March 20, 2008

Return home

Coming home from our trip to the southwest took forever. We'd spent the week driving across the State That Terry Tempest Williams Writes About, and on the last day of the trip, we drove several hundred miles through the desert to get to Obnoxious City Where Even the Airport Has Slot Machines. We had planned to take a red-eye flight that would get us back home the next morning.

I wasn't looking forward to the flight. When I fly, my ears hurt and my stomach feels queasy. I can feel the pressure changing inside my head, just threatening to trigger a migraine, I'm very claustrophic, and half the time, I would actually welcome a crash just to put me out of my misery. To say that I'm not fun to fly with would be an understatement. The only person who has ever said he likes to fly with me is my father, and that's only because he has all these same traits, and it cheers him up to know that I am feeling even more miserable than he is.

Going through security, I was chosen for a random check, which meant the nice security guard got to see all the crap that had accumulated in my backpack for the last week. "Were you hiking?" he asked nicely through big puffs of rock dust as he emptied the plastic bags of half-eaten food, crumpled paper bags, and wrinkled trail maps out onto the table. "Yes, " I said. "We were -- TWO HANDS! HOLD THE LAPTOP WITH TWO HANDS!" It's probably bad form to yell at airport security guards, but it drove me crazy to watch this nice young man pick up my laptop with one hand as casually as if it were a trashy paperback novel that could be replaced for a couple of dollars and not a precious instrument that holds everything I've ever written.

Unfortunately, the city we were supposed to fly through, Southern City Where I Always Get Stuck for Hours Every Time I Go Anywhere, was having what the cheerful woman at the counter called "weather." Thanks to the televisions hung in every corner of the airport, televisions that blared noisily over the sound of the clanging slot machines, making quiet reading impossible for stranded travelers, we found out that "weather" meant a tornado had come through Southern City Where the Phoenix is a Standard Cliche. Our flight was cancelled but she put us on standby for a later flight. Sadly, I had already taken my dramamine, which tends to reduce me to a zombie state, especially after a long day, so I spent the next few hours in a sort of drugged haze, blurrily checking blogs to make sure all my southern blogging friends were still alive, half trying to sleep propped against my backpack, and partly trying to make conversation with my husband, who was equally tired but not so drugged.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, Cheerful Woman said that she had one seat left on a flight to Southern City That Was Hopefully Done with the Tornado. Her plan was for me to go ahead to the Southern City That is Nowhere Near Where I Live. She said all the flights out of that city were already overbooked or cancelled which meant I'd be still stranded someplace far from home. I could see no advantage to this plan except that I'd be back in my own time zone, and I could spend the next 24 hours in an airport that had no slot machines while my husband would have to take a million connecting flights that would maybe get him home eventually. The advantage to my husband, of course, would be that he would no longer have to listen to me complain about how tired I was, but he loyally tried to pretend he wanted to travel with me.

We gave the seat to the third passenger on the stand-by list, and my husband began looking up flights on my laptop computer to find a better route home. Eventually, he talked Cheerful Woman into giving us vouchers for a hotel, a place that turned out to be nicer than anyplace we'd stayed all week. My happiness at getting a chance to sleep in a real bed, with nice plump pillows, was marred when I saw my husband setting the alarm clock. We could only sleep for a few hours, because we had to return to the airport to catch an early flight. And of course, our luggage had already gone onto Snowstorm City, which meant that we were once again stranded without clean clothes. Had I learned my lesson and packed anything useful in my carry-on? Of course not.

After three glorious hours of sleep, the dreadful alarm clock woke us up. It was still dark. At least we didn't have to pack. That's the advantage of having no luggage. We returned to the airport, got into a long security line, and were rewarded by getting chosen once again for a random search, this time by a nice young woman who talked cheerfully about her favorite hiking spots as she patted me down and went through useless items in my carry-on. Three hours of sleep had not done anything miraculous to wake me from my zombie state, and I just stood there in a stupor while security guards swiped at my laptop with what looked like baby wipes. Had I gotten around to throwing away the accumulated junk in the backpack? Of course not. A security guard young enough to be my son carefully sorted through crumpled national park brochures, broken pens, and half-opened rolls of lifesavers.

A dose of dramamine reduced me to stumbling about like I was drunk, and I stopped even pretending to make cheerful conversation with my husband, who was busy anyhow trying to get us on a flight to ... well, to anywhere. Soon we were on a plane to Famous City With Big Lake and Lots of Mormons, back in State that Gave Us Donny Osmond. The irony is that we had spent the week driving across that very state. Yes, after 24 hours of traveling, we were back to where we had started. Apparently the midwestern city that serves as the other hub for the airline, the place where it would be logical to fly through, was having an ice storm.

By then I had lost track of what time it was, what day it was, or which part of the country we were in. Airports all look alike after a while. And they all seem to have televisions now, constantly blaring images and noise, with story after story about how the governor of my state had been having sex with a prostitute, a constantly barrage of information and speculation and way more than I ever wanted to know. Really a short paragraph in a newspaper about Scandalous Ex-governor would have been enough for me. We flew this time to City Where They Make Cars, far away from ice storms and tornados. I forgot to add that we did get bumped for one of these flights, which means we get vouchers towards our next trip. The vouchers cheered my husband up considerably, since he loves to travel, but by then, I was exhausted, reduced to a half-asleep creature sitting on the airport floor, using her coat as a pillow and vowing never to set foot in an airport again. Really, I am not fun to travel with.

Eventually we finally ended up on a plane that was headed to Snowstorm City. When we got off the plane, it was still dark. Or rather, a whole day had gone by, and we'd missed it. I put on the winter coat that I'd carried through several airports and walk out into the cold fresh air. We were home.


BerryBird said...

Anyone that would still be having fun after such dreadful ordeal would be inherently suspect. Your reactions seem quite reasonable to me. I bet the cold air of Snowstorm City never tasted so sweet.

kathy a. said...

oh, what a LOUSY way to end a vacation! glad you finally got home.

Cloudscome said...

Lord have mercy. What an adventure. I am amazed you had the energy to write this all out.

YourFireAnt said...

So, why DO you fly places?


Writer Chica said...

It sounds like a miserable trip back home. Despite that, this story made me laugh--I can't help it. The situation is so ridiculous and you write about it so well. Plus I hate airports, too. You would like Japanese airports though-much more quiet and less blaring screens.

BlackenedBoy said...

That sounds like hell. The feeling of finally arriving home, however, must have been wonderful. I love coming back after a long trip to see my own bed, my own living room, my own kitchen, my own couch and fireplace.

Sharon said...

I'm exhausted just reading about it!

liz said...

That is a truly Dante-esque description of Hell.