Story last updated at 12/16/2009 - 11:51 am
For many Americans, traveling long distances is part and parcel of the holiday season. Nothing says "happy holidays" like long layovers, overbooked flights, and traffic - all accompanied by a seasonal soundtrack coming out of every speaker.
I'm feeling surprisingly ambivalent about missing all of the chaos of holiday travel this year. I can't remember ever having stayed in the same place for the entire six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year's.
Travel seems such a quintessential part of the holidays that it seems strange to somehow escape it. (I doubt anyone will buy my argument that I visited family during another holiday season, the one around Labor Day.)
After all, holiday travel is special because it usually involves going to where our family is. And we talk about this, often, as going "home for the holidays."
This year I can't help feeling I'm describing my plans with two contradictory statements: I'm staying home this year, and I'm not going home this year.
"Home" is a strange word. We use it to mean the place where we currently go to sleep at night, but unless we've lived in the same house all our lives (which I believe is becoming increasingly rare in our country), we also often use "home" for our childhood home, the place we first knew as home.
How can we have two homes? When does a place become a home, and when does another place stop becoming a home? Does it ever?
In the years after first leaving my childhood home, I felt my two homes fighting for my loyalty. After all, you could ask, why leave a perfectly good home unless the new one is somehow better? It's natural to focus on the good of the new and the bad of the old - if you're the one choosing to leave.
But at some point, ideally, the fight ends. You can live in one place and still appreciate and love another. This is how I feel now about my adopted home of Juneau and my first home of Chicago. I feel like I could get away with calling both home.
In "A Field Guide to Letting Lost," Rebecca Solnit writes about leaving her house in San Francisco to go on annual road journeys, always following the same route:
"Sometimes I thought of my apartment in San Francisco as only a winter camp and home as the whole circuit around the West I travel a few times a year and myself as something of a nomad (nomads, contrary to current popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far form being the drifters and dharma bums that the word 'nomad' often connotes nowadays). This meant that it was all home..."
I was reading this passage the last time I was en route from Juneau to Chicago, and Solnit's words struck home. Aha, I thought - I'm a nomad!
And as most travel in and out of Southeast Alaska involves at least some air travel, could these air routes and airports be thought of as an extension of home as well? I'm not sure. But by now I've gone back and forth between Chicago and Juneau enough times that it does start to feel like a nomadic route. It's all "home," in a weird way - the Juneau airport, Sea-Tac, and finally O'Hare, where the Alaska Airlines presence is small enough that in one of the world's largest and busiest airports, I know I'll almost always fly in and out of dear old gate L2B, a reassurance I doubt few other O'Hare passengers have.
Thinking of a crowded airport terminal as home probably seems like a ridiculous idea to everyone who's traveling this time of year. Still, I'm feeling a little nostalgic for it, knowing that I won't get to embark on the usual seasonal nomadic route this year.
However time-consuming and sometimes frustrating travel between homes can be, it's a small price to pay for the precious link that allows me to keep calling two places home.
For those of you who are traveling this season, enjoy the journey - and say hi to Sea-Tac for me.
Katie Spielberger is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.