A podcast takes me on a journey, as the miles tick by. I am engrossed in the controversy described within a school board in New York, to the point I begin to outline the argument I would make if I spoke at that meeting. I think with righteous indignation: I am going to go there and tell them what a mess they are making, for the children! Of course, I am not.
Fields of brittle grass seem to hover unchanged on the sides of the highway. The road is unnaturally straight. Like someone took a chalk string, strung it out for 400 miles and snapped it on the ground, then built a road on that chalky line.
It’s funny how eight hours trapped in a small moving compartment can be so freeing. Electric poles sweep by methodically, setting a rhythm to the drive. My car’s engine is soothing, like a cat purring. A smokey smell wafts from the back, where my camping equipment sits in tangled heaps and pasted with dried mud and leaves.
A few hours earlier, tufts of fog twisted and glided between hills of caramel-colored trees. The sun sat glimmering between the mountains, just having peaked over the horizon. The road pitched up and down hills. How the scenery has changed in just a few hundred miles.
Now, the heat from the sun’s rays are bouncing through my windows, pushed back by the fervent work of my AC, as it breathes cool air through the vents.
I play a game of leap frog with a few familiar cars.
The haunting feeling of reality is settling in the closer to home I get. There, I will have to unpack and do laundry and buy groceries and do all the normal every-day things I do all the time. I sigh. The more trips I take, the harder it is to return to normalcy.
For now, though, I’m content in my car, snacking and listening to conspiracy stories, contemplating the origins of such a stick-straight highway.
Airport security is a trail of chaos.
A family wrestles a stroller through checkpoints. A woman in uniform eases a man in a wheelchair around rolling luggage. A man with three bags whips off a belt and empties his pockets, his fingers fumbling as he rushes.
Security is a great equalizer. We are all reduced to a childlike state, as business men and teens in sweat pants and women in dresses stand barefoot, without accessory.
Early in my traveling, I decided not to let the delays and inconveniences of this scene phase me. As the turmoil ebbs and flows on all sides, I watch without emotion. It’s the only way to navigate this process without inducing anxiety.
The line before the body scanner begins to swell as a TSA security man ushers the bewildered mom herding her son through the proper channels. I watch my crates stack up on the other side of the ex-ray machine, folding into others without their owners to collect them.
As I pass through the scanner, a security woman stops me.
“I need to look at your hair,” she says.
“My hair?” I laugh, trying to imagine what they could have seen that would resemble a security threat tucked in my layers.
“A little head massage…” she says, scratching my head with the blue fingers of her gloves.
“Oooh I love your highlights!” she says.
Her friendliness draws me out of my stoic stupor. I turn to look at her, smiling in surprise.
“Thanks! I just got it done,” I reply. Her own hair is twisted into black dreadlocks, which she has collected into one cord with a rubber band.
“Really? Did you do it yourself?” she asks.
“Are you kidding?” I say. “No way. I do not trust myself.”
We part with a nod of understanding. I comb through the wreckage the conveyer belt has produced and gather my bags, bemused at this refreshing deviation from the stale enounters I usually have at security checkpoints.
If you look carefully, there are usually bright spots amid the blur of chaos.
It’s exactly 10:50 p.m., the time my flight was to arrive home.
Instead I am right where I started, slumped in a leather airport chair with my feet on one of the short, round, multicolored seats drilled into the floor around a bright red table. It looks like furniture from a McDonald’s play area. The seats are short enough for toddler legs.
It seems like an outlandish accessory for the grayness of the airport.
Across from me, cables link a half dozen phones to the ports lining the back of a high counter.
Next to me, a blond woman with a scarf and visible hairspray and a greying man in black slacks and a polo shirt lament the delay. “Well do we know why?” the woman asks the man. We don’t know why.
A perky announcer informs us it’s because our pilots were stuck in Houston due to previous delays. Those delays remain mysterious, but adequately deflect blame. Our plane sits at the gate, eager and waiting outside the tall windows, so full of potential, but with no one to take the helm.
There is something so futile about a flight delay. It’s like being a willing captive. Only less scary and more boring. There is nothing I can do. There is nothing the couple next to me can do. There is nothing the announcer can do.
I calculate what this all means for the time I get to lay my head on my own beautiful, marshmallow of a pillow. The result of that equation is an hour that is too far on the morning side of night.
I sit back stoically and read my book, my feet propped on the circular kid chairs. Waiting for delayed pilots to come signal my freedom.