The Longest Day

delayDeparture Board: 2 hour Delay  

Noticing this is accompanied by the scattered groans and epithets of what are surely my future co-passengers. I shouldn’t have looked up at it. No good comes from looking at a Departure Board.

I let out a batch of vulgarities tailor-made for this occasion (and which would make Hunter S. Thompson reach for his thesaurus and wince) and continue walking.

I can’t read in airports. Everyone I know gets to the airport, checks in, sits his or her ass in a cozy spot, or on a cozy barstool if they have the scratch, and reads. They read or do Sudoku or play Angry Birds or, I guess, search for Pokemons. Or eat them, or serenade them, or do whatever the hell someone does to a Pokemon.

In any event, as an avid reader, people assume that I eagerly use this time to settle into a good book. After all, airport time is usually a couple hours of dead time. If you’re not wearing a jacket with wings on it, there’s almost literally nothing you can do to prepare for what you’re about to do. You are most probably not going to be asked to refuel the plane or check its tires or tick items off a list on a clipboard.

But still, I can’t read.

All I can do is walk. For me, preflight time is a buildup of nervous energy. It starts the day before when I tap my toes and bounce my feet underneath the table. Then I can’t sit still and clean the flat to put that energy to use. Then I toss and turn in bed imagining the plane leaving terra firma or bumping around in thick clouds.

By the time I am in the airport, I am channeling so much nervous energy that the only thing I feel comfortable doing is walking the airport in a tracked loop. I create a beaten path of my steps, passing the various stores and shops – duty free, relay, Blue Praha – whose employees at first smile at me, then cock their heads at my consistent appearance, then eye me with suspicion, then ignore me completely.

So I walk. My fitbit steps add up. I stop occasionally to watch a plane do the incomprehensible by vaulting into their air as if it were nothing, then I walk again, shaking my head in disbelief.

And every now and then I look up at the Departures board.

I am afraid to look at the board because two hours before your flight the board can only give bad news. The best news one can find on a Departure Board is: On Time. So the only potential change in this news is from good to bad. It can’t get better. Nobody in the history of commercial aviation has looked up at a Departures Board two hours before the flight and seen: Everyone’s Already Here, Plane’s Boarding Early. Plus, Free Margaritas.

So when I see 2 Hour Delay I continue my walk. But now it’s filled with muttered curses and steps that are counterpointed by the occasional tantrumesque stomp. The employees at the shops squint as though I have gone a little nuts.

I really shouldn’t be this irritated as I am going on holiday. It’s not as though I am flying on a business trip, so that all that awaits this miserable experience is more misery in a boardroom. I try to keep this in mind as I walk.

It doesn’t really work.

Nothing makes me more irritable that being forced to wait to do something that makes me nervous. My mind reels. If we’re delayed, why? Is there a problem with the plane? Is that problem going to be solved by the time I sit on the plane? Is the insult to injury going to occur when the plane stops working 6 miles above the world?

I continue walking. And when I chance a look up at the board, it has gotten worse.

3 hour delay

I am on the phone with my sister when I see this, so she is the party to my verbal barrage. She is in London, where we are meeting for the start of our holiday. We were supposed to meet in an hour, but it will now be something like 5 hours. My blood pressure rises. A check of my fitbit’s heart rate monitor tells me I should sit down and breathe into a mental brown bag for a while. I do.

I slip into an angry world of reflection. While I excel painfully at hindsight, I am not so great at foresight and even worse at current sight, which no doubt leads to my occasional lack of insight. Many others would see this delay as more reading time, more drinking time, more time to chat with their sister on the phone. But I don’t, I grumble. I am being made to wait.

Additionally, my situation is almost ideal; I am going on holiday. I know that in two weeks my holiday will be over, I’ll be telling this story and making it funny. But in two weeks I’d also kill to be here again, just before my holiday starts, at the airport, looking ahead at two weeks of fun and travel.

I laugh at myself. I still can’t read, but at least in some small way this perspective calms me. I continue walking. I am calmer now, I have come to terms with my delay, grateful for my situation, and allowing a new perspective to reign the moment. All the way up until I make the mistake of looking up again.

4 Hour Delay

I knew I shouldn’t have looked at that damn board again.

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