It feels like a new week has begun… but it’s Tuesday afternoon. The snow has piled up outside, making travel to the airport difficult. No, the snow is not bad. Perhaps a few inches in most places, but the common reaction to it is over-cautious. Thoroughfares that normally see traffic teaming along this time of day are clogged with slow moving cars and vehicles pulled over on the side of the road. The rubbernecks, investigating every vehicle pulled over slow everything down even more.
Once beyond the main roads and onto the airport ramps, things clear up. The parking lot hasn’t seen a plow all day – I unload my luggage and begin the walk to the terminal through snow that covers up over my ankles. I only wore my airport shoes – a pair of over-worn slip-on black shoes designed for any environment. Makes it easier to take them off at security and get them back on again. Very important when only minutes separate you from security and a flight about to close. That in itself has become an all too common occurrence in my life.
Not today. I finished my services and got to the airport with plenty of time, despite the weather and traffic. But now, time to kill. Sitting. Waiting. Staring out the window as the heavy snow falls and the jets outside push their way through it. Not even a hiccup in air traffic today. This weather isn’t nearly bad enough to slow things down here. People have places to be, the planes have to keep coming and going.
As do I.
I hear voices that get my attention and I look back towards the concourse. It’s getting closer to departure time at the gate and the area is starting to fill. Families leaving on vacation; the lady on her cell phone next to me, talking way to loudly, she’s heading home from a funeral. Mostly though, business travelers dressed in their best attire. Suits, ties, fancy shined loafers. I know these are probably going to be some of the people sitting around me in the first class cabin. Poor saps. Do they have to dress like this when traveling? Perhaps they left work that way and went straight to the airport. Maybe their company demands they dress that way when traveling. Ugh. I used to – I can’t stand it anymore. A tie? Why do I want to put a noose around my own neck?
At the same time, I wonder if they look down on me – sitting amongst them in first class, in my most comfortable (read that, ripped and torn) pair of faded jeans and a very relaxed sweatshirt. Why shouldn’t I travel comfortable? Who am I going to see when I get to my destination at 9 o’clock at night? Most likely, the only thing I’ll see is the inside of a bar outside of Nashville tonight. That is if I don’t soak my liver in too much alcohol just getting there.
Somehow I don’t think National will hand the keys to a $20,000 car over to someone who is visibly intoxicated.
I’ve got this Radiohead song stuck in my brain. Now I want to hear it. I hate that. Especially an older song that I’ve just discovered and their lyrics are so damn hard to understand.
I board the plane and take my seat. The attendant brings me my first Jack and Coke before I even have my seatbelt on. Funny how that goes. Some attendants get the first round out right away while others won’t even ask until they’ve passed 10,000 feet. I look forward to that first one on the ground. The flights aren’t long enough and the service isn’t attentive enough to do any serious damage to myself without that head start.
One thing I can say, being on the road has definitely raised my tolerance. Every flight is a drink, every town is a new bar, every meal is a glass of wine or a beer.
What else do I have to do when I’m alone?
Not only traveling alone, but feeling completely alone.
The guy sitting next to me is in the medical field. His cell phone, seems like it’s a permanent attachment to the side of his head. I thought I was bad. Sitting listening to conversation after conversation about this patient and that patient… is he aware of HIPPA regulations and just how close he is to violating them? Most people don’t, except those in the industry, but most of the conversations he’s having probably shouldn’t be had on an airplane.
We sit and wait for the de-icers to come and clean the wings. The lake-effect snow, once falling heavy enough to limit visibility has now slowed to a light, peaceful snow. The kind that makes snow seem romantic. Random, fluffy flakes drifting gently down from the sky. When you were a kid, this is the kind of snowfall you would look forward to, so you could try to catch the flakes on your tongue as they float and fly around you.
The sweet, synthetic smell of the de-icing fluid fills the cabin as the tug pushes the plane away from the gate. The engines fire and roar. With a sudden jerk, the plane moves towards the taxiway. As the attendants go through their pre-flight routine, I recline my seat despite their precautions. One of the luxuries of being in the last row of first class; you can recline your seat and they can’t tell. Nor do they care.
I lean back and close my eyes. The rocking motion of the plane taxiing down the snow-roughened taxiway is soothing. I think about you. And how much fun it would be to be with you. I look forward to it. But today, I am alone…
“We’re first in line for departure, flight attendants, please take your seats,” booms over the intercom….
A loud “DING DING” jolts me from dozing. The announcement we’ve passed 10,000 feet and electronic devices can now be used. I stir in my seat, rest my head back and doze once again.
I can sleep just about anywhere. Sleeping through the violent acceleration of takeoff is easy. In fact, it’s easier that in flight. The motion, the white noise, the plane climbing and naturally reclining your seat with gravity.
But right now sleep isn’t coming easy. There is too much bustle in the cabin. I remove my mp3 player from my bag and find the Radiohead song that has been haunting the inner sanctum of my thoughts.
“I want to. I want to be someone else, or I’ll explode… floating upon the surface for the birds…. The birds…
I feel an incredible need to get seriously intoxicated today. I can do that, easily right now. From this seat a wave of my hand, I can get anything I want. The third drink is starting to take hold. The music passing through my mind quicker, my thoughts becoming much more liberal.
In moments like this I reflect on what I do. Who I am. The people in my life. It is moments like this I write my thoughts. This is a nice place to post them. I let you know what I’m thinking and feeling. Not too many people get to know.
Aren’t you special? Privileged, perhaps.
More like cursed. No one deserves the punishment of knowing what happens inside my mind. It’s not a treat, nor a reward. More of a hall of horrors – like looking into a crystal ball and seeing your own death. Why would you want that?
I live with my thoughts every day. Here, I give everyone the opportunity to judge them – to judge me. Judge as you may. There is a reason I don’t let too many people into my thoughts. Normally I would only share them with the people I care about. And really, if I care about a person that much, why would I want to torture them like that?
The music in my ears plays on… the flight is uneventful. A choppy, rough approach into Charlotte, but that pretty normal. We touchdown just 20 minutes before my connecting flight is set to depart. The taxi to the terminal takes another seven. My connection is in a concourse on the other side of the main.
This is why I don’t check bags.
I’ve been on flights and listened to other passengers. Couples and associates traveling together, discussing the same scenario above. The plane lands late; 20 minutes or less to get to their connecting flight. I can sense the panic in their words. They do their best to get out of the plane and into the concourse, making a mad dash to their next gate. Bags flailing, hollering to other people to get out of the way.
I can only sigh deeply thinking of that. Oh, the stress in their voices and actions. As if their life depends on it. Why? You’re going to make it or you’re not. And if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Deal. In all this time, I’ve only not made one flight that I could have possibly had a chance to make if I ran.
Not making that flight lead to a pretty sucky chain of events, but, I got over it. Pretty quick too.
Regardless of the tight schedule, I get to my connection. Hit the ATM on the way, too. Of course I’m the last person to get on the plane, which draws some impatient stares from the passengers. Especially taking my assigned seat upfront, where they’re not.
As I work other people’s luggage around the overhead to make room for mine, the attendant asks me for a drink order.
“Jack and Coke, please.”
My usual. Pretty soon I’m going to start skipping the Coke. I don’t think there are any benefits to it except I don’t look like a complete alcoholic, which I would if I just asked for 4 or 5 bottles of Jack and a cup of ice.
I slouch into my seat with my drink and rest my head on the wall. I feel so tired. Too many late nights and early mornings. You have to have some stamina to do this. I know, people consider the “vampire” lifestyle – up all night, but I don’t get to sleep all day. Sometimes 3 or 4 hours of sleep is a luxury for me.
I think about a trip I made during the summer. On Monday I was in Boston for a meeting. Tuesday morning I had a job to start just outside of Oakland, California. Wednesday morning I had to be at another site halfway across Long Island, New York. Three days of travel, I didn’t see a hotel, nor a wink of sleep at an altitude lower than 30,000 feet. I arrived at the site in Long Island after a zombified drive from JFK, over an hour to my destination. I met a colleague who drove in from Newark that morning. During the day, a horrible day where nothing went well, we had a meeting between our team, the vendor team and the client.
Halfway through the meeting, HE fell asleep.
I went almost 3 days without sleep and HE fell asleep.
Needless to say, he didn’t last long on this project.
The music still rings in my head…
“You want me. Come and break the door down, you want me. Fucking come and break the door down, I’m ready.
Sometimes it’s the stress that gets to people. Not even the lack of sleep, but the demands placed upon them, Life is full of stress – yes it can have a very negative effect on a person, but no matter what you do, life is stress.
This concept seems to be lost on many. For example, I had to go to a local mall last week. Seriously, my first trip to a mall in over a year. I hate malls, I hate shopping, I hate the over-all atmosphere of such places. But, I had to go. Walking though the mall, I saw the newest kiosk in the middle – CHUCH OF SCIENTOLOGY. I did my best to restrain my laughter and walk past. Their banner across the top of their cube read, “GET YOUR FREE STRESS TEST,” and the attendant wasn’t shy about asking people to stop and get their stress test.
He approached me, “Sir, would you like a free stress test to see where you can eliminate stress from your life?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, stress can have a negative effect on your health and we want to show you how to eliminate it.”
“Son,” I responded condescendingly, “life is stress. Whether it be a relationship, a job, or a saber-tooth tiger trying to eat you, stress has and always will exist in our lives. Eliminating it isn’t the goal – it’s controlling and dealing with it.”
“Well, we can help you with that too.”
“But I don’t need that help. I enjoy my stress. I live for it. Sometimes when I don’t feel stressed I feel empty and incomplete. Maybe I can show you how stress can help you feel more alive and enhance your life?”
“Alrightythen. Good luck with the whole book sales thing…” I trailed off and walked away.
We landed in Nashville right on time. My liver, well onto submission. I sweet-talked the lady at the Avis desk into a Jeep Liberty for the economy car rate and canceled my reservation with National over the phone while standing 20 feet from their counter.
At least the Avis clerk found it humorous.
Another week, and another trip, has begun.
The morning began like so many others recently... no sleep, an early morning ride to the airport, and a flight scheduled to take off earlier than most people will wake up on a Wednesday.
As the plane taxied down the runway, the pilot announced, “We’re 2nd in line for departure; flight attendants please take your seats.” I knew that meant a quick release by air traffic at the destination.
We passed another airline’s flight, sitting in the penalty box. A Northwest flight, most likely bound for Detroit. A much busier and less organized airport than the one I am heading to. But I’ve been there too. Twenty or thirty minutes sitting on a tarmac waiting for the flight to be released. Sometimes it’s too much traffic, sometimes it’s fog. They have my sympathy, but I’m glad it’s not my flight.
Today is going to be a whirlwind job. A flight, five-hundred miles in one direction, grab a car, drive another hour… all to do about 30 minutes worth of work. Then, turn around and make the same trip in reverse to get home for work the next morning. Sixteen hour days have become the norm. Less than four hours of sleep have become more common.
As I finish the last couple sips of bloody mary and the flight attendants hurriedly rush by to clean up everything they’ve previously distributed to the first class passengers. I settle back into my seat, gazing out my window. The sun is just starting to illuminate the horizon; the sky is a fire red beneath high clouds to the east. The plane turns to head down the runway in the opposite direction. Now facing west, the glow of a brilliant full moon bathes the cabin in a pale light. Against what is still a night sky to the west, the moon is a magnificent sight, quietly following the airplane as would a concerned parent watching over a child.
The jets just outside the window whine as they power up, firing and coaxing the plane forward down the runway. The pilot increases the thrust, causing me to press back into my seat. I love this feeling. Not even halfway down the runway, the plane tilts back and with a gut dropping sensation I can feel the very moment the plane has ceased its contact with the ground below.
I lean and rest my head on the hard plastic wall next to me, and watch as the lights outside rapidly become the lights below. The climb is steep. Features once recognizable, within seconds become scenery resembling the tiny model houses, building, cars and trains I once played with when I was much younger.
Some days, I still wish I got to play with them.
The tall buildings of the city to the west come into view; their lights, green and red for the holidays, standing out against the empty blackness of the calm, dark lake behind them. The full moon still shining down, enveloping the landscape, creating white streaks of light on the rivers surrounding the city. As the flight moves further south, banking slightly to the left, the moon’s glow fully illuminates the once dark and invisible water of the lake. The ripples on the surface, now fully visible - the water seems to glow as bright as the moon above it. It is an amazing sight, to see the contrast and the change as the plane climbs higher above the city I know as home.
Yet another day has begun. I try to read the new airline magazine, but it cannot hold my attention. My mind is too distracted – not by the job ahead, not by what I’m leaving behind for the day… but… by thoughts of you.
My next bloody mary arrives and still I ponder, what are you doing right now? Are you sleeping? Are you awake and getting ready to start your day? What is the weather like there? Are you looking at the same clear, star filled sky as I am?
Do you think about me too?
I take out my laptop and jot notes. I prepare a spreadsheet I will need when I arrive. The attendant comes to let me know what gate my connecting flight will depart from when I arrive at the hub.
Still, my thoughts are mostly of you.
Outside the sun has made its presence known. The sky further south is now a hazy blue. The mountains below now alternate light and shadows. Their peaks orange and brown from the sun’s warming light, while their valleys are still shroud in darkness and pockets of fog. The moon shines dimly above, losing is dominance in the well lit sky as it seeks the horizon to the west.
I pour my next bloody mary and with each passing minute am closer to my first stop. I close my eyes….
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