It recently occurred to me that I might never step onto a plane with perfectly coifed hair, a single leather bag, and jaw-dropping heels. Women like that never bump into anyone or drop anything. They are never running to make connections, a bit sweaty and wild-eyed, with plastic bags dangling from their forearms. They are never hit on the head with something poorly stowed in the overhead compartment.
No, they simply glide onto their flight, murmuring amiably with the attractive stranger seated beside them, perhaps gesturing with an adult beverage.
For years, I kept hoping I would evolve, so the moment of my epiphany hit me pretty hard. After boarding a cross-country flight not long ago, I heard myself hailing a flight attendant because I had forgotten my special back pillow in the airport lounge. Egads. Have I really gone straight from new, incompetent travel mom to pre-geriatric without stopping? That hardly seems fair.
For the record, I took ballet for years, followed by modern dance and a long stint of yoga. I can stand on one foot for an eternity. I can ride a bike, do an elbow stand, a head stand, and a cartwheel, though none of the above is advised after a glass of wine. So how come when I enter an airport I look as if I were cast in my own personal slapstick comedy?
I imagine this is largely due to a variety of personal failings, but there are a number of forces conspiring against me.
Though I have settled down considerably since my teenage years, authority figures continue to make me very, very nervous. I even get a little clammy when asked for ID in the grocery store, so imagine my demeanor as I go through security. No doubt this is why I am often the target of ‘random’ searches, and have had dangerous items like artichoke paste, Chapstick, and electrical tape seized. Thank goodness someone is looking out for wily people like me, though. You probably didn’t even know that world domination was possible, armed with soft lips and duct tape’s travel-sized cousin.
And where exactly are you supposed to put your ID and boarding passes between checkpoints? It’s nerve-wracking (and feels foolish) to stow them in my carry-on and let them roll through security without me. If I hold them, I’m afraid I’ll set them down and forget them when I tie my shoes and re-stow my laptop. Please don’t suggest pockets. Girl pockets are stupid. They are for show only. No decent wallet fits in a girl pants pocket, and even if you manage to squeeze the ID card in solo, it’s not like you can sit down afterwards.
2. The age of carry ons vs. the world’s tiniest bladder.
Is it possible to remain properly hydrated without anxiously boring a hole in the seatbelt sign, waiting to make a break for the toilet? Sure, I go before I board the plane, but everything about using the airport restroom is a nightmare. Oh, how I miss my bag-checking days. How can I squeeze into the ludicrously undersized stall and close the door without dropping something in the toilet? My latest trick is to set my backpack atop my top-heavy roll-y bag while dropping my trousers, only to topple the tower with my knees when I sit down. Everything scoots out from under the door, ramming some irritable/delayed/altitude-assed traveller on the shin. Nobody likes that. If you have ever seen a bride-to-be trying to use the facilities in full regalia, you might have some inkling of what is happening behind my door. But brides have attendants, so there the similarity ends. Not that I want an extra person in there with me; I just want the disabled stall. Or iron kidneys.
3. Annoying dietary restraints.
As a gluten-intolerant person unable to digest red meat, food is also an issue. I should mention that things are better these days, thank goodness, and I feel privileged to be able to purchase the $12 packet of hummus so I won’t starve en route. But that’s not going to help me when I land in South Dakota at 11 pm. I need to bring a loaf of my sad cardboard bread or a bag of rice cakes wherever I go, which is hard to squeeze into my carry-ons after laptop, camera, clothing, reading material, journal, toiletries, and bottle of water. My bags are so over-stuffed that looking for a set of headphones could take twenty minutes and a complete reorg. How do you cram stuff in so it is possible to access what you need–without revealing your entire personal life to the folks sandwiched on either side? Oh, well. They probably saw it all when my bag was searched at security. Nothing will surprise them now.
4. A bad back.
Never mind that I have a few good stories–including breaking up a fight and ‘exercising’ in an ‘unorthodox position.’ A bad back is a poor traveling companion, no matter how it happened. I simply can’t survive a long flight without my orthopedic pillow. Wish that thing deflated, or somehow collapsed to fit in one of my bags. No can do.
So here I am, dragging a suitcase, a backpack, my ID and boarding pass, a pillow, a bag of rice cakes, and usually a couple of kids as well. I’m probably looking for the restroom. Maybe you could think kind thoughts, and try not to stare.