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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Feeling all closed in

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton
For as long as I can remember, I've aimed for aisle seats on planes and trains and in restaurants and theaters. When I couldn't have my way, I pouted and felt all closed in.

They call it claustrophobia, but my case is not as severe as some. For example, I can handle air travel OK (aisle seat preferred) while some of my friends suffer unrelenting panic attacks for the duration of a flight.

"I just wish I could open a window and let in some fresh air," one of them told me. "I feel all closed in." And I said, "There's a time and place for everything."

As assistant managing editor at The Baytown Sun, I led a pane-less existence with nary a window in a small office. The work space was about the right size for a rack and clothes hangers.

When managing editor Jim Finley resigned, I took his place and inherited his office, making instant use of a wide window that glared over the newsroom. I liked watching what was going on out there and especially enjoyed having two doors -- one to the newsroom and the other to a hallway leading to an exit to the parking lot. It was good knowing I could see out and get out.

The work atmosphere got even better when, as the result of a major remodeling project, I moved into a glass-walled office with windows opening directly to the outside world. Beautiful view, all that shrubbery and concrete.

Elevators, since their invention, have been the nemeses of claustrophobics. As I gingerly step into one and watch the heavy door close, for one fleeting second I sense entrapment. What if the door won't open again? What if this box won't budge, no matter how many buttons we push?

Years ago in a hospital in Baytown, I was stranded in a jam-packed elevator that stopped between floors and stayed there for too long a time.

I recognized a man standing in the back, undaunted in the midst of whiners going slightly unhinged. I had interviewed him once. A PhD research chemist, he had survived the Holocaust, having escaped as a youth from a concentration camp where the rest of his family died.

The demeanor of that brave and brilliant man - calm and serene in the stuck elevator -- reminded me of a popular book title, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." An elevator, temporarily immobile, must have seemed extremely small stuff to him.

I used to tour caves on vacation trips and never gave claustrophobia a thought. I trailed through Carlsbad Caverns three times and visited several smaller caves over the years.

No problem, enjoyed each tour.

A few years ago I planned to tour the cave at Sonora but, Houston, we had a problem. The tour had just begun- we were barely inside -- but I was already anxious to leave the underground of calcite crystal treasures and come up for air. Caves don't have windows, you know.

When a woman in our tour group complained of feeling weak and dizzy, our guide asked if anyone would escort her out of the cave. "I'll do it," said I, with a snappy Girl Scout salute.

After doing a good deed for a weak and dizzy tourist, this outsider relaxed on a bench, gazing at clouds racing across the big sky and wondering how the tour was going in the land down under.

Postscript: From what I've read but have not seen because I left early, the Sonora cave is awesome fantastic, wondrous, unique - the best. Wikipedia quotes National Speleological Society founder Bill Stephenson's comment that Sonora "is the most indescribably beautiful cave in the world. Its beauty cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan."

See what I missed?



Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" January 6, 2016 columns

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