culture.   Claustrophobia.  Agoraphobia.  Arachnophobia.  Many of us would rather talk in terms of “our phobias” instead of “our fears” or “our anxiety.”  Phobias, being very specific in nature, usually have a good justification  — something that most people can relate to and talk about without needing (or wanting) to go into three hours of miserable backstory of how they “got this way.”  I have a real phobia about…  yes, that just sounds so much healthier to describe the things that, well, freak us out.

Can you name your phobia(s)?  Probably.  But can you name all your fears?  That’s undoubtedly a longer list.  We develop fears before we can even spell the word, after all.  And fear is an overused word.  I fear this, I fear that.  Technically speaking, “fear” is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  An emotion.  Interesting.  So what exactly, is a phobia?

Well, there are lots of long-winded definitions.  But a phobia is basically a fear that impairs your life.  Your unpleasant emotion had mushroomed into an aversion.

If you fear something,  you can do it, see it, or live with it anyway. If you have a phobia about something… you can’t.  You avoid it at all costs, even if you know you’re overreacting.

So would you still rather talk about your phobias than your fears?

The fact is, we can function just fine through life with a phobia or two.  We can also live normal lives with a number of fears.  But how do we tell when a particular growing fear has become a phobia?  When does that fear lead to a condition where we’re shutting down a small part of our life — or making our lives more difficult?

I knew a woman from Toronto who wouldn’t drive at night, for any reason.  She had to travel back and forth to Miami a lot for her job, and one fall afternoon her flight got delayed and she landed in Toronto at 7:30 pm.  It was a calm, dry evening, and she was staring at her car in the lot, debating.  She just had to drive to her small farm about 55 miles outside the city — a route that she knew well.  Could she do it?  No.  She wasn’t even thinking about what had caused her fear, and eventually her phobia: a friend hitting an animal at midnight some years ago, and waking up in a ditch paralyzed.  All this woman could think was: NIGHT: DRIVE: NO.  Could she have taken a cab?  You bet.  But she walked to the nearest airport hotel, and put herself up for the night.  Did this woman have a phobia?

I’ll compare her to a guy I sat next to on a flight from Casablanca to Lisbon last month. He was originally from Mali,  mid-20s,  loved to fly — and could tell me everything about the Boeing 767 we were on, bragging about the safety features as if he’d designed them himself.   He admitted, though, that he had a real “hang-up” with flying over populated areas, and explained that’s why he loved our particular flight — because it was “all ocean.” I had to inform him that no, we were going to fly — pretty low, I might add — over the entire city of Lisbon before landing.  He didn’t believe me until we blazed right over the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, close enough to tell SUVs from cars.

Well, this guy went into a bit of a panic.  Switching seats with me, so he could be in the aisle seat, didn’t help.  But what could he do?  Nothing, except live through his phobia, and wait for the plane to not suddenly clip a building or a power line.   I thought about how, sometimes, not knowing everything about what we’re going to do is sometimes good, because you can end up looking your phobia right down the throat before you’re wound up in that anticipatory dread that helped turn the f-word into your aversion in the first place.

I didn’t tell the man this.  I asked him to think about what our plane must look like to the people on the bridge, and the roads leading to the airports.  Some of them had to fear that our plane would crash, inexplicably, into their paths, and end their ultimate journey.  But they were still driving down there, even though there were plenty of places to pull over.  They weren’t stopping.

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Bangkok: The Perfect Place to Unwind?

I know this: Bangkok  is never going to make the list of top ten tranquil vacation destinations in the world.  Suicidal tuk-tuk drivers, miles of sky-train soaring over one’s head, loud Thai folk music, gargantuan malls, canals cheerfully gargling with life, and enough shrine incense to get you high won’t exactly raise you to a Zen-like state.  Instead, you’ll get so caught up in the activity around you that you’ll completely deprogram.  What was so important in my life before I came to Bangkok? you’ll wonder.

Those candied colors and warm faces swirling around you will reassure you that everything you need to feel really good is right here.  The tension will slowly leave your body and your headaches will become a thing of last week — I mean, of the past.  Your heartburn will go away (as long as you stay off of Khao San Road) and your blood pressure will lower as smoothly as Buddha’s arm.

So why isn’t Bangkok on your short-list?  Never mind, just take this virtual stroll with me.

On the stroll to the Golden Mount.

On the stroll to the Golden Mount.

'Nuff said.  Bring your cash and your sense of humor!

Bring your cash and your sense of humor!

You are delusional if you think these things come with seat belts.

You are delusional if you think these tuk-tuks come with seat belts.

Asiatique, new fixture in Bangkok.

Asiatique, new fixture in Bangkok.

Khao San Road, home to foreign mercenaries, missionaries, and misfits.

Khao San Road, home to motorcyclists, mercenaries, muggers, and misfits.

This is the view from the taxi, whose driver has never heard of Prozac.

This is the view from my taxi.

Be sure to wrap your expensive electronics in plastic on the streets, or a drive-by squirting may result in a panic attack.

Be sure to wrap your expensive electronics in plastic on the streets, or a drive-by squirting may result in your panic attack.

Another gorgeous shrine to help you relax.

Another gorgeous shrine to help you relax.

 

The people who live here have never heard of Prozac.

The people who live here have never heard of Prozac.

The mystique of the monastery

The mystique of the monastery

Home sweet home on the Chao Phraya River.

Home sweet home on the Chao Phraya River.

You, too, can find inner peace under a gray sky.

You, too, can find inner peace under a gray sky.

Bangkok's canals provide a restive retreat from the hectic pace of the cit -- never mind, just get in.

Bangkok’s canals provide a restive retreat from the hectic pace of the cit — never mind, just get in.

I'd like my place of worship all in pastels, please.  Gosh my local church needs a makeover.

I’d like my place of worship all in pastels, please. (Gosh my local church needs a makeover.)

Something about Buddha can just make you feel trippy.

Something about Buddha can just make you feel trippy.

Quintessential Thailand.

Quintessential Thailand.

What Bangkok looks like when you're severely jet-lagged.

What Bangkok looks like when you’re still really jet-lagged.  But at this point, you don’t care!

Establishing Straightforward Relationships as a Foreigner: Understanding Types of Interactions, and Roles

It might be unnerving to think about negotiating with strangers for what you need and want on a trip.  Asking for help, receiving services, or making arrangements with people you don’t know can expose you to a wide range of personalities, moods, cultural differences, and the occasional thoughtless or rude response. As a traveler, it helps to view your interactions as falling into one of two categories: 1) those that you have to initiate, and 2) those that the other person has to initiate. Another way to think of these respective categories is:

  1. Those interactions that you can’t control, and
  2. Those that you can.

Generally, if you’re paying for a service, then someone else has to initiate the interaction – and will likely do so in a courteous and sensitive manner (yes, I know, this is a very optimistic assumption!).  Since as a tourist you are paying for a number of things including hotels, airfare, secondary transportation, and meals, the majority of your interactions will be those where the other person must approach you and offer what you need and want.  Understanding this can go a long way towards mitigating your anxiety since breaking the ice with someone is almost always the most stressful aspect of an interaction.  Let tour guides, waiters, bellhops, maids, flight attendants, and hotel receptionists do their jobs, and relax.

Examples of interactions that you usually initiate include those with taxi drivers; when asking for directions or help; when making reservations or arrangements you haven’t yet paid for; or with unresponsive service staff.  If you’re like most people have some anxiety, you try to keep these interactions to a minimum – or resort to email for reservations or to file a complaint.

There are several scenarios where either you or another person may initiate an interaction, such as with store clerks, police or security, other guests, or other tourists.  In some cases you’ll want or need something enough that you’ll broach someone whether it causes you anxiety or not; in other cases, someone may notice that you need something, or are having problems, and come to you.  You’ll have to decide whether it causes you more stress to approach someone out of the blue, or wait a while to be approached.

Is there a correlation between how much money you spend and how much thought you have to put into interacting with others?  Not necessarily.  Although budget travelers are going to pay for fewer services and have to be more proactive in getting what they need, people who are traveling in luxury are going to have more discretion in their interactions with a large number of service people, and may spend a lot of time and energy concerned about how much to tip, who to call for a certain type of service, etc.  Things are going to be most straightforward for middle-of-the-road travelers.

Roles you play

There are basically three roles you play as a tourist.  These are:

  1. Customer;
  2. Guest in country; and
  3. Fellow tourist.

Once you realize that this is how others see you, you may lose a lot of fear of interacting with others.  Here are some things to be aware of regarding each of your roles.

Customer.  Despite your status as a paid customer at a hotel or on a flight, train, ship, etc., you might encounter some unwarranted negativity from service people that causes you distress.  It may seem obvious, but different service people will have different attitudes toward tourists.  Many are in their jobs because they enjoy interacting with people around the globe; others are frustrated with working for low wages, and resent that you have the means to vacation thousands of miles away.

If you’re stuck in a days-long arrangement with stress-inducing service staff, try softening them up by getting their mind off work.  You can usually do this by talking about what you love about their city, compared to what you don’t like at home.  Frustrated people want to rediscover their surroundings, or see that they have things better than they realized – and curiosity about what your home country is really like often gets the better of their unfriendliness.

Guest in country.  If you wander off the typical tourist path, you may interact with the people of your host country outside of just the service sector.  This could be at a supermarket, a bus stop, or a post office, where – depending on how provincial your destination is – you could be stared at or treated as something of a novelty.  Friendly and curious people can cause you to feel very awkward without intending to.  If their attention or scrutiny causes you anxiety, remember that you have a lot of control at the start of an interaction with someone, but the longer you engage, the less you’re able to deny invitations or queries without stress.  Do your share of smiling and excusing yourself – and move on with your business.

There are plenty of stories about Americans (and a lot fewer about Canadians) who are openly derided or snubbed abroad, but if you’re traveling alone or with only one other person, you’re far more likely to be judged as an individual rather than subject to stereotypes.  Some of the personality traits that are common among anxiety sufferers, such as being reserved and sensitive to the needs of others, work against the usual stereotypes applied to Americans, and in your favor.

Fellow tourist.  Consider this: you’re more likely to have an unpleasant experience with other tourists than with service personnel or locals.  This is because you’re essentially competing with other tourists for the best seats, space, or attention wherever you go.  People from different cultures may demonstrate a variety of impatient or aggressive responses when it comes to seeing what they want to see, and going where they need to go.  Keep in mind that your public behavior may be equally unfamiliar to them, and may even come off as arrogant or threatening, even if this is the last thing you intend and you’re behaving like you always would.

Despite these challenges, you should be prepared to occasionally interact with other tourists to get what you need or want.  You may need to use someone else’s phone because your battery has gone dead, or you could need a couple bills of the local currency because the local TravelExchange kiosk doesn’t open for hours.  The basic rule is to not expect any favors from other tourists.  If you need something, you should have something to offer in exchange.  This could be, for example:

Ÿ                     Your still-valid metro ticket in exchange for someone’s map;

Ÿ                     A camera trade to take pictures of each other in front of landmarks; or

Ÿ                     A couple Euros in exchange for using their cell phone for a few minutes.

Making it clear what you have to offer, and what you would like in exchange, makes it difficult for the other person to say no, yet doesn’t make you come off as pushy or demanding.

On the shuttle bus from Buenos Aires to the cruise port.  Do you folks mind moving over so I'm not standing on the red line?

On the shuttle bus from Buenos Aires cruise check-in to the Celebrity port. Would you folks mind moving your luggage so I’m not standing on the red line when the door opens?

Phobias vs. Fears: Which Control us More?

At some point in our lives, most of us will develop a phobia.  Some of us will develop a few of them, actually.  Phobias come in so many forms, and many of them are so common, that most of us don’t have a problem talking about them — and they kind of ride along with us through life, like a minor sore on the back of our head.  We even joke about phobias; they’ve become part of the popular culture.   Claustrophobia.  Agoraphobia.  Arachnophobia.  Many of us would rather talk in terms of “our phobias” instead of “our fears” or “our anxiety.”  Phobias, being very specific in nature, usually have a good justification  — something that most people can relate to and talk about without needing (or wanting) to go into three hours of miserable backstory of how they “got this way.”  I have a real phobia about…  yes, that just sounds so much healthier to describe the things that, well, freak us out.

Can you name your phobia(s)?  Probably.  But can you name all your fears?  That’s undoubtedly a longer list.  We develop fears before we can even spell the word, after all.  And fear is an overused word.  I fear this, I fear that.  Technically speaking, “fear” is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  An emotion.  Interesting.  So what exactly, is a phobia?

Well, there are lots of long-winded definitions.  But a phobia is basically a fear that impairs your life.  Your unpleasant emotion had mushroomed into an aversion.

If you fear something,  you can do it, see it, or live with it anyway. If you have a phobia about something… you can’t.  You avoid it at all costs, even if you know you’re overreacting.

So would you still rather talk about your phobias than your fears?

The fact is, we can function just fine through life with a phobia or two.  We can also live normal lives with a number of fears.  But how do we tell when a particular growing fear has become a phobia?  When does that fear lead to a condition where we’re shutting down a small part of our life — or making our lives more difficult?

I knew a woman from Toronto who wouldn’t drive at night, for any reason.  She had to travel back and forth to Miami a lot for her job, and one fall afternoon her flight got delayed and she landed in Toronto at 7:30 pm.  It was a calm, dry evening, and she was staring at her car in the lot, debating.  She just had to drive to her small farm about 55 miles outside the city — a route that she knew well.  Could she do it?  No.  She wasn’t even thinking about what had caused her fear, and eventually her phobia: a friend hitting an animal at midnight some years ago, and waking up in a ditch paralyzed.  All this woman could think was: NIGHT: DRIVE: NO.  Could she have taken a cab?  You bet.  But she walked to the nearest airport hotel, and put herself up for the night.  Did this woman have a phobia?

I’ll compare her to a guy I sat next to on a flight from Casablanca to Lisbon last month. He was originally from Mali,  mid-20s,  loved to fly — and could tell me everything about the Boeing 767 we were on, bragging about the safety features as if he’d designed them himself.   He admitted, though, that he had a real “hang-up” with flying over populated areas, and explained that’s why he loved our particular flight — because it was “all ocean.” I had to inform him that no, we were going to fly — pretty low, I might add — over the entire city of Lisbon before landing.  He didn’t believe me until we blazed right over the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, close enough to tell SUVs from cars.

Well, this guy went into a bit of a panic.  Switching seats with me, so he could be in the aisle seat, didn’t help.  But what could he do?  Nothing, except live through his phobia, and wait for the plane to not suddenly clip a building or a power line.   I thought about how, sometimes, not knowing everything about what we’re going to do is sometimes good, because you can end up looking your phobia right down the throat before you’re wound up in that anticipatory dread that helped turn the f-word into your aversion in the first place.

I didn’t tell the man this.  I asked him to think about what our plane must look like to the people on the bridge, and the roads leading to the airports.  Some of them had to fear that our plane would crash, inexplicably, into their paths, and end their ultimate journey.  But they were still driving down there, even though there were plenty of places to pull over.  They weren’t stopping.

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