I say "not great." My wife prefers to call me "tense." Also, "high-strung." And "antsy." And "tight as a brand-new sphincter."
It's not the actual flight. I have no weird flying phobias. Once we're in the air and I have my book and three peanuts, I'm so relaxed I'm comatose. No, my stress is solely about getting to the airport.
This is me every time we leave on a trip:
It starts as soon as I wake up on the day we leave. I'm roving around the house. Checking windows. Turning lights on and off. Double-checking our luggage, reconfirming the flight online about fifty or sixty times, just in case there's late breaking news that the entire flight traffic system has accidentally switched the fight numbers for all airlines, and the only way to identify our own flight is to get to the airport really, really early, scout the runways for our own plane, and be prepared to wrestle other passengers to secure the seats we need.
"We're fine," my wife says. "Relax. I checked us in online yesterday."
Relax. Right. That's just what the terrorists are hoping I'll do.
We need to leave roughly eight hours ahead of time to make sure that we navigate our five-minute commute to the airport. That's just the way it is. Be prepared for any and all emergencies, am I right?
The real race begins when we leave the house. As soon as we lock the door behind us, we're racing the clock, as far as I'm concerned. It's a race, the countdown is ticking away the seconds, and I'm Jack Bauer. We get in the car, and I rev that engine. Everybody in? Everybody buckled? Bags in the trunk? Then let's go! Go! Go!
Saucy always wants to leave later than I do, and I always overrule her. Why? because there might be traffic. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, THERE MIGHT BE TRAFFIC. Or a train derailment. or a circus train derailment, with overturned cars that releases a legion of monkeys across the city, which will obviously make us miss our flight.
"No," my wife says, shaking her head. Naive wife.
She has no idea what I'm prepared to do so get us to the airport on time. I will mow down every other car on the freeway like that bus in Speed. I'm prepared to crash this car and commandeer a faster one. I will ditch the car altogether and leap across traffic with our luggage strapped to my back, run across the roofs of buildings, and ride a zipline down to Passenger Drop-off if I have to.
We pull into the airport, which is clogged with people coming and going, everybody in my way. Families picking up arriving travelers out front and just standing there, in the middle of my path, hugging each other! Standing there! Hugging! MOVE THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY! I HAVE A FLIGHT TO CATCH!
I park us in the long-term lot and leap from the car, ready to sprint down the covered walkway to Check-In. My wife and daughter do not sprint. I swear, those two are going to bring down this entire great nation with their slowness. I do my best to match their meandering pace, all the while trying to nudge them just a little faster.
"Stop nudging me," my wife says.
"But we have to hurry," I plead. "We're going to be late."
"Take a pill."
"We have to goooo!"
Inside the terminal, everything in the Check-In area is designed to slow us down. We stand in line while I tap my foot, check my watch, and listen to the countdown timer in my head. We've got morons with fifteen kid and 75 pieces of luggage in front of us. We've got slow-moving idiots who don't know how to work any of the self-check-in kiosks, excited because this is their "first time on one of those miracle flyin' machines!" I whisper into my watch: Come in, Central. Need assist. We've got idiots. Repeat: we have idiots.
"Stop talking to your watch," my wife says.
"Yes you were."
I want to leap over them, knock out all obstacles with throat punches, and clear a path for my family. I want to throw our bags onto the conveyer belt, and tell the attendant behind the counter a ready-made story about how there's a kidney waiting for us in Denver that's not getting any fresher. Whatever it takes to speed this shit up.
We make it through check-in. We're now unencumbered by luggage, which means we can bob and weave more quickly. We can navigate like jungle cats, darting past strollers, wheelchairs, the group of ambling nuns that just "happen" to suddenly appear in the corridor in front of us.
They will not slow me down. Not even my family will slow me down now. I grab my wife and daughter and we race towards the gates and NO THERE IS NO TIME TO GO THE BATHROOM. YOU CAN GO IN COLORADO, NOW MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! GO, GO, GO! NOW, NOW NOW!
Then we get stuck waiting in line at security.
I'm in agony. Our plane is probably boarding this very minute. They're moments away from closing the big heavy door. Gaahhh!! Doomed!
The security proceedings inch forward, of course. Luckily, I had myself prepped and ready before we even reached the end of the line, four miles back. My shoes off, my belt off, pants off... ok, by the time I get up there I'm naked, but it's because we need to get through this process quickly, people! Why aren't the rest of you naked!!! Someone strip that little old lady in the front down and get her ass x-rayed! (Sure, TSA has now made sure that I don't need to get physically naked anymore -- they do it for me with their radioactive-bombardment machines that will eventually turn us all into The Hulk. But I like to at least lose the pants, to streamline the process.)
We get through security. Having a kid usually means they don't give you a hard time. Plus the being naked thing.
"Sir, please put your clothing back on and proceed to your departure gate."
We race up the stairs. Sometimes the fastest way is to sprint up the Down escalator on the heads and shoulders of arriving passengers. I drag my wife and daughter relentlessly. They don't realize what's at stake if we're late. I scan the main gate area frantically. 4C... 4C... FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHERE'S 4C???
And then I see it. Our gate. The sign shows our flight number and departure, which looks to be on time. We arrive. There's not even a line yet. I flop myself on the counter, breathing hard, sweat dripping from my brow. We made it. Thank God, we made it just in time. I look up gratefully at the attendant at the console in front of me. I grasp her hand. Thank you, I say. Thank you for being here. We're here now too.
I look out the window next to our gate. There's no plane out there.
The attendant informs me that the plane is still en route from Seattle. In fact, it isn't due to arrive for two hours. And there may be a slight delay in takeoff.
I nod. Sure. I mop my face with sleeve. We're going to have to wait here for a few hours. But the important thing is, we made it on time. When that plane arrives, we'll be first in line to get on it.
Behind me, my wife is shaking her head at me. I go to her, and we situate ourselves in some deeply uncomfortable chairs. Mini-P cracks open her DS and starts playing a game where Mario and Luigi wear penguin suits.
"Excellent," my wife says, settling in with a magazine. "Now we get to sit here for four hours." I nod. I feign being apologetic, but in my head, I'm still Jack Bauer, and I got us here in the nick of time. Just barely.
We sit idly for a couple minutes, and then my wife looks around. "I'm hungry. Is there a Starbuck's somewhere?"
I leap up. I'M ON IT.
P.S. Big thanks to Studio 30Plus, who made me their Featured Blogger this week. Someone's has a hefty muffin basket coming their way.