Here with me are a handful of inanimate objects which I feel no particular attachment to, yet am constantly on my guard, wary of any airport thieves hunting their way through Reagan National Airport on the lookout for a Dunkin’ Donuts bitter and poorly flavored medium French Vanilla Iced Coffee.
My face—better yet, my body—reads like an open book, and I am almost positive that anyone within a hundred mile radius can make out the tension and exhaustion that encapsulates me. I suppose I have plenty of mediums of entertainment at my disposal—three books, an iPhone, over a thousand songs, a Mac computer, my own brain—but the only thing I can think about is how I should be in friggin’ Providence, Rhode Island right now, peering out at the streets and in the comfort of an actual home.
And then it hits me.
How self-centered am I?
How self-centered are we?
The same visage has set up shop on nearly everyone’s faces. It mumbles and grumbles a testy, “I have better things to do with my life than spend any more time in this God forsaken Hell hole of an airport. Why do I have to bear the burden of mechanical issues and a thunderstorm? Doesn’t the Universe get it? I need to be somewhere.”
Newsflash, folks. We all need to be somewhere. We all know our lives would be better spent somewhere that doesn’t include heinous carpeting or a Customer Service line longer than the line for Space Mountain. But what good are these thoughts?
They are Poisonous Dart frogs leaping across the synapses of our brains, purposefully avoiding any chance of releasing succulent serotonin or divine dopamine.
So why do we so nonchalantly invite them in? We do it without a moments hesitation, believing it to be the norm. We’ve seen our neighbors, friends, and family all do the same thing. So who are we to deviate from the status quo? There are a handful of stereotypical experiences which society has deemed stressful, tumultuous, unnerving, and out right frustrating. The world has conditioned us to believe that by disagreeing, we are somehow in the wrong. So when the old man hunched over his crumpled copy of the New York Times, gulping down his black coffee, turns to you and carps, “Screw the DMV,” you are inclined to agree—even if you have never had anything but a perfectly pleasant time at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And so generation after generation has been taught to hate the DMV. Or in my case, airlines.
I’m on my way to Providence, Rhode Island, and it’s my first solo flight. I’m sixteen and detest flying. And I mean detest. I got naseous just booking the flight. So to say that I was petrified for this trip would be an understatement. My lips trembled, throat closed, eyes welled as I reached Charleston airport’s Point of No Return—the ferociously intimidating security line. When the official looking man in his blue uniform could barely read the tiny script on my poorly printed boarding pass, my knees wobbled with the fear that something might go horribly wrong.
What if I couldn’t board the plane because the man left his bifocals at home, and therefore had no way of reading the print?
What if I caused the people behind me to miss their flights because the Boarding Pass Fiasco took seven hundred hours, and it was all my fault because my name and flight information were written in point zero two font?
And so the “what ifs” went for the forty-two seconds it took the man to check my boarding pass and let me on through.
One missed flight, two delays, and three cups of Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Coffee later, I laugh at the unaccompanied minor with the fear that something may go wrong. As one kind frequent flyer put it, I have been “baptised in fire.” So I guess that means I’m a seasoned flyer with the stories to prove it.
I’ve seen it all, my friends. I’ve cautiously crossed the weak barrier between the angry, displaced flyer and the exhausted, overworked attendant after a too-chipper woman announced over the loud speaker that our twice delayed flight was cancelled.
I have been in the cold and dreary US Airways staff room and awaited the woman who would take me to my hotel in DC because at sixteen I was still forced to be under the constant watch of an adult.
A wallflower in a room without sunlight, I now know the heavily-accented Hispanic woman who wore bright, ’80s pink lipstick, which only brought out the dark circles under her wrinkled eyes. I know how she’d clocked in at ten A.M. that morning and wouldn’t get to clock out until one A.M, which meant she still had another hour on the floor. Her pink lips formed the same tired sentence over and over again: I have to come back in at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. I live an hour away! That’s only six hours of sleep. Dios mio!
While I boarded another flight and arrived in Providence, this woman would be working a thirteen hour shift because she needed the money to pay her bills.
Put anyone through the missed flight wringer enough times, and you can kiss goodbye to any sunny disposition. Optimism becomes a foreign word—even to the know-it-all-with-a-fanny-pack beside you who claims to be fluent in well over thirty-nine and a half languages (“Latin is really only half a language, considering it’s already six feet under”). To miss a few flights due to inclement weather is to pronounce your plans dead upon arrival—or should that be “dead upon delay?”
Yet weather is the ultimate uncontrollable variable. It is the permanent grape juice stain on an expensive pair of white jeans. It is impossible to predict—regardless of what Jim “Dr. Doom” Cantori says. So why do we continue to scrub away at the stain, even with no sign of progress? We are a maddened mass, blindly and foolishly believing that by being frustrated and irritable, we can somehow control the weather.
After hours on a cramped plane wrought with turbulence, frustration and irritation are second nature—a default setting. Logically we are all aware that weather cannot be altered upon command, but this doesn’t stop us from threatening the messenger, going so far as to load and cock the gun.
And all of this anger is rooted in one single issue: we assume we are the only ones whose life has been affected by the hellacious occurrences at the airport. We forget the plane seats more than one gold plated throne.
And above all, we forget the simple rule of life.
It will all work out in the end.
Sitting in my black, nearly cushionless chair, I had just come back from a trip to the bathroom. And apparently when you clock enough hours in an airport, you reach a level of discombobulation which causes you to circle the women’s restroom (after almost stumbling into the men’s) three times before finding the clearly marked exit. But there I was, too loopy to be embarrassed by my epic fail at, you know, finding my way out of the maze that is the Reagan National bathroom, when a jocular southern black man began announcing over the Gate 29 loudspeaker. I immediately perked up upon noticing his humorously relaxed yet preacher-esque tone when he orates:
If the worst thing in your life is a gate change, your life is damn good. Hallelujah.
I resisted the strong urge to break out into a karaoke version of Kate Voegele’s rendition of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”–because even when you’re the captain of the Struggle Bus and are teetering on the edge of sobbing and laughing hysterically, it’s impossible to not want to jump on a table and theatrically exclaim, Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah!
But I should note that the worst thing in my life was not just a gate change, but a cancellation. Not that this got me down, because the best man in the entire airport—maybe even DC itself—just preached multiple “hallelujahs,” and even a confused, spiritual, religion-less oddity like myself had nothing on my tongue but “Hallelujah. Halle-freaking-lujah.”
It was somewhere in between this inspirational, TED worthy announcement and driving around DC in a cab at one in the morning that I learned to love flying. But, more specifically, airports. I doubt most of you understand what a major transformation this is for me, but I’d pretty much pulled a Jekyll and Hyde (hopefully my ending isn’t as tragic).
An airport is a writer’s playground. Ripe with inspirtation. A paradoxical mix of detachment and companionship. For the past few hours, I have been trying to conjur up a (legal) way of visitng the departure gates at major airports without having to spend money. My only compromise is the arrival’s gate. What a beautiful sight it must be. The raw emotion that must run rampant. Like in the ending scene of Love Actually, I yearn to be a fly on the wall at Heathrow Airport, blasting the Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows,” and capturing every moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, tear by tear, hug by hug, kiss by passionately desparate kiss.
So what does all of this mean?
It could mean that I have terrible luck. That I shouldn’t ever be trusted to go into an airport bathroom alone because I may get lost. That I’m a sketchy teenager that enjoys people watching to an unhealthy degree.
But hopefully it means something more than all of that.
Hopefully it means I’ve discovered yet another one of the zillion pieces that make up the giant jig-saw puzzle that is life.
Fear, especially the fear of the unknown, is a sinister storm, and the only way to conquer it is to sail right through it. We must educate ourselves with its anatomy, become truly familiar with it, inside and out. Know its strengths, and know that ours are stronger. Know its weaknesses, and know that ours are minimal in comparison. Know that when all is said and done, the sky will turn an ethereal yellow, the universal sign that the storm has passed.