Travel Read: Step Back from the Baggage Claim and book giveaway

To win a signed copy of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, follow the directions at the end of the post.

For Jason Barger, an airport is not only a place where people depart and arrive on airplanes in their quests to get from one location to another. Airports are a metaphor about life. In his book, Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a slim volume that is a perfect size for slipping into a carry-on, Barger does a tidy job of illustrating how we might make the world a nicer place by starting at the airport. Airplane behavior is included in the mix of what can make or break us as a society.

To test out his theory about the power of air travel and airports, Barger hatched out a plane to travel to seven cities in seven days with the goal of never leaving any of the airports. Along the way, he’d be the observer, testing out his ideas. He figured that in in the midst of airport activity he’d find people from different backgrounds, cultures and ages–all going to or coming from somewhere for a variety of reasons. In the process of their arrivals and departures, Barger theorized there would be behaviors that would illustrate each person’s version of the world.

The result was he logged 6,548 miles, 10,000 minutes, 26 hours and 45 minutes of sleep, and a whole lot of writing fodder to condense into palpable bites. Throughout the book–which I’ve read twice, Barger weaves in details about his life that prompted this undertaking.

Barger is is a guy who notices things. Like when the ding goes off on an airplane to signal that retrieving bags from the overhead bins is a-okay, who leaps up, who stays put and who helps others? It’s not just about what other people do, but what do we do?

At a baggage claim, who lets the older person struggle, and who offers a hand? In Barger’s world, wouldn’t it be a lot easier for everyone if we all just took a few steps back from the conveyor belt and worked together? He saw that system work with a group of adolescents he traveled with. Instead of each elbowing his or her way to the circling bags, those in the front, passed bags back making the task easier for everybody.

Even though the book is a missive in a way of doing better, but Barger also looks at the circumstances that creates a situation where we might not try harder. Frustration is a big one. (I have to put in a plug for stupidity.)

Seriously, haven’t you wanted to lob a shoe at someone while you’ve been stuck at an airport? I have. But, there is always the high road option of flowing more easily with a smile, no matter our circumstances. Barger saw the pinnacle of great decorum, for example, when one woman’s neatly packed carry-on was rummaged through by TSA as part of a random check and her belongs left in a pile for her to repack. Instead of fuming and fussing, she remained pleasant, repacked and dashed off to catch a flight–still buoyant.

Even if you want to remain a crab when you travel, Step Back from the Baggage Claim offers a glimpse of the various airports where Barger headed, and what it’s like to hang out in them for extended periods of time. After reading Barger’s book, I don’t think I’ll be throwing elbows anymore as I haul my own bag out of the mix of belongings that are circling by. (Actually, I don’t think I ever have thrown an elbow. Maybe growled, but nothing more.)

Oh, yeah. Where did Barger go? He started in Columbus to Boston to Miami to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to San Diego and back to Columbus.

Here’s one of Barger’s thoughts to take with you when you travel. It might help you have a much better day.

“I’m going to embrace the quiet moments an airplane seat offers us. When the ding sends most into a frenzy, I am going to sit still.”

To read more about Barger and the book, here’s an article that was published in the business section of The New York Times.

To win a copy of the book Step Back from the Baggage Claim:

Leave a short comment about an act of kindness you witnessed while traveling. Maybe it was your act of kindness–or someone else’s. Even the smallest act counts. The winner will be randomly picked.

  • The comment must be left before Friday, May 1st at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • The winner will receive a signed copy of the paperback book Step Back From the Baggage Claim, (valued at $14.95)
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Ode to Horton Foote and The Trip to Bountiful

    Horton Foote, who died yesterday, was most known for writing the screenplay for the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. Foote also wrote The Trip to Bountiful, perhaps one of my all time favorite movies.

    Originally written as a play, and then as a screenplay, The Trip to Bountiful is a traveler’s story about those who are traveling in search of a new life and those who are traveling to go home, even though home may not exist as we remember it.

    There are wonderful scenes between Geraldine Page’s and Rebecca De Mornay’s characters as they ride on a bus through the Texas landscape. Here is a trailer for the movie that has a bit of those scenes.

    In this article about Horton Foote’s life in The New York Times there is an interesting piece of information that also seems poignant. Foote is credited with opening the doors of the theatre of the King Smith School in Washington, D.C. in the 1940s to everyone, making this the first integrated audience in D.C.

    Airfare watchdog’s survey of how much would you pay to fly without kids?

    In her New York Times travel column “Motherlode,” Lisa Belkin recently wrote about flying with children. She titled it, “The Less-Than-Friendly-Skies.”

    As a person who once traveled with babies and young kids (according to her bio, her children are now teenagers) Belkin has sympathy for people who travel with children and mentions those who have problems with children on planes as “crotchety.”

    It’s not that she isn’t sympathetic to the plight of those who don’t have kids with them who are on an airplane with folks who have brought their kids along, but she tends to feel more for the parents who have the kids–and the kids. She recalls the days back when airlines gave kids pilot wings and flight attendants had the time and energy to treat kids like special passengers instead of more work.

    Belkin cites a survey at where people vote according to their travel preference when it comes to money and kids. How much money would you pay extra for a flight that doesn’t allow kids on board?

    At this point, only 38% would not pay more for a ticket. The higher the dollar amount, the lower the percentage would pay the extra cash. 20% would pay $10 more, but only 9% would pay more than $40. (For survey, click here.)

    And who would those people be? Belkin thinks it’s parents with young kids who would like to take a flight where they could actually have time to read a magazine.

    Detroit is on the list of must see places

    Yesterday when I was at a friend’s house for Christmas dinner, I was talking to a friend of my friend about Detroit. She used to live there and said that when people told her there was nothing to do in this city, she took issue. She found there was plenty to do and, as it turns out, she has company in her thinking. The New York Times has come out with a list of 58 places to see in 2008. Detroit is number 40.

    The Motor City Casino Hotel, formerly a Wonder Bread factory that’s been artfully turned into a lodging, eating and gambling establishment that opened this fall, and the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) are part of the reason for the kudos. The DIA just opened after a pricey renovation. One thing that caught my eye about the art museum is the Brunch with Bach series that happens the second Sunday of each month. Food is paired with various musicians from Michigan and elsewhere. Every Friday night the museum is open until 10 and there is free music as part of the visit.

    The Web site lists loads of attractions that can keep a person busy. Whether you like African American history, historic houses, like the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, music, botanical gardens, the zoo, there’s something for everyone’s flavor. One place I’d like to go to is the Detroit Historical Museum run by the Detroit Historical Society. Currently, one of the exhibits is on the 1920s building boom. Maybe Detroit, like Cleveland will be able to make some bucks on the tourist dollar. That would be nice.

    Golf Love: In Afghanistan and More

    Thai writer Pira Sudham wrote a short story once about a farmer who lost his rice farm to a golf course developer because he didn’t understand the terms of the contract. I can’t remember which book the story is in, but for anyone interested in understanding the lives of Thai farmers, Pira Sudham is an excellent place to start. Monsoon Country is the novel that marked his literary success. After reading Sudham’s story, one of my students at the time, a 10th grader at the Singapore American School, said that he would never look at golf courses in the same way. When a guy I once worked with said that he loves golf courses in Asia because they have the best views, I almost choked and kept myself from shouting out, “Haven’t you ever read Pira Sudham?”

    However, there is one golf course in Asia that I just read about in a New York Times article by Kirk Semple, that I so want to succeed. In Kabul, Afghanistan, one man started the Kabul Golf Course three years ago in anticipation of its success. The golf course business has not gone as well as he had hoped for, but he refuses to hang up his clubs for good. The course is a symbol to him that things will get better in his country. The description of the currently grassless golf course reminded me of a golf course I went to in Jos, Nigeria with a banker that I stayed with as part of a Rotary Club exchange program. Instead of the greens, it had the browns. I don’t think my friend who likes golf courses would have liked the view from that one all that much. Personally, I was happy to see that water wasn’t being wasted turning the brown to green. In Afghanistan though, a little green wouldn’t hurt.