It was 5 degrees in Chicago, the pilot announced, as we flew in from sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico. The wind-chill factor was unmentionable.
The homebound vacationer in front of me sighed and went to the restroom to change from shorts to jeans. But she had no other shoes. As we deplaned at O'Hare her bare toes crimped in the cold. The metal walls of the icy ramp echoed with the flip-flop of her sandals.
This is the sort of silly scene that plays the nation's airports in midwinter. Travelers on short holidays often want to keep it simple. They dress for their destinations and decide to wing it through intermediate climates at hub cities. The recent extremes of arctic air have made dress codes even harder to decipher.
On the flight to Chicago I sat by a sunburned man in a snappy straw hat with a band that read "Dunk Island, Australia." He wore boat shoes because he'd been sailing, and heavy socks because of the Midwest cold.
The Airline Blanket
I could not point the finger, however, without calling attention to my white linen blouse and denim skirt and jacket, which were the color of eggplant. My traveling costume was keyed to the Caribbean. I carried a cotton sweater in my tote bag. The blankets on the aircraft were welcome.
In the San Diego airport I had watched a woman of determinate years teeter past on those backless, high-heeled slippers called mules. One leg was tennis-club tan, the other encased in a walking cast that was strapped under her instep. She embodied pride going before a fall--and after.
On a rickety pier at Trellis Bay, down the road from the Beef Island airport that serves the British Virgin Islands, I had cheered an impromptu strip artist. She was a New York matron, called home in the midst of a yachting holiday.
For the climb down the boat ladder and the water-splashed dinghy ride to shore she dressed in oversize cotton pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sneakers. Her waist was thick and rippled. Her smile also was broad.
As her husband hummed a bump-and-grind theme, she wriggled out of the pants and unrolled the expensive Adolfo knit skirt that was lumped at her waist. She opened a vinyl trash bag and switched to city shoes. Then she tucked in her shirt and added a suit jacket.
"If Adolfo could see you now, he might give up the design business," a friend said.
Change in San Juan
The friend had taken the opposite tack in cross-dressing. She left the boat in boat clothes and planned to change to her city suit in San Juan. They ignored my comment that they could travel in sports clothes because their arrival at JFK airport would be at midnight. (They might see someone they knew, one told me. They might not, I said.)
Improvisation is part of the fun of a travel wardrobe. Choices are fewer than at home.
A cotton shawl or big scarf feels good around the shoulders as the sun goes down in the Caribbean in what passes for winter.
A long cotton T-shirt can save your back from sunburn while you snorkel, and if you are intent on crawling over reefs in shallow waters, cotton garden gloves can be a buffer against cuts and scratches. I have learned not to take my best swimsuit for snorkeling because coral reefs cause snags.
For more northerly wintertime travels I pack a muffler to tuck into the collar of my trench coat. A pair of warm gloves can mean the difference between enjoying a crisp walk by the waterfront of Baltimore or Bristol, or wishing you were back at a pub. With gloves you are free to do both.
The aforementioned heavy socks are good for hikes or wearing to sleep in cold beds. A woolen cap holds in body heat that tends to escape through your scalp.
Rules that for me are inviolate:
I would never board an airplane without carrying a pullover sweater. Even on flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii, jet cabins get chilly. Sweaters are more comfortable than a jacket when you curl up to read or nap.
I would never board an airplane wearing flip-flop sandals. And I would prefer not to sit by a goose-bumped traveler who does.