Friday, March 9, 2012

The paranoia of traveling

Traveling is one of the greatest joys in life. Luckily for me, it's an inevitability because I must travel half way across the country at least six times a year with college in Illinois and home in California.

But actually, unlike the great fun that is to be had upon going on a grand holiday, traveling to a new city or state or country or continent, going from California to Illinois and back again is coupled with not so much anticipation as utter exhaustion and ridiculousness.

Herein, I will document my usual experience each and every time I fly, with little to no exception:

1. Commence packing.

For the average person, putting together a bag of clothes - especially when returning to your family home from college - is not an ordeal. But somehow, by the time I'm ready to jet set back to SoCal, I've managed to pack away all of my favorite items of clothing, none of which are expendable.

My suitcase is filled to the point that I can see the tightly bound seams just moments away from splitting. It's a miracle my bag is still in tact after testing its strength so many times.

2. Sprint to the bus and somehow arrive ten minutes early.

I am like the White Rabbit. Whenever I go anywhere, my motto is always "I'm late! I'm late for a very important date!" On the day of a flight, this lovely aspect of my being is magnified to the level of paranoia.

Today, as I left my class at 2:55 pm, I was determined to make it to the bus stop by 3:20 pm. I had to first stop by my room and grab my suitcase, then I had to wait for the dorm elevator that runs at a snail's pace. Then I had to drag my - as I mentioned - 200 lb. and bursting at the seams suitcase over surprisingly uneven sidewalk and gravel to get to my final destination.

I compulsively check my phone to see how much time has passed. It's 3:05 and I still think I'm about ten minutes away. I pick up the pace.

But by the time I arrive, it's only 3:10, proving I am not only a terrible judge of time, but also the worst worry wart in the world (unplanned and impressive alliteration right there).

3. Security, how I love thee.

After an hour and 15 minute (this is an estimation, again I'm not good with time) long bus ride, the final instrument of torture - i mean travel - is within reach. But the airport does not allow entry to just anyone. You have to be body searched and violated first to get onto your favorite smelly germ-pile of a plane.

Tip: Never travel like I do. Don't overstuff and absolutely never cram an old laptop into your suitcase.

The latter is an unusual circumstance, but just one of the ways in which security checks can really bite you in the bum. I was forced to unlock, unzip, open (displaying the crammed contents of my bulging luggage to the world) and pull out my dead HP laptop to prove to the security guard that I wasn't do anything illegal.

I actually don't understand the rule about taking laptops out of bags, so I still don't know why they went to these lengths to have me do so.

Aside from that - packing your suitcase like I do can lead to the unfriendly "Can we measure the size/weight of your bag, please?" conversation. I hate checking my bag, so I will automatically go into survival mode and beg the TSA to allow me just this once to travel with my suitcase of rocks (it's really that heavy).

Usually I can weasel on through - not through begging, but because some of the security just don't notice how massive my bag is. Yet still, the anticipation is psychologically painful.

4. The back of O'Hare.

I have to thank those who plan where to station the planes at O'Hare because no matter when I fly, I am always situated in the absolute furthest gate in the entire terminal. It's an eternal struggle - getting to the back of that building.

I have to pass McDonald's, people sitting comfortably waiting for their flights, stores that are selling cookies and Mentos and other sugary delicacies. It's almost like they plan some of this to make me want to consume more - Oh wait.

I'm convinced this is an attack on the weak-minded Californians who happen to be visiting Chicago. Just today I noticed there is one storefront dedicated specifically to candy apples on my long walk down the O'Hare marketing causeway. I almost gave in - almost - but you lost this time, O'Hare. Just because I have to walk past the fatty food doesn't mean I'll give in to my gluttony.

5. Finally on the plane.

There's this really great moment of anxiousness when I'm about to board a plane.

Because my bag is so heavy - as I have so incessantly alluded to - I must anticipate trying to lift my half ton suitcase over my head into the luggage bin. In the many times I have done since starting to travel on planes by myself, I have only been offered help two or three times. Today I wasn't.

When I managed to cram the thing into the overhead bin, I gave a resounding squeal that had the wimpy inconsiderate man (I don't actually know if he was the former, but he was definitely the latter) behind me giving me a weird look. I subsequently told the entire plane how proud I was that I was able to put my own luggage overhead without the help of some lousy old man. Okay, I only said I was proud I had done it - nothing about the wimpy inconsiderate man (as much as I hated him).

Then came the real moment of truth. As I sat in my seat waiting for my fellow passengers to board, I creeped on each individual person while simultaneously trying to avoid eye contact. This is the time when I begin assessing them for their size (it makes me cringe, but it's the truth), number of bags and bulkiness of clothing and number of frown lines (an unwelcome signal of grumpiness).

It's an inverse relationship. The greater the amount of any of these things, the less I will enjoy sitting next to them.

Most of the time, I am so lucky as to sit next to the one schmuck who decides not to arrive on the plane until 15 seconds before take-off, giving me the false hope that I might be sitting with one or two empty seats and then surprising me with their giant parka and the ten creases in their forehead.

But then I get home

And I remind myself that it's worth it for the destination.

If I didn't love home so much - if I wasn't so happy to be done with a quarter and ready to go home and vegetate like a potato on a couch (yes, you read that right) - then I wouldn't be willing to go through the madness of the airport.

But when, like now, I've gotten home and have the luxury of sitting at my computer to recount these events with a chuckle and a light groan, I realize that even the most stupid and uninteresting airport adventures are worth the pay-off. 

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