Have you ever woken up on the last day of a journey, thousands of miles from home, worked out the time difference and calculated that you will be in airports, on lines and on airplanes for more than 24 hours before you are standing in your living room? It is enough to make you not want to go anywhere ever again.
There are moments in long-distance travel where time becomes an instrument of torture. Time has all the time in the world and is completely unconcerned with how long a minute “feels” to you.
You, on the other hand, especially in economy, endure minutes that seem to last for hours.
Sleep deprivation breaks down resistance, which is why it’s a primary interrogation technique. By the second leg of your journey, having been on the move for well over 12 hours, the mind can take you to some strange places. As you sit in a stress position, the child behind you stomping on your seat, you fall into the sunless depths of introspection. Failed relationships play out in agonizing, second-by-second clarity. Every regret, mistake and humiliation comes back to visit. You are a failure and all is futile.
You’re picking up speed as you philosophize on the state of all humanity, concluding that humans are all idiotic egomaniacs, blinded by their hubris and fear. They will destroy the world and all the pretty animals will die a painful death. You, all the way back in seat 37C, are the holder of these dark truths and bearer of this great mortal weight.
There is still another six hours to go before the next layover. The plane is now a Flying Dutchman and will never land.
I never thought I would watch a film from the Mission: Impossible franchise, but there I am, observing Tom Cruise survive one lethal encounter after another, seeming never to run out of energy. Good grief, that man works hard. It’s unnerving to endure but there is nothing else to do, so I stick with it. I try to pay attention but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what Rogue Nation is about.
Somehow, the plane finally lands in Houston. Time to go through the labyrinth of snaking lines to clear customs, reclaim your gear, report to another long line in order to drop it off again, and then proceed to yet another security check.
One of the lines stretches for what seems like miles. I am now in a reptilian state. Eyes half open, I drag my two backpacks in halting half-steps as we inch forward.
A few people ahead of me, a man has had enough. He starts yelling at TSA officers, imploring them to do their jobs.
Probably not the right thing to do. Everyone goes silent. We are now in Twilight Zone territory.
It is true that our line has been static for a few minutes as the woman at the X-ray station has her back to the equipment, talking to someone. She looks at the angry man and slowly turns back to the screen. The man sounds off again and all the TSA personnel turn their backs to us. The situation is deteriorating rapidly, but we’re almost there. Soon, if I can just keep my eyes on the prize, I will be in the cylinder, my arms up over my head as my body is scanned.
Minutes later, I am through and my gear has passed inspection without so much as a second glance. I look at my watch. It has taken 65 minutes to get this far. My third flight is boarding.
Turns out I didn’t need to power walk to the gate and sweat through my shirt. Boarding is delayed. So I stand and slowly dry with all the people who will eventually pack this plane like sardines.
Finally I slap my ticket on the scanner. The light goes green and I proceed to seat 23C. Then the woman at the door stops me and gives me a different boarding pass: 08A.
Could it be that the 1 million–plus frequent flyer miles I have accumulated, but can never bring myself to use, have allowed me to bask where only the true movers and shakers of the world sit? Could it be that, in a few minutes, I will be handed a hot towel with which I will gently blot my face, making everything fresh again?
Indeed. My seat is bigger than some apartments I have lived in. After the rabble passes by, back to the high-number seats where they surely belong, I am handed said towel, which I just hold for a moment and put down. Then I am asked if I would like eggs or oatmeal.
Exhaustion slips away as I marvel at my plush, albeit temporary, surroundings. I look around at my fellow first-class cabineers. Damn, we’re a good-looking lot. Suddenly, my clothes that I have been sweating in for more than 24 hours don’t reek as much, and the sunburn peeling off my face makes me look explorer rugged, not terminally radiated.
This would be incredibly easy to get used to.
A three-hour flight feels like only one. Time becomes a friendly unicorn; soon enough, we are landing in Los Angeles. A little more than an hour later, I am out of the taxi and walking into my place.
I immediately go to my task list and, despite feeling destroyed by 31 hours of transit, get to work. I’ll be back at the airport in several hours and there is much to do. I check the email to find out that a fossilized worm has been named after me. Rollinschaeta myoplena is now a thing. Not having a clue as to what to do with that, I do laundry instead.
I enjoy exhaustion. It makes me feel I’m trying.
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I can’t wait to get back into the world.
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