This post was initially drafted in early December. I haven’t been on a plane since early December. My ears yearn for that pop of high altitude. My knees long for that discomfort of inadequate legroom. It’s been too long since I’ve traveled by air. I miss every disgusting, uncomfortable, terrifying, violating, lonely part of it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. It is a lesser known truth less widely acknowledged that a single girl in possession of shyness and awkward social skills generally remains shy and socially awkward whether or not the location changes. I’m referring to myself (as the shy girl, not the rich boi).
I do realize this is mostly a self-imposed label—a negative thinking habit I’ve stuck with for most of my life. I started a new job a few weeks ago and I distinctly recall my brain telling me “okay remember, you’re the quiet awkward coworker so don’t make any confident graceful movements or crack any jokes until maybe a few months into the job”. I also know that I’m an introvert which means it’s normal to feel uncomfortable in a car or room full of people, even friends I’ve known for years. And I thirdly contend that I do lose my quiet nature when I’m at home with my family, which tells me I just need to be myself around someone for 22+ years and all signs of my self-consciousness will vanish.
But truly, the one place where I feel the most confident, the most at ease, and the most alive is the everloving airport.
Since you’ve kindly taken the time to read my blog rather than throw eggs at it, I’ve generously provided an exclusive insider’s scoop on how to transform from a voluntary mute with chronically sweaty palms into a badass force field (akin to an undercover celebrity).
1. Lugging an oversized duffle or pushing those silly rolling suitcases as you make the walk of shame to the “check your bags here” counter is just not cool. Simply breeze in with a backpack slung over your shoulder and experience lighthearted laughter at the sight of sad people standing in line to get their massive luggage measured and weighed. This is where minimalists get the last laugh.
2. Standing at ticket kiosks is Not Cool™ and displays to the world your poor planning abilities (not cool). If you have to print your ticket because you broke your phone (me), print it at home and keep it in your pocket until it’s time to present it. Walking around like a hot mess while clutching a handful of sweaty papers is, you guessed it, not kool.
3. Earbuds are the indoor equivalent to sunglasses, so keep them in at all times. Listening to music is optional, but worth ten bonus points. Airports need a soundtrack.
4. Although there are runways at airports, your catwalk will be inside on the carpet. Walk like a model with purposeful yet leisurely steps. Head and eyes should be forward and alert, yet disinterested. The vibe you want to send out is I know where I’m going, but I’m in no rush to get there.
5. Find your gate number via your ticket or email updates so you don’t have to stand with your head cranked in front of those digital billboards, searching stupidly for your flight info.
6. Security is pretty lame and standing in line is generally unavoidable. The best thing to do is turn off your music, listen to the conversations of the people around you, keep your eyes forward, have your ticket and identification ready in your pocket, and go over in your head the undressing procedures so you can seemlessly rip off the necessary items and toss them in the trays without having to look around at other people and wonder if you’re forgetting anything.
7. Unless you’re running late and literally need to run (which seriously kills the cool vibe) there’s no need to go directly to your gate and sit there like a kid waiting for the bus. Find a casual sitting area, sip water out of the empty hydro flask you brought through security and filled up at the drinking fountain, and read that progressive feminist book you brought or crochet that sweater for your neighbor’s dog. Don’t buy anything. Don’t stare at your phone. Be cool.
8. When your zone starts to board, do not frantically go stand in line like an enthusiastic monkey. In fact, you don’t even have to show up until they’re making the final boarding call before closing the door. Waiting in lines when you don’t have to is not cool. Waltzing in as the last person on the plane with everyone watching you and seeing how attractive you are—now that’s cool.
9. Since all you have is a backpack, kick it under the space in the seat in front of you rather than conforming to the mass and placing it in the overhead bin. It’s so much easier to access your coconut Lara Bars and organic vegan chocolate this way.
10. The rest is up to you. If you neither enjoy talking to the strangers sitting next to you nor shooting through the air at X mph, you’re probably not capable of being as cool as I am.
Admittedly the likely reasons I’m so at ease in airports is because 1) I fly a lot, and 2) airports are swamped with flustered people juggling small children or neck pillows who never seem to know where they’re going and their insecurities and hesitations mix into a brew which I drink and become unimaginably powerful. Similar to when I was a kid and one of my siblings would get in trouble and I’d suddenly find it easier than normal to be on my best behavior.
There has been only one instance where I was certifiably UnCool in an airport. It was last year in Boise, Idaho, which was a huge betrayal to me because that’s my homeland. But I suppose I was the initial betrayer four years ago when I went on my first flight ever—I said goodbye to southern Idaho and moved to a new desert, southern California.
Anyway, here’s how Fly Boise! got back at me for leaving.
1. My friend got lost driving me to the airport. My friend who lives in the area and has driven to the very easy-to-find airport many times before. As a result, I was annoyed and slightly flustered when I arrived.
2. I came into the airport embarrassingly lugging a suitcase, a large overstuffed carry-on, and a personal item backpack. I was not traveling, okay, I was moving to Oregon.
3. Security didn’t accept my temporary paper driver’s license so I had to move off to one side while people behind me went ahead, and dig through my overstuffed backpack for my passport.
4. Security took issue with the contents of my overstuffed backpack (it was probably those Lara Bars—my sister has had her Lara Bars examined in airports on 4 different occasions. What can we say, they’re the perfect travel food that happen to look like drug bombs in the x-rays) so I had stand around waiting for them to mess up my backpack and then reorganize it when they were done harassing it.
5. My overstuffed backpack didn’t fit in the overhead bin so after several minutes of everyone watching me fail to fit my backpack, a flight attendant took pity on me and shoved it inside a closet up by the cockpit.
6. A lady stole my window seat so I begrudgingly sat in the aisle. Upon reflection, this sixth reason on why I had a terrible flight doesn’t count because that was my first experience sitting in the aisle and I’ve preferred it ever since (you can stretch your legs straight out into the walkway!!).
That trip left me shaken and I vowed to never again look so pathetic whilst on a plane ride. How can those people who regularly get panic attacks or flustered going through security or lost trying to find their gate or pack too much stuff even live with themselves? All it is is a giant terminal full of people from around the world subjecting themselves to x-rays and pat downs by people with guns—they should take a hint from me and pretend they do this every day. All it is is a metal tube shooting through the air at 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet up in the air—they should take a hint from me and treat the experience like it’s one big yawn.
Sometimes my grandiose airs prevent me from performing necessary bodily functions. I’ve never been inside an airplane bathroom. If I’m sitting in a window or middle seat then I’ll have to ask my neighbor(s) to get up so I can go relieve myself. If I walk down the hallway during the flight, I might stumble during turbulence and look foolish. If I reach the door, I might not know how to open it and stupidly fumble around for the secret lever. And, oh my goodness, if I get inside and close the door behind me, I might not understand how the astronaut toilet works.
One time I was flying out of Pittsburgh and after several delays due to computer malfunctions, the captain declared “we’re going to do things the old fashioned way!” A feeling of fear washed over me, but when I remembered cool people wouldn’t be scared of “the old fashioned way” it was immediately replaced by a morbid giddiness at the thought of potential disaster. Vintage is in, yo.
The lady sitting next to me was already terrified of flying without the added stress of ~*~*good evening ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’re kicking it old school and the plane is going to be piloted solely by the human mind, just relax and enjoy this smooth jazz*~*~ and she held her head in her hands.
Her husband did nothing but laugh and roll his eyes at her. I felt the same way he did and gave him a knowing glance as if to say “I feel ya, idk why flying is such terror?? it’s so groovy to chillax and meditate in the sky”. I also jokingly told the lady she could hold my hand during takeoff. Boy, was I surprised when she actually took me up on my offer. As soon as the plane started down the runway, she grabbed my hand tightly and didn’t let go until several minutes after we were stabilized in the air. And suddenly I was glad I hadn’t rolled my eyes and ignored her. I was able to use my ease and enjoyment of flying to help someone have a better experience.
My favorite part of flying is the takeoff. We are inside a bullet and the runway is a smoking gun. Grown adults clutch their armrests, close their eyes or go wide-eyed, and silently pray or beg for mercy. It is a moment where the world falls away and we are detached from it.
The people below seem so tiny and insignificant. We see tiny cars driven on tiny roads to tiny buildings. Tiny lawns mowed with tiny lawnmowers, tiny pools circulated with tiny particles of chlorine. Tiny brains thinking tiny worrisome thoughts. They should look up at us and wave and seethe with jealousy. We are racing the birds and touching the sun. We can see the curve of the sky, the shape of the rivers, the circles of agriculture, the peaks of the mountains. We are hanging above the clouds for an eternity, and the future does not exist. This is the perspective air travel offers us.
And then the moment shatters. The TV screen hanging on the back of the seat in front of you turns on and starts blaring commercials. Flight attendants push carts and sell overpriced snacks and alcohol. Phones turn back on and soothingly distract their owners with dumb games. The guy sitting next to you knocks out and starts snoring. A kid a few rows back throws a screaming tantrum. Various weird smells drift through the air. Your lower back aches.
It seems as though sometimes being in the moment of something is not as beautiful as seeing it from the distance of time, that everything has the potential to be kind of ugly up close. I wax eloquence about the poetry of flying, but only afterwards with the blurry perspective that time gives me. Being on a plane or airport is pretty nauseating much of the time. So is giving birth (I would assume so from all the screaming and moaning). I doubt I’d be thinking poetic thoughts while a bloody child is pushing its head through my vagina. But with perspective, women have written some pretty powerful stuff about pregnancy and childbirth.
The ending of relationships are beautiful just like giving birth. Beautiful in a god-awful-bloody-pain kind of way. I started writing this blog post while in a relationship, wrote the bulk of it right after getting dumped, and am now finishing it after having healed from the heartbreak pain. Heartbreak hurts, dude. I’d rather give birth.
It was a long distance relationship which had its own kinds of pains. No, long distance was a straight up bitch. It’s weird getting to know someone and letting someone get to know you with nothing but words. And then once you hang up the phone, it’s like they don’t exist. You don’t get to observe their mannerisms or how they interact with the different people in their lives or in different social situations. You’re dating each other but you don’t really show up in each other’s lives except for a notification ding.
One of the most magical feelings in the world is visiting a long distance boyfriend. Every time I’d meet eyes with him in the airport, I’d double take because he wouldn’t seem real after weeks of him being nothing but a picture behind a sheet of glass. Like the first time I went to a zoo as a kid and saw real life animals after looking at their pictures in books or the time I did a year of online high school and met one of my teachers halfway through the semester after months of only knowing her through audio recordings.
One time I was stuck in LAX for 24 hours and I coped by watching lots and lots of The Office on Netflix and halfway through my 27th episode, right after Ryan Howard said something funny, I looked up randomly and my eyes rested on BJ Novak standing ten feet in front of me. I gaped at him and he made eye contact with me for like 2.5 seconds and it was surreal.
But the best surreal sight is a long distance boyfriend. You can’t hug a zoo animal or a ninth grade English teacher or BJ Novak but you can sure as hell hug a boyfriend, and let me tell you, it’s an intoxicating feeling. They are real and warm with flesh and a heartbeat amongst folds of clothes and they smell amazing, and suddenly the months of missed calls, late night texts, poor connections, and lonely goodbyes become worth it. You feel as though you’re walking on air every time you look down and see your hand in theirs. Their laughter is so much more infectious in person.
It’s weird how the hellos and the goodbyes are punctuated by airports. The visits seem to be over in like five minutes even though they were supposed to last for several days. And then it’s time for another goddamn goodbye.
I get anxiety driving to the airport. My stomach is in knots during the entire car ride. There’s something about those curbside goodbyes or farewells at security where only one of you can get in line that tears at my heart. They hurt so terribly because you go from having a solid warm human in your arms to empty hands grasping at air.
It was super rough watching him get in line at security, knowing I couldn’t go with him. The last kiss he gave me burned my lips and I wished for the feeling to stay there permanently. I wanted to wait until he had progressed too far into the airport for me to see him, but I forced myself to walk away and then drive away, picturing him flying away.
The last time I ever saw his face was in an airport and he was saying goodbye to me. The last time I ever heard his voice was over the phone a week later and he was saying goodbye to me. He was the honest one in the relationship. He was the one who said “long distance sucks and I can’t do it anymore”. I would have gone my entire life without being able to admit how hard the distance was.
There are two kinds of goodbyes: the one that promises there will be a hello in the future and the one that promises there won’t be a hello in the future. Both goodbyes leave sharp pangs of absense and longing in the heart—but one is substantially more painful. Air travel is cold like breakup goodbyes. These metal machines of transport are impersonal unfeeling vehicles of the most precious warm universe-filled cargo and one technical error could result in the crash landing of the plane and the crushing of their hearts.
Here’s a conversation I had a couple months ago.
Terry, former instructor at the City of Boulder City public pool who moved to Texas to be closer to her pregnant daughter but came back to Nevada for a visit: “Hey, how’s it going?”
Me, former lifeguard at the City of Boulder City public pool whose mother became the coordinator and was forced to quit due to anti-nepotism policies: “I’m okay. I don’t work here anymore.”
Terry: *laughs* “Neither do I, kid. See ya.” *walks out the door* *walks onto a plane* *flies back to Texas* *everything is bigger there*
After that rather small conversation, I suddenly felt good about all the loss in my life. It was her laugh that did it—that flagrant disregard for my so-called troubles in life. If an old lady named Terry could uproot her working retirement in a sunny suburb with two golf courses and move into a house where the tenants shot and killed raccoons and cougars without stepping off the back porch, surely I—a hardy 22 year old—could handle losing both my minimum wage job and my freelance wage boyfriend. Because, like, literally the only other option besides “handling it” is to throw on a red turtleneck, shrug my shoulders defeatedly, and say “guess I’ll die”.***
*** Please acquire a subscription to KnowYourMeme.com if you don’t understand my reference.
P.S. My sister has been in a long distance relationship for three years (coincidentally, their anniversary is today!) and knows so much more joy and pain from hellos and goodbyes than I do. Mine only lasted 6 weeks yet I somehow felt compelled to write an 8,000 word essay (cut down to 3,188 during final edits) on the woes of LDR. The mass amount of words my brain produces honestly scares me sometimes.
P.S. I didn’t feel like illustrating this post.