Can’t Tie Me Down

by d

Mimi & Eunice, by Nina Paley

The first time I traveled by myself, I was fourteen or fifteen. A friend had moved away, but she and her mother were attending the Star Trek convention Shore Leave, so we arranged to meet in Baltimore. (It was also my first con. A 7-foot Klingon leered at me, “Do you know what we do to CON VIRGINS?”) This involved me taking a five hour train, alone.

I was more excited than worried, maybe a little nervous. My dad, on the other hand, felt concerned enough to give me a speech.

“What do you do if someone comes at you? How do you make a fist? Stay near people. Don’t sleep on the train, don’t listen to music.” He also gave me my first Swiss Army Knife, on a keychain. I love that thing. I’ve never had to use it to defend myself, but it has come in useful as a knife, a screwdriver, and a pair of scissors. It lives on my keys. I do feel more prepared when I have it.

I’ve since done a lot of traveling on my own. I’ve made the Baltimore/DC trip a few times. I joined the commuters into New York City for three and a half years, and got myself all over Manhattan. I’ve taken the Chinatown bus both north and south. Most of this involved trains and buses. Until Saturday, I’d never flown by myself.

Flying is, in and of itself, hardly unusual for me. The first time I few, I was an infant. Every few years, I have occasion to do it again. The last time I flew was 2004, for a school trip. I’m not afraid of flying, and I know the routine fairly well. But, I’ve always had an older, wiser adult on one of these trips.

Airports are fucking confusing. Everything is mislabeled, spaced unevenly, or just plain hard to get to. And that’s the outside, trying to pick up or drop off. Inside is much the same, with an additional layer of anxiety. What if the TSA thinks I’m suspicious? What if they detain me? What if I miss my flight because of it? What if they decide they don’t like something about me and they detain me for days?

Yes, America’s Transportation Security Administration is still one of the worst parts about flying. Also on the list are the airlines themselves. On my trip to Utah I was charged nearly $50 to get my checked suitcase there and back, I wasn’t assigned a seat until just before boarding commenced, and at my home airport I waited half an hour for the baggage carousel to start moving. (Miraculously, the Salt Lake City baggage carousel presented our bags to us as we first walked up to it, and away we went. This is probably because one walks miles from the gate to the baggage claim, so they had time.)

There’s a lot of alleged risk for a woman traveling alone, but I didn’t experience any of it. Really, I never have. Part of this is personal power–I project an attitude that says, ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ and ‘I know where I am going.’ This attitude is vital; it was the first lesson I impressed upon the college freshmen I mentored.

I took shuttles solo, driven by men. I met with people I have known online for years but had yet to see face-to-face. I wandered foreign shopping malls. I got myself from hotel bed to home baggage claim without a hitch. Everyone was very courteous (everyone in Utah is incredibly friendly and open to good ideas), and I was even thanked, genuinely, for my patience when a store’s computers caused a delay.

Sure, I didn’t fly somewhere particularly dangerous, but I would like to take this opportunity to encourage women to travel. You don’t have to go somewhere scary to feel empowered and independent. You don’t necessarily have to avoid those places, either. Baltimore and New York both have neighborhoods I wouldn’t want to walk through alone on a dark night, but that didn’t stop me from going to those cities. I had a wonderful time when I was there.

Traveling alone has made me feel confident and capable. It’s really not such a big deal, especially within a country like the United States.

No one treated me like a child, a simpering woman, or an idiot.

Lastly, to everyone who made jokes about Mormons abducting me to join their polygamist marriages: Joke’s on you. I didn’t let stereotypes deter me, and I really enjoyed myself. So there.

2 Comments to “Can’t Tie Me Down”

  1. I loved this travelogue.
    1) I will always associate baggage handling with hell. Can’t help it. I have /never/ had a good baggage handling experience.

    2) I’m glad the people of Utah were nice to you. They were nice to me, too, but I couldn’t stand their hellish weather.

    3) I really need to send you the link to the Franz Kafka airport video that the Onion made. You would laugh your ass off.

    4) I love the Paley graphic! I love love love love love her.

    My favorite quote has to be this:

    “There’s a lot of alleged risk for a woman traveling alone, but I didn’t experience any of it. Really, I never have. Part of this is personal power–I project an attitude that says, ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ and ‘I know where I am going.’ This attitude is vital; it was the first lesson I impressed upon the college freshmen I mentored.”

  2. Haha, what?? Mormons don’t generally walk up to you at random and try to convert you. They go door-to-door. And I’ve never had one be rude, discourteous, or whatever else when they came to my door. They just want to give you their speech (which has likely been somewhat rehearsed) about their religion, why they think it would be good if you joined, offer to give you brochures, cards, and other little things, and then go away. If you tell them to leave before they’re done, they’re very nice about saying thank you and leaving. I had a Mormon for a teacher once, and there was nothing weird about him.

    Further, NOT all Mormons are polygamists. The official church denounced that when Utah became a state. The ones that still are polygamists are not the ones you’ll likely talk to, because they don’t like talking to people outside of their unofficial sect (which the official Mormon church does not recognize in any capacity). They don’t like to hang around outsiders more than they can help, precisely because of the fact that their lifestyle is prohibited by law and police, working on their own knowledge, but mostly on tips from outsiders, often raid their homes in search of proof that polygamy is going on, arresting men and women, scaring children, and scaring the general populace. You know them, however, when you see them, due to the way they dress. Sort of like you know an Amish person when you see them. Although their style of dress is not the same. :p

    Official Mormons, however, dress like everyone else and are quite friendly, open, and willing to help you out if you need it. At least all the ones I’ve come into contact with are.

    I’ve always portrayed a, ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ sort of attitude, and I’ve never been hassled with (except by classmates lol). I do not, however, portray an, ‘I know where I am going,’ sort of attitude, though. But, I’ve never had an issue with anyone due to it.

    I used to have a Swiss Army Knife, too, but I don’t know what happened to it. Oh well, I don’t travel often. I have pepper spray, though! 🙂

    I have never traveled anywhere I needed to go on a bus, train, or plane for, though. Ever. I’ve never had the opportunity and the few times I talked about it, I wasn’t fond of the idea of flying and I didn’t have money, anyway. There is no public transit in my town (so I’d have to travel to the nearest place that has public transit which is AT LEAST an hour or hour and a half away) just to do so. I’m wary of flying only because I’m not sure how I’d deal with the height aspect. The idea that I just sit near the aisle and don’t look out a window might not work with me, because I can’t fool myself into thinking something that IS going on ISN’T going on. I’d still know we were flying. Even if I wasn’t seeing it. :p

    And, I’m afraid of trains. I hear about train accidents more than I hear about bus or plane accidents! And, I just don’t trust buses! The ones in the areas I’d likely be using them are shit. They don’t get adequate maintenance, the drivers aren’t that reliable, etc. etc. etc.

    As for bus stations, train stations, and air ports…I can get lost anywhere. I’m sure I’ll end up in Russia if I tried to get on a plane by myself. :p

    But, my reluctance is largely due to an intolerance for inconvenience and phobias. It is not based on worry that, as a woman, I’m in some sort of heightened danger than others are, especially being inexperienced with traveling. One shouldn’t let something like that stop them from traveling. I’ll eventually end up traveling somewhere on one of these things I look at so skeptically, I know I will. Hardly anyone can go their entire life without it and I wouldn’t want to. That would make my movements even just around the US either very tedious (and expensive; gas prices!) or impossible.

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