I do not "fly well". I am neurotic, easily annoyed, and I over-pack. There are lines. There are people, everywhere. There are small spaces that, yes, I fit into with ease, but that does not mean I enjoy them. And though I always treat myself to a new book from Hudson Booksellers, I am rarely pleased with my purchase. It’s always a waste of a day, and a loss of control. For me, it is always a lesson in humility.
Holiday travel has never shown me a kindness. Each year, I end up with an 8-12 hour delay, making a should be 6 hour travel day triple into a 24 hour experience of Satan. I’ve seen Satan in an airport. I’ve felt his hot, nasty coffee-breathe. He is not the charming, more beautiful than all the jewels of the Earth Lucifer the Bible says he is, oh no. He’s a lady in an infinity scarf, shoving her 4 bags she somehow snuck onto the plane into MY personal space, and trying to have a conversation with me about how TSA took EVERYTHING from her, and all I want to do is sleep. There isn’t enough alcohol in the world, and I still have yet to get a Xanax prescription.
I always end up crying for, truly, no valid reason. The amount of times someone has asked me, "Are you okay?", in an airport are far too many to count. Once outside of LAX, when I was waiting on the FlyAway bus to get it’s shit together (it was an hour late), I was so spent, I just put my head in my hands and shed a few “woah is me” silent tears, and I felt a hand on my back, and a very calm, “Hey, there. Can I help you?” As I hate being touched, in general, and especially hate being touched unexpectedly, and EVEN MORE SO WHEN I AM “HAVING A MOMENT”, I turned abruptly to the man with a look of deep rage. He retracted his touch immediately, put both hands up in defense, and uttered, “Annnnnd, looks like you want me to fuck right off.” And he LITERALLY ran away. No one should talk to me in airports. I am my worst self.
Last Christmas, however, was probably one of the best and worst flying experiences I’ve ever had. I was headed home to Arkansas, and was scheduled for a 6am flight. At 4am, that flight was, of course, canceled, and I was rescheduled for a new flight 7 hours later. I’d have a new layover in Colorado, and be in Arkansas around 10pm. Not ideal, but bearable. But, as fate would have it, “weather” intervened. My new flight was delayed due to rain in San Francisco (I’m still rolling my eyes), and by the time it finally arrived and crews were reorganized (the REAL reason the plane was delayed), I missed my connecting flight in Colorado. There were no other flights into Northwest Arkansas or the surrounding airports until morning. I was stuck in Denver for the night.
By the time I landed in Denver, I had already cried in an airport bathroom twice – once because of the delayed flight, and second because there were no spots left at the Chile’s bar. However, by the time I cued up for guest services to get a new flight for the morning, I had accepted my fate, and was in a better, not great, but better mood. I made a joke that I can’t remember. The girl in front of me joked back. We laughed. Then, the guy in front of her joked back at both of us, and by the front of the line, we had made a pact to get the best hotel room we could together.
The names have been changed to protect the, well, guilty. I’ll get to our crime, shortly, but I promise you it’s nothing unforgiveable. In fact, it’s almost, dare I say?, patriotic ...
We will call her Ava, and him Hunter. Ava was headed to a family/friends gathering in Tulsa, I believe?, and Hunter was headed home on leave from the Navy. He hadn’t seen his family in about a year (maybe 8 months?). Whatever, he hadn’t seen them in A WHILE.
After getting new flights, and receiving a voucher for 50% off a hotel room for the night, we sat in the lobby, googling away at our phones for options.
We decide on the Marriot. Ava calls to make the reservation.
While we wait, I notice Hunter mustering up some courage. I pretend to ignore it, mostly because it’s making me laugh, but I’m truly not sure what he’s about to ask me. And then, he does, “May I ask? How old are you?”
It’s the gentlest questioning of my age I’ve ever received. But he’s asking it so gently out of politeness. He has been raised to never ask a woman how old she is, and it is beyond sweet.
“I’m 27.” And then it hits me…. His nervous state hasn’t changed. It’s almost growing … OH NO! HE’S A BABY! “You’re not 21…”
Hunter shakes his head no in shame. I pat his hand. “It's okay baby boy. You’re serving our country. The least we can do is get you a beer.”
That night, Ava and I served our country by cleaning the bar out of their Champagne splits, and serving them to a Veteran. Yes, we broke the law, but in the eyes of God and country, we were patriots. It was an all-around enjoyable, pleasant evening. A very drunk, pleasant, and enjoyable evening.
In the morning, we headed out into the freezing cold, and huddled together for warmth on the shuttle bus back to the airport. And then, we said our goodbyes, and took off for our prospective holiday gatherings. It wasn’t the most ideal of situations, but we had made it through together. And oddly enough, I landed in Arkansas that next day feeling better than I ever had traveling before.
I had really needed that experience. I had been dreading going home. Well, I always kind of dread going home, and I feel like an asshole admitting that. It’s not just the travel-time and airport that makes me dread. It’s that going home is usually a reminder of all the things I haven’t done yet. It’s forced reflection, and I never feel fully prepared to put in that mental, emotional work. But that particular Christmas, I was dreading it even more. It was the first Christmas after my parent’s divorce, and the last Christmas I would ever spend in my childhood home. It was going to hurt like hell, and a 24 hour travel day wasn’t helping it.
But then, I was reminded of why I was going back. Ava, Hunter, and I were waiting on the shuttle to the hotel, huddled together in the cold. Hunter was still on the phone with his family, and he just kept saying, “No, don’t do that. I’ll see you tomorrow." When he got off the phone, he explained that his mother kept offering to come pick him up – a 16 hour drive there and back. She didn’t care about road conditions, or sleep deprivation, or time. She just wanted her baby home as soon as possible. I was going home for my mom. My mom that wanted me back, just as much. And no matter how much self-reflection I was going to have to do, how much shit I was going to have to clean out of my childhood closet so our family home could be sold, how much time I was going to spend crying in an airport bathroom when I flew back to LA because someone took my seat at the Chile's bar again, it was going to be worth it to be there with my mom, with my family.
In a little over a week, I will get on a plane, that will more than likely be delayed. Then, I’ll rush to another plane, but this plane will be even smaller, and smell of body odor and popcorn, and will not have the cool little tv’s that I can watch movies on. Then, that popcorn plane will land in, literally, a cow pasture, and by the grace of god and all that is holy, I’ll be home for Christmas.
Please, if you see me at the airport, do not ask me if I am okay. I am most definitely not. If you must approach me, however, please… approach me with a Bloody Mary, and your deepest sympathies for my plight.