Helen Chappell - May 2006

Cheer of Flying


Helen Chappell

First of all, I want to say that I love flying. Big plane, small plane, chopper, whatever – I love being aloft, above the earth, sailing across the sky.

     What I hate and despise is the hassle of actually getting to the plane.
      First, there’s the getting from here to the airport. You always have to get up at the hour when most watermen are still abed. That’s bad. You may think you have hours to go before you get to the airport, but you are so wrong. If you’re like me, you are dead certain no matter how early a start you get, something will happen and you will miss your plane. Why? Because that’s the way things are, that’s why. I have grown tired and cynical, watching anything that can go wrong, go very wrong.
      I can drive to the airport, and arrive, frazzled and weak-kneed after hassling through the hellacious traffic on Wester Shore highways. I hate urban driving anyway, but when I have to park the car in some distant long term lot, drag out my overpacked suitcase and wait for the shuttle that may never come, I’m already ready to turn around and go home and lie down with a cold cloth on my head.
      If I don’t want to drive myself, I can hire someone to drive my car over, let me off and pick me up when I get back. This is somewhat better, but a nervous traveler such as I am can always worry about what could happen if my driver doesn’t pick me up, but rather takes my decade old Toyota and drives off to Belize!
Not that this would really happen, but I am cursed with a rich imagination.
      And there is the shuttle, which picks you up and drops you off at the airport. Coming home from my last trip, I didn’t know I was supposed to meet the shuttle in a different area of the airport, and there was a lot of cell phone static and no bars and near-tears until we finally got hooked up.
      Did I mention my cell phone doesn’t work in lots of areas in airports?
      Did I mention that every trip I’ve taken recently has either started or returned with that year’s biggest snowfall?
      If it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.
      I won’t discuss roaming the endless corridors of the airports, quickly running out of breath and gasping for something other than recycled, closed building air. No, I won’t bother you with an organ recital.
     I have never been an easy traveler. I find moving from place to place is often less of an adventure than a chore. It involves an unknown future, strange beds, different routines and a profound uneasiness about the destinations. Often, it also depends upon the goodwill and grace of other people, and you never know, not even with friends and family, how that’s going to work out. Perhaps especially with friends and family. I feel safe in my comfort zone on the known and familiar.
On the other hand, it involves adventures, new landscapes, new people, and often, a more salubrious climate than the one I’m leaving. And it’s also an act of love. With a brand new baby in the family this year, it’s especially important to travel. From time to time, one needs to leave the comfort zone, get away from the known and familiar, if only to test one’s own courage.
      Instead, let’s move on to the next fun event in the Air Port 500. Clearing security.
      I am a very average-looking middle-aged WASP woman. I’m a grand aunt. No one would pick me out of a crowd. I don’t dye my hair purple, I have no visible tattoos, and I am polite and smile at everyone. I hold the firm belief that if you’re pleasant, people will deal with you in a pleasant way.
      Until it comes to airport security. For some reason, I’m a big juicy cheeseburger, and the security shift I happen to encounter are all starving Dobermans. It never fails that they poke through my pocketbook, look at my shoes and take me aside and scan me with a wand. Do I smell like I have attitude? A gun? What?
      This never fails to happen. Even though I have tamped down any and all whisper of any sort of independent thought, I’m still caught in the net.
      Now, I realize these people have a serious job to do, and for the most part they’ve been professional and nice enough. I don’t want to be hijacked, either. I just don’t understand what they think I might be carrying.
      Do they think I could hijack a planeload of my fellow Florida tourists with a Pilot Razor-Point 2 felt tip pen? A copy of Vanity Fair? A cheesy paperback book? My reporter notebook? What?
      So, when they’ve finally determined I don’t carry explosives in my clogs, it’s onward to the two or three hour wait for the plane to take off.
      Will the flight make it or will it be canceled by the snowstorm? Will I end up spending the night, sleeping on the airport floor, my pocketbook for a pillow, my coat for a blanket, living on Sbarro Pizza and tropical drinks from Paul’s Bar? Believe me, a vivid imagination is not a great thing in these situations.
      I think if I worked in the airport, I’d like to get a job driving the courtesy cart back and forth. Hauling the elderly and the handicapped from one end of the terminal to the other in that yellow cart, going beep, beep, beep as the crowds part before me.
      If it keeps snowing, will I have to take up residence in the airport for weeks? Will the staff all know my name? Will my friends and family be waiting for me when I get to Florida?
      Slowly, the waiting area begins to fill up with my fellow passengers. People watching is one of my favorite hobbies.
      What was she thinking when she bought those shoes?
      Does he know the whole airport can hear him on his cell phone arguing with his boss?
      Oh, look! They have matching tattoos!
      It’s almost as good as the people watching at Crumpton. Of course, I keep my head down, ostensibly focused on my magazine, but behind my shades, my beady little eyes are taking it all in, that vast and varied parade of my fellow humans.
      Before I know it, we’re boarding. For some nervous flyers, the dread is just beginning. For me, it’s finally over. Until, of course, the return trip.