Most everyone dreams about taking trips to exotic, far-flung locations, of having bucket-list-level, Instagram-worthy adventures in foreign lands. But what’s never remembered in those rainy-Tuesday-morning-at-the-office daydreams is that in order to reach your ideal destination, you must first pass through a special gateway of suffering and purgatory, otherwise known as the airport.
Airports are strange places. They’re like wormholes in the fabric of our everyday lives: portals to wonderful places, but aberrant, unpredictable singularities where the normal laws of reality don’t necessarily apply.
The atmosphere when you first enter an airport is filled with the excitement, high expectations, and the sense of freedom and escape that come at the beginning of every vacation. But at the same time, when you step through those hydraulic automatic doors and past the security checkpoint ribbon, you temporarily surrender more personal freedom and control than at pretty much any other time in your life.
Because when you take those well-laid plans and beautifully mapped-out itineraries gingerly in your arms and cross the threshold into the harsh realities inside the airport, they are no longer yours. They’re completely at the mercy of the airlines, the TSA, and the weather. If any one of these three delicate, mercurial systems goes even slightly out of whack, your dream trip through the clouds can spiral into a descent into the depths of Hell in an instant.
When you at last make it past the screening and into the very heart of the beast, you look around at the dead stares of your fellow travelers and realize that everyone inside is trying—and failing—to make it out of the airport as quickly and painlessly as humanly possible.
Even on the easiest, most drama-free trip, you’ll likely emerge from the airport having been stripped of your shoes and your shampoos, your dignity and your dollars. At the airport, they can charge you $15 for a salad, $25 to check your bag, $50 for more leg room or earlier boarding, $40 to change the seat assignment you carefully chose months ago but which got mysteriously scrambled by check-in time, separating you from your traveling companion(s) and, of course, snatching away your window seat and assigning you to the dreaded middle seat between strangers.
You will brandish your credit card at the airport time and again. It’s your only weapon against their various forms of attack. Besides, you’re not thinking about the future and the bill that will come due. In that moment, you’re no longer convinced you have a future. It’s hard to remember what the world outside the airport is even like, and you question whether you’ll ever be able to escape this strange realm and make it to the other side. Every cell of your being is focused on how to alleviate the hunger and thirst and discomfort of your seemingly endless time in purgatory.
There sometimes comes a moment in the airport—when your flight is delayed, or you’re still waiting at the baggage carousel when everyone else on your flight found their bags, or in the endless Starbucks line when you haven’t yet had your RDA of caffeine, or you get stuck behind an impenetrable wall of slow walkers on the way to your connecting flight, or you throw your shoulder out trying to retrieve your carry-on bag at the speed of light so as not to irritate the already-irritated mass of people on the airport shuttle, who all seem to be judging you on the quantity and quality of your luggage—and at this moment of crisis, your inner child cries out plaintively, “I just wanna go home!” It’s all you can do to keep from running to the bathroom to weep.
Except you get there, and it’s staffed with a bathroom attendant whose job description includes being cheerful to crabby, disheveled, exhausted travelers with full bladders and bowels, repeatedly wiping water droplets off the countertops, and rushing into every stall as soon as it’s vacated to spray it down. Your tears evaporate as you realize this person has the shittiest job in the shittiest corner of this shitty hole in the space-time continuum, and you realize you should be ashamed about getting upset over your petty travel inconveniences.
That, or you realize you should never ever leave home again.