I do not deserve to be on this flight. The fact that I am sitting in my seat at all is a sort of perverse incentive for my worst habits. I’ve already burst out laughing twice, when reality has popped up and confronted me with its realness yet again.
The thing about dumb mistakes is that they tend to cascade into more mistakes. I’ve started with a doozy.
I booked my ticket, I put the flight in my calendar, I told everyone I was coming, I checked into my flight a day ahead, I checked the weather forecast, I packed my single suitcase carefully.
Then I kinda sorta roughly memorized what time I needed to be at the airport and estimated from there.
I’ve started to learn how my inherent way of doing things (travel among several others) differs profoundly from that of a more punctual person. Let me compare my husband’s train of thought to mine.
“What time is your flight, 10:50?” he asked me. “Uh, yeah,” I responded, not checking, continuing a perfect track record since the moment I booked the ticket two weeks earlier. Immediately he started working backward. I’d need an hour to get through security and find my gate, and it would take at least 45 minutes to get to the airport, but we’d better add a buffer because this would be the roughest travel day of the year. It would be hard to make it through traffic to the airport itself. So I’d need to leave at 8:50.
Shrug, went my brain. Yah yah, sounds good.
He was right about the traffic, and he was right that it would take longer than usual to get through security, partly because the pre-check line was closed.
In my mind, I think I thought “10:50” meant boarding at 10:50, which meant I should probably leave the house around 9:30 PM. We had this discussion just before 8:00.
Well, hang on, let me hang onto the punchline for a while more. Imagine, if you will, a pure mind unclouded by troubled thoughts, filled with contentment and blind optimism. La la, la la, la la...
My hubby walked me out to the street, the only place near our apartment complex where we can get enough cell service to order a Lyft. The last time we took a ride share together, it took almost 15 minutes to arrive, and I know he was mentally pacing in worry.
OHO! My Lyft was due to arrive in ONE MINUTE, because... the driver was already in our driveway, dropping off another passenger. All he had to do was to turn around. He helped me with my suitcase.
It took us about twice as long to get to the airport as it does on an ordinary day. Forty minutes just to go the last mile and a half. I had to pay an extra $15 because of how long the trip took. Shrug.
I whimsically told the driver, who was getting concerned about the timeline, that I didn’t even care if I had to sprint for my flight, because it isn’t worth it to me to be the kind of person who throws fits or gets worked up over inconsequential things like that. I shared a story about a woman at Starbucks who demanded that her four drinks be remade because the whipped cream wasn’t squirted through the entire length of each straw. “I don’t ever want that to be me,” I said.
We finally made it through traffic to the drop-off point, having passed at least a dozen people dragging their suitcases along the road. Apparently a lot of people were worried about missing their flights! Wow, huh, what must that be like?
My driver helped me with my suitcase and we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. I tried to go through a door that had been locked closed, shrugged again, and turned back to find a proper entrance. I went into a restroom, ready to get my head together and find my gate.
As I was washing up, I pulled up my boarding pass on my phone.
My flight leaves at 10:10! But it’s... 10:00 right now!
They’ve been boarding since 9:40!
I still have to go through security!
Uh oh, I think to myself, this isn’t good. I hustle down the hallway and start pulling my bag through what I think is the Pre-Check line. Nope, the ladies say, it’s closed, unless you want to sign up for Clear? “My flight leaves in ten minutes,” I say, heading toward the regular line. Oh dear. They tell me I can keep my boots on but that I’ll have to remove my electronics.
This is where I compensate in my utter failure to cope with the Time Dimension through my other organizing skills. I’ve been through airport security, I dunno, surely more than a hundred times. I always put the same objects in the same pockets. I think well in categories. As soon as I hear the word “electronics,” my 3D mental map of all my gear starts swirling around and highlights: my AirPods, my watch, my tablet, and my phone. I grab a bin and separate those things out, meanwhile feeling a very heavy, sinking feeling in my heart that there are two dozen slow people in front of me.
We experience a logjam on the conveyor belt, as the herd of young adults in front of me seem confounded by the process of finding and removing their things. All of them without fail leave the tubs on the belt, causing them to start colliding into each other and popping out of position. It’s a mess, a mess that is blocking my own stuff inside the metal detector.
Meanwhile THE CLOCK IS TICKING and my flight is about to take off without me. I try to reassure myself that even this disaster of a line will still take maybe three or four minutes, and that even if I have to get a patdown, I might still have a chance.
I start grabbing bins and stacking them on top of the metal detector, and amazingly, my stuff rolls out just as I finish. I make an effort to clean up after myself and stack my own tubs.
THEN, THE SPRINT.
I grab my bag and run up a flight of stairs, realizing it will be slower to wait for the escalator. This is another of my many organizational skills, the many times I’ve slapped the handle down into my bag and grabbed the straps and darted up the steps.
I sprint along the concourse, relieved that my gate is in fact the first one around the corner. I still have four minutes to spare!
I run up, laughing at myself, because it looks like the plane has not yet taxied off. There are three agents standing in conversation. I ask them about my flight, and they say it’s been moved... six gates away.
I sprint off again, planning my path between slow-moving bodies at least twenty feet ahead, another necessary skill of the time-incompetent.
I roll up to my gate THREE MINUTES BEFORE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DEPART. Twenty-seven minutes after boarding time.
Everyone is still there. Something has happened, probably to do with moving gates, and nobody has boarded yet. Not only do I have time to catch this flight, this flight that I don’t deserve to be on, but I have to hang around and wait for it.
In the greatest comedy moment of all, this flight that I vaguely, obliviously thought of as leaving at “10:50” - actually DOES leave at 10:50. Either I have major psychic powers or I’m a daffy space cadet.
This is the main difference between a punctual lark like my husband and a wandering flower such as myself. He is pessimistic about everything that could go wrong; he’s an engineer and he’s literally paid to think that way. Therefore, he correctly anticipates problems. I had to tell him that he was right about every single concern he had: the traffic, the delays at security, his estimate of transit time, all of it.
On the other hand, I am optimistic, partly because I’m reinforced in my sloppy behavior by unbelievable serendipity over and over again. What shouldn’t have worked often does. Minimalism, experience, physical fitness, kindness, flexibility, keeping my wits about me when the situation warrants a crying jag. Drop any of these and the picture changes.
The Lyft driver who was already in our driveway when I called? He got a new pickup just as he was dropping me off, pointing to a strange efficiency in this holiday travel method. My joke about not caring if I sprinted to my gate? True, and I could make that joke because I’ve been in that gate so many times that I know exactly where everything is. I’ve been flying for 35 years, and I have a pretty good mental database of airport reality vs. ticket reality. When I realized my flight was supposedly already boarding, and I had yet to get through security on the busiest travel night of the year, I felt 10% UHOH and 90% okey-dokey. As an expert one-bag traveler, I can get away with things that should not be considered within the realm of possibility.
This is what possibility thinking is all about. What are all the many manifold options from this point in time and space? How many ways are there to solve my problem?
Being better prepared prevents most of those problems, and I’ll go back to the drawing board on that process. In the meantime, I’ll continue blithely expecting most things to work out in my favor, fool that I am.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.