I was born in Washington DC and made my way to New England when I was 20. Twenty more years and I was off to the Lone Star State at the ripe old age of 41. Eleven years after that, with my newly-divorced tail between my legs and the pittance of remaining worldly possessions the legal system let me keep having been safely stowed in a storage room, I returned to the great Northeast to set about putting the few remaining pieces of my life back together again. Nine more years… at $100 a month in storage fees… and I was finally able to catch a flight back one last time to collect my stuff. And, I was able to say one last goodbye to a place that had made a lot of dreams come true and shattered far too many to count.
Now, without putting too fine a point on it, suffice it to say that travel is incredibly difficult for me, in general, and by airplane in particular. My reduced visual field, complete lack of depth perception, and near-paralytic sensitivity to bright lights… especially neon lights… makes traveling this way almost unbearable. Complicating matters is that everything and everybody – and the boards that show traveler information – all move too damn fast to keep up with long enough to process important information.
I literally stand there for upwards of 10 minutes sometimes, depending on the airport, because it takes that long to gather my senses about where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to get there.
I have to admit, for what it’s worth, that most of the airport employees that I have ever asked for assistance have been wonderful and gracious and extremely helpful. My problem, of course, is that I kind of suck at that, and I really don’t have a good excuse other than that I am stubborn and refused to be helpless. It’s funny, too, because… of the many things I learned during my time in occupational therapy (with the best damn OT on the planet relentlessly kicking my ass ’til I figured out the necessary workarounds to navigate this bright, flashy, fast-paced world), I learned that you cannot allow yourself to panic or be rushed or be too proud to ask for help. [For what it’s worth… I think I got a D minus in that last part of the class.]
And so it was that… once I got my boarding pass and survived the federally subsidized groping at the checkpoint,… I happily bellied up, 20 yards away from my gate with 45 minutes to spare, and rewarded myself for surviving the gauntlet, in that sea of humanity, with a double Jameson – neat – and a decent barstool view of the tarmac.
I have always enjoyed flying… big fan of the takeoff. personally… and have done quite a bit of it over the years with a handful of international trips under my belt along the way. I’ve noticed, over time, that I always seem to drift off in quiet bemusement as I try to imagine everyone else’s story. Whether it’s the people sitting in the bar getting pre-flight hammered, or the ones sitting in their coach or first class seats using ever-more creative ways to distract themselves, as if to make the flight go faster somehow).
Personally, I like to wonder what everyone’s story is and try to imagine things in my head about where these people came from, where they’re going, and what they mean to do when they get there. And because it is all derived from my impression of them based on how they look or act, it is unfair and mean-spirited… probably… but it sure is entertaining.
The lady in 23 B is a diamond smuggler. The old dude, already snoring up in 16 F is taking his last company-paid business trip before he retires. The young couple, back by the bathrooms in the rear of the plane, ran away from home, eloped, and is headed to their low-rent honeymoon in Wichita. And quite frankly, one look at the guy makes it clear that she could have done a whole lot better.
Probably not very nice of me to do, but a victimless crime all the same and a fabulous passer of time… and before I knew it, we were touching down in Austin.
You know, if you have never been presented with the opportunity to observe how nature conducts herself when left to her own devices and uninterrupted by man, I encourage you to look inside a tin shed, baked by the Texas sun for nine years, and see just how unforgiving she can be. If scorpions, brown recluse spiders, and black widows make you squeamish, however, you should think long and hard before accepting the invitation. And I say this, at the risk of spoiling the ending to this story, by pointing out that I had no choice but to go in this shed and, I brought home a brown recluse bite to show for my efforts.
FYI: It’s a pain I don’t wish on my worst enemy.
We arrived at the storage room early in the morning and, upon opening the door, we’re horrified to find piles as much as 3 in tall… scattered about across the floor… made wholly of bug carcasses. June bugs, bees and wasps, and of course there was plenty of your garden-variety Scorpion, Black Widow, and brown recluse spider. And despite having had the storage facility owner fumigate the room before we got there, there were plenty of critters still wandering around alive and well and looking for revenge.
Donning gloves, and working in 107-degree heat, we moved as quickly and carefully as we could to get things out and onto the pavement so we could sort and order things in such a way that we could load the U-Haul as efficiently as possible.
There is a lot of truth to the old adage that “there is strength in numbers” because the truck was loaded and pulling out of the storage facility within 4 hours. The kids would be driving the truck North and I was assigned the task of flying back home to await their arrival … planned for two to three days hence.
And so it was that I came to find myself back at the damn Airport, barely 24 hours after I had arrived, having to stare down the security carnage once more.
After clearing the checkpoint relatively intact… and with yet another Jameson, neat, in hand… I took pause to reflect on my 11 years in Texas and the nine more I had lived through since returning to the Northeast.
It occurred to me that, all things considered, the life I lived and the love I shared there had taught me lessons about myself and the world around me that I would never have lived or learned but for having been where I was in that stretch of my life, and who I had spent it with. And that double shot of Jameson taught me something else as well:
It’s not the”stuff” we gain or lose, nor the people that come and go throughout our lives, that define who we are as human beings. It is the person we allow ourselves to become, as the chapters open and close, that says everything about who we really are and what we are really made of.