Archived Opinion

Planes, trains and automobiles

Planes, trains and automobiles

Reuniting with my big sister never seems to be an easy jaunt. Whether she’s traveling to North Carolina or I’m visiting her in D.C., one of us must journey almost 500 miles to get to the other.

But despite distance and tight budgets, we’re good about making it happen.

Since we were little girls sharing a room or high schoolers talking about prom dresses or adults chatting about our kids, we never like being apart for too long. Unlike a lot of long-distance family members who may see one another a few times year or only on holidays, my sis and I make sure we’re together as often as possible.

Her family recently moved from Old Town Alexandria to Great Falls, Virginia. I visited them this past weekend to see their new house and help do a little unpacking.

Trips to the D.C. area have always been fun and full of memories, but the traveling part is typically a blip on the radar. The destination is usually my focus, but with this last trip, the traveling itself became a peaceful, reflective adventure.

I’ve had the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma heavy on my heart lately and have been watching the news coverage and reading tweets about people losing their homes, their belongings and their loved ones.

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Last Wednesday evening, I received a text from Allegiant Air that my Thursday flight had been delayed. With thousands of people trying to evacuate Florida and the city being essentially out of gas, the airports were flooded with wayward Floridians fleeing north to dry land.

I continued receiving delayed flight alerts, but instead of getting frustrated like I normally do when travel plans go awry, I felt empathy and sadness for those in the path of the Irma’s ferocious winds and water.

I was already at the airport when I got the final alert, so I decided to roll with it and take advantage of the two extra hours. I relaxed at the airport restaurant, drank a beer, ordered a chicken gyro and worked.

When we boarded the plane, I sat down next to a woman who seemed to be around my mom’s age. She was in the aisle seat and I was in the middle. Once the plane doors shut, it was still just the two of us so I slid over to the window seat. As long as I can remember flying, I’ve loved the window seat on an airplane.

We rode the entire flight in silence, her working in a brain teaser book and me reading over notes for new work projects. But about 15 minutes before we were on the ground, we both put our stuff away and began chatting. I immediately liked her disposition. She’s one of those ladies whose soul seems young no matter her date of birth.

She was vibrant and authentic and funny. Midway through the conversation, we ironically found out we both live in Waynesville and both have two sons born three years apart. She and her husband, who was sitting across the aisle on the other side, were still clearly smitten, despite being married since 1970.

During our relatively short conversation, we talked about a realm of personal topics and the conversation felt so good, so real. I hope I run into her at Ingles or Sweet Onion or some other local hot spot. Despite our age difference, we could be very good friends.

Once I landed in Baltimore, I needed to get to D.C. In the past, I’ve taken an Uber to Old Town but a friend told me about the MARC train. Train tickets were only $7 and the ride a mere 30 minutes, so it was perfect.

I haven’t been on a train in quite some time. In college, I backpacked in Europe and in young adulthood, I backpacked the Pacific Northwest and during both experiences, I constantly train-hopped.

It was fun feeling like a youthful college student again, boarding a train alone. I need to travel by train more often.

During the ride, I thought about pulling out my laptop but instead, I kicked my feet up, wrote in my journal and enjoyed the scenic ride.

The train arrived at Washington Union Station in downtown D.C. Before the next leg of the trip, I took time to absorb the grandeur of this gorgeous, historic structure built in 1907.

They really don’t build things like they used to.

From Union Station, I ordered a Lyft ride to get to my sister. Lyft is like Uber, but you can request a female driver which I like doing when I’m traveling alone. My driver’s name was Emerald and she has three little girls, ages 3, 4 and 5. Her 5-year old just started kindergarten like my 5-year old, so we talked a lot about parenting and our kids.

When I was on the train, I thought about my trek from North Carolina to Great Falls, and the phrase “trains, planes and automobiles” kept popping into my head, conjuring visions of John Candy and Steve Martin in their hilarious 1980s movie.

I love writing haiku poems, so while journaling on the train, I wrote:


Oh plane, move onward

Up and away to the clouds

Fly me to that place


Rumble underneath

This timeless, rustic railway

Roll along the earth


Pull up to the front

Open the door, slide on in

Let’s go paint the town

A number of ups and downs over the past several years have really made me pause for thought about the fragility and speed of life. I no longer think happiness or excitement only exists in big events or grandiose experiences or final destinations. For me, happiness is about the people in my world, the work I produce and being mindful of small moments happening in the seemingly mundane every day.

A friend recently gave me a book of quotes, and one of them by Roald Dahl says, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find them.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to always, always believe in magic.

(Susanna Barbee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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