Sunday, January 13, 2013

Airport Zen (Part Deux): The Screaming Baby

This post is an addendum to my previous entry. In my last blog, I talked about how I was all soothed and what-will-be-will-be and yadda yadda when I’m hanging out in airports. My return flight from California is a long one – I’ll be boarding, waiting, flying, de-boarding or waiting again for almost 15 hours. And typically I’m totally zen with that.  But today I am reminded of the one travel factor that would rip even a meditating monk from his realm of inner calm. The screaming baby.

*Please let me preface this reflection by stating that I am in no way dissing the parents who bring screaming babies on board. I’m simply expressing my emotional angst; I understand that you are doing what you need to do, and that you are suffering just as much as the rest of us. For the sake of stating the obvious, I hold you accountable for nothing more than bringing this child into the world and onto the flight, but don’t begrudge you for the pain your child or your fellow passengers are suffering. Do what you gotta do.

It’s funny because the baby about whom I (along with 108 other passengers) was incredibly wary was inconsolable during the boarding process. We all stood huddled around the gate eyeing the tiny person with the massive lungs and thinking the exact same thought – please don’t let them be on my flight. I passed mother and baby in the front row as I made my way to my own seat, managing to plaster myself against the back of the plane and (fingers-crossed) out of earshot of the baby. But the universe has a sick and twisted sense of humor. Like a bad Jackie Chan movie*, baby number two appeared two rows ahead, trapping me in the corner. (*Like the bad guys in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, the baby popped out of the darkness (or in this case, 37A), leaving me cornered, panting and with jumping as the only viable option for finding sanity and peace.) Baby number one has not made a peep (at least one that I can hear), while baby number two has been shrieking since I stowed my luggage in the overhead compartment, which may have shifted during flight.  

After about ten minutes, we began to prepare for takeoff and taxi down the runway. All too optimistically I hoped that the airplane roar and road noise would a) lull the child or b) drown him out. For a moment, it worked. At that point I silently prayed that we wouldn’t take off at all, but instead just keep doing laps around the runway at high speeds. We’re connecting through Chicago and O’Hare sucks this time of year anyway. But take off we did, and the thunderous bellow of the jets continued as we climbed above the city. I was temporarily distracted by the rusty desert mountains jutting out of the expansive cityscape. WWAAAAAAAAAAH. Oh. Right. The baby was now interspersing the most bizarre wails into his falsetto discourse. There was the “reeeeeer”’ of a Halloween cat with its tail stuck in a door and then a most peculiar shrill and panicked gurgling noise, just what I imagine it would sound like if a sorority girl accidentally swallowed a lizard.

As the knot in my stomach tightened and I could sense even my earlobes becoming tense at the incessant cries, my heart went out to the mother. I mean, clearly his cries were heart-wrenching and no syren’s song for her either; and she seemed quite uncomfortable sitting with the knowledge that in a tribal council decision of who would be voted off the plane first, there would be no discussion.

Then. Suddenly, it stopped. My stomach loosened (much to my neighbor’s chagrin), and my earlobes relaxed. The calmness reminded me of coming home from China, where toilets on the trains are holes in the floor and you have to squat and aim. Returning home, I marveled at the shiny marble sinks in restaurant restrooms, the advanced technology of the automatic flush, and the freakishly sanitary shiny toilet seats. But then, after about a week, the novelties wore off and one crapper was the same as the next. I know I sound like a cheesy movie or a Mitch Albom book, but you really don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. And thus, the amazing, fabulous, rich silence was taken for granted after just a few moments of peace. I stared out the window. I started to read my book. I closed my eyes and went on with the flight.

And now,  with this poor child quite vocally distraught once again, I write this reflection to the best of my abilities, with sweaty palms, shaky fingers and the fat fringes of my nervous system rapidly detwizzling themselves. I’m sure there’s a lesson the universe is trying to teach me here – finding peace within while chaos pursues without or some bullshit, but I might have to lock myself in the lavatory and rock myself slowly back into my senses to unearth it. 

Monday, January 7, 2013


I’m about to get all Love Actually on you, but I really do like airports. Once I get checked in, I find the whole process very soothing. My inner calm rises in opposite correlation to the turmoil around me. As we snake our way through the security line, families get themselves all wound up and business men stamp their shiny tasseled toes like they have a right to move more quickly through the line than the hippie backpackers in front of them. Parents start to harangue their children: if you hadn't let the cat out; if you would only have packed last night like I told you to; please untangle your sticky self from the lane divider and move 3 feet ahead with the rest of us – we’re going to miss our plane!  Whereas I tend to hyperventilate on a regular basis – running late for work, running late for a movie, the sudden realization that my life has no financial stability - it is ironically in the airport security line watching cowboys and lovers and families sending their daughters off to college and women in power suits clicking along the interminable corridors that I am washed by a sense of what-will-be-will-be. Where it comes from I couldn't say, but I work this sentiment like a toddler on his thumb.

Clearly I was too in the zone, though. After all of the announcements about staying on the plane if you’re heading to Las Vegas and thanks for flying Southwest, yadda yadda, I disembarked with all but 33 other passengers to catch my next flight. My next flight wasn't set to take off until 6:25pm, meaning a four-hour layover in Nashville; but lucky for me I checked the departure screens before heading off to placate my now roaring stomach. No flight to Sacramento was listed there, so I sauntered over to the ticket counter to inquire into my mystery flight to California. Ah, you mean I have to go through Las Vegas like it says right here on the ticket I didn't look at? I have to get back on the same plane? Oh, ok. No big deal – no one would even notice and I could find a new seat up towards the front. Except for the fact that upon reentering the aircraft, the attendant at the doorway got on the loud speaker to announce to the attendant at the back of the plane (and everyone else on board): #34 is back. She was confused. I repeat, Number 34 has returned to the plane. Passengers smiled at me softly with a pitying look as I trudged by them, clunking my briefcase on seat backs as I went.   

I don’t think I’ll ever weasel my way into the romance comedy scenario in which Ryan Gosling takes the seat beside me and proceeds to tell me his lifelong dream of saving the world through small-scale farming initiatives, at which point I tell him MY lifelong dream of saving the world through writing about small-scale farming initiatives (whilst married to Ryan Gosling) and we join the mile-high club, sip bloody marys, laugh our way to the runway and live happily ever after. So in the meantime, my what-will-be-will-be attitude makes me very grateful for the solitude of staring out at the landscape below, or the company of a little old lady who tells me all about her visit with her grandchildren. The couple I sat with on my trip to Las Vegas told me all about the terrain below, and kept unbuckling to let me look out the north side of the plane to catch glimpses of the Grand Canyon. I've never seen the Grand Canyon, and felt totally like a kid in a candy shop sticking my face very much in 18C’s personal bubble to see out of the tiny window pane. From up here the world looks invulnerable. Miles above the land it’s impossible to detect our smog, our plastic bottles and spilled oil. We’ll fuck it up for sure, but the world will be around long after we do ourselves in. The thought makes me smirk – we think we’re so almighty, but it’ll probably be the world (and the cockroaches) that have the final word.

The airport feels like an asylum from the reality. Some run through it, some are wearing too nice outfits to actually run but are glistening as they speed-walk to their gates. And like the scene of Love Actually, there’s a heightened buzz at the baggage claim where passengers reunite with family and friends and cross from the traveler’s portal back to the real world. California welcomed me with its nippy breath as I stepped from the threshold of a previous chapter. I dutifully took my place in the long line of wanderers looking expectantly into the bleary headlights, waiting for an agent to carry us into the night.