The lack of proximity between purchasing airline tickets and actually getting onto an airplane has not served us well this year. Susanne, in early October, had her face buried in her laptop screen. “What do you think about this flight,” she asked, her eyes mere inches from the glowing pixels, “it’s a really good price.”
“How good,” I asked, leaning over. “Oh, that is good.”
“But it’s a red eye,” she said.
“But the price,” I said.
Abstractly, I understood that it was a middle-of-the-night flight. I do, after all, have a very successful track record with surviving the middle of the night, even if I’m usually asleep for it.
“It’s three legs,” she said, sounding less confident.
I responded by ignoring her fears. “It’s always at least two, hon,” I said, a little too cheerfully. She should have understood right then that I was just blinded by my thriftiness and rethought our approach. But perhaps Susanne was seeing little stars of savings, too.
We sent our credit card numbers through the information superhighway and were rewarded with an email confirming we had just purchased our way to visiting friends and family for the holidays. And then went about our daily routine, forgetting all about it.
And then we were driving, in late December, to the airport. We had an 8 o’clock fight to Seattle, a multi-hour layover, and then a midnight flight to Minneapolis, followed by another couple of hours in that airport, and then a morning flight to Detroit.
What a horrible itinerary! Who had done this to us?
We had. We had done this to ourselves.
We drove by the bad broccoli plant, which for its part sent us an intense putrid odor as a parting shot for departing Walla Walla. Every time we’ve left before, the city has done some kind of stick-its-tendrils-into-us to slow us down. What would it be this time, I wondered, trying not to breathe as I drove past the paper mill. It just loved us so much it wanted to stay in our nostrils.
On the first plane, the flight attendant told us happily that we’d be making a stop in Yakima on our way to Seattle. This meant we were splitting the trip into two 25-minute segments. Never going about 15,000 feet, we stopped like a bus at the Yakima airport and five people joined our flight. About ten minutes away from Seattle, the worst stench of gastrointestinal distress invaded my olfactory nerves. I looked at Susanne and mouthed, “was that you?”
She shook her head no emphatically. We tried to breathe as little as we could, having just practiced this outside the paper mill. The flight attendant empathized with us, as she was also stuck at the very back of the plane with us and the killer fart. As we rolled into the gate, they put two staircases up to the fuselage, and the flight attendant, knowing our plight, told us we could just take the one in the back, two feet behind our seats. We walked the length of the terminal toward our next gate. Having cleared our heads, our stomachs started rumbling, and we decided to get dinner.
The waiter asked what we wanted. As we were in a tap house and pub, we each ordered a wheat beer. He plunked them down on the table, announcing last call.
“When do you close,” I asked.
“In 30 minutes,” he said.
We drank our beers and ate our greasy food quickly, rushing off to the shuttle train to our next terminal and departure gate. I could feel the reuben sloshing around in my tipsy stomach, but we had some time to relax before the red eye. The Seattle airport has free wifi, which seems nice until one notices that it has next to no power outlets. What teases. We wandered around looking for a free outlet, to no avail. And the people who had already juiced up weren’t offering to unplug, even for a little while. This made me wonder if:
1. everyone had terrible laptop batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge
2. they hated Christmas and were hogging the electricity just to be nasty
3. they were inattentive, oblivious Northwesterners
So we booted up my laptop, sharing it between us and hoping to model good behavior for all of the manners-impaired strangers in the terminal. Somehow I think it didn’t make any difference.
We piled on to the red eye, hoping for a smooth enough, unoffensively smelling enough flight that we could catch some sleep before getting into the Twin Cities. Susanne conked out on my shoulder quickly, but I have trouble staying asleep while sitting up, so I watched the people around me slumber instead, some snoring, some with their jaws hanging open while doing so. And I realized that it’s no wonder why people eat a good number of bugs over the years.
Landing after the red eye, we were somewhat dismayed to discover we still weren’t there yet.
Our next gate was a little ways down from a Caribou Coffee. A family of three each had a drink from there, and they looked so happy, like a live advertisement for the wonderful things coffee can do for you, too. Have an impressive blonde son and snappily dressed trophy wife! Enjoy endless energy and increase your income potential with our frozen vanilla frappuccinos!
“I’m going to get some coffee,” said Susanne, standing up. “Would you like anything?”
I stared at the happy people. Happy people. I wanted to go to there. I nodded at her.
“Okay, what would you like?”
My voice, exhausted, came out in a whisper.
“A frosty mcfrosterson,” I said.
I pointed at the 4-year-old toe head. “Mocha,” I squeaked.
“Is there anything else you want, like some caramel flavor or hazelnut?”
Why was she making this so difficult? I said frosty mcfrosterson! Just understand what I want! I’m perfectly clear!
That was what I thought. But what I said was:
“Okay,” she said, now talking to me as if I were only 4. “Do you want anything to eat?”
I shook my head no.
She came back a really long time later that equaled something like 7 minutes, and I sucked back my frozen mocha in a few gulps. The caffeine hit me like a Boxing Day tsunami. Maybe that’s exaggerating and trivializing. Okay, it hit me like really bad flatulence, except it was so good. And not odiferous in any way. I was suddenly, powerfully awake.
I typed things, I texted people. I was online and sending status updates to anyone who cared. In the very narrow band of things that could be remotely productive while sitting in an airport waiting to catch one’s third flight in 12 hours, I was a king of getting shit done.
Susanne seemed to be buzzing, too. She asked if she should get us a bagel and cream cheese. That sounded like a terrific idea! Sure! Get us 14 bagels!
She found some organic-pretends-to-be-French bakery and got us a hemp bagel. I had no idea people ate hemp. Wasn’t it reserved for scratchy rope and reusable shopping bags? Would we get high from eating this?
We did not get high, which was good, given that we were already loopy. But I did discover that hemp seeds can get caught pretty easily between one’s teeth. Good life experience to note, I guess.
Finally, at long last, we were on our last flight. Only two hours and forty-eight minutes to Detroit. The flight was uneventful.
Our bags were not on the belt. I lined up in a long queue for lost luggage, not confident that I could explain what had happened with any degree of clarity, or words, even. Probably I would just wave my arms a lot and point to my claim tag bar codes, and hope that would suffice for them. I was a raving mad man, a very tired raving mad man. So maybe I wasn’t raving. I was a raved, farted on, ear-drum deafened, sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, hemp-eating mad man.
Three people before I reached the front of the line Susanne tapped me on the shoulder and told me she’d found her bag on one random luggage belt and mine on another. I trudged out to the car, brought thankfully by her cousin and husband, who came with the car as part of a package driving deal, and didn’t ask how our bags wound up on the opposite end of the baggage claim area. I didn’t care anymore.
We rode 90 minutes to Susanne’s parents’ house, had a cup of tea, and took a 3-hour nap. We had crossed 17 hours, three flights, four airports, one train, two commutes, one really bad cheese cutting incident, two bad meals, one hurried pint of hefeweisen, and three increasingly inarticulate conversations. We woke up at 5:30pm Eastern time, which felt like 2:30 to us, kind of, since I think I never actually saw the sun the whole day, and really, I didn’t even know what day it was anymore.
But hell, it only cost us $525 a ticket.