My annual holiday pilgrimage to visit family is looming this weekend — and this one is shaping up to be a monster.
Not so much when I get where I’m going, of course. The actual holiday experience is forecast to be no more or less monstrous than usual.
Not that I’m saying it’s monstrous. Just that if it isn’t, this one probably won’t be. And if it is, this one shouldn’t be any more so.
Or less so. If it is, in the first place. Which I’m not saying.
I am, however, flying out of Boston on the Saturday before a mid-week Christmas, and that promises to be a squirming sweaty mass of monstrous humanity, the likes of which M. Night Shyamalan could make into some cheesy horror flick.
And I’m just talking about my row on the airplane. The rest of it is downright scary.
Holiday travel is never good. Weekend travel is a mess. “Prime time” flight departures — like, oh, say, Saturday noon out of Boston and mid-afternoon in whichever fly-through southern whistlestop our layover takes us to this time — attract cacophonous hordes of suitcase-laden humans, the large majority of which seem to head either toward or away from Florida or New Jersey.
Or Purgatory, based on most of their expressions.
“I’ve tried different ways to cope with this sardines-in-Santa-hats endeavor over the years. None of them have actually worked, so I won’t depress you by recounting the many failures.”
Put them all together, and you’ve got a perfect storm of stereotypical travel nightmares. Lines snaking across the sidewalks. Overstuffed overhead bins. Missed connections. Twelve-dollar drinks. Stranger cooties. Patdowns. Mechanical failures. It’s like a list of categories from sixthcircleofhell.craigslist.org/.
I call it AHT: Airport Hell Time.
I’ve tried different ways to cope with this sardines-in-Santa-hats endeavor over the years. None of them have actually worked, so I won’t depress you by recounting the many failures. In recent years, my coping mechanism has been to simply refuse to acknowledge the ordeal is coming until the very last possible minute. In terms of overall sanity, it’s been somewhat effective.
In terms of packing clean underwear, the results are more muddled. As is some of the underwear, I imagine.
Mostly, I get enough clothing stuffed in a suitcase to manage. It’s not always my clothing, and it doesn’t necessarily match or fit or cover all the scandalous bits, but it more or less works out okay.
But what I usually find is that only thinking about packing twelve minutes before the plane is scheduled to board leaves me no time to prep anything that might make me more at peace (however minimally) during the trek. These are the things I think of doing, with one half-pantsed leg out the door. Copying new music over to my laptop. Downloading that ebook I bought last month to my phone. Investing in a Zimbabwean Valium mine.
These things might distract — or soothe, or clinically sedate — me for a while, crammed into an Airbus or a body scanner or a gateside half-assed Applebee’s. But they are lost to me, because planning for them would require accepting, hours or even days in advance, that Airport Hell Time is coming. So you’d better watch out.
(Pouting irrelevant. You’re cornholed, either way.)
Last year, I finally made an attempt. I’m not sure why I thought I was ready. Maybe we flew out at two in the morning, and I figured it would be clear. Maybe my wife slipped a handful of Zoloft into my Thanksgiving hash. Maybe I’d had some transcendent moment of Zen, the memory of which was subsequently wiped out.
(By Christmas travel. Naturally.)
Whatever it was, I decided to face the Yuletide beast up front and early. And I did all of those little things that every year I wish I would have done. I was prepared to self-entertain the shit out of this Christmas gauntlet, bag checks and flight delays and seat-kicking six-year-old snotbags behind me be damned. I updated all my phone apps in advance. I downloaded some games to try out. I had ebooks. On my laptop, more games. Lots of music. A big set of pictures from my digital camera I wanted to go through. Even a spreadsheet I’d been working on at the office. One way or another, I was going to find a little comfort on the road — or the air-road… uh, -sky thing; oh for crissakes, you know what I mean.
I finished packing the morning of the flight, took a cab with the missus to the airport, settled into the cackling sea of humanity in the check-in line…
And realized I’d forgotten my chargers. Both of them. Laptop and phone. And with all that crap I’d been loading onto them constantly for a week, they were nearly out of juice.
You’ve got to be ho-ho-holy effing kidding me.
I did recover, in a sense. But by the time I’d made it through that line and the screening line and found the gate and searched out a kiosk selling fourteen-tuple marked-up portable chargers and waited in that line with all the other absent-minded yobbos who’d done the same stupid thing, the damage was done. Airport Hell Time had me in its clutches. My devices were dead. I was out forty bucks. The flight was delayed another three hours so they could squeegee a goose carcass off the fuselage or something — and there was nowhere to plug in. The six hundred and twelve thousand other passengers on my flight, who evidently hadn’t searched every inch of Terminals A through Q for a charger, already had their grubby little prongs in all the available holes.
So I sat.
(On the floor. No seats left. For obvs.)
And I pondered the futility of fighting Airport Hell Time. I realized it’s inevitable; like City Hall and the IRS and various naked bits of Miley Cyrus, it can’t be beaten. You can’t escape it. You can only hope to survive the ride.
This year, I’ve given up. I know it’s coming; I’m not avoiding it. I’ve started packing. I’ve got a couple of books — which will no doubt get ripped apart in some baggage check melee before I get to read them. I downloaded some new tunes to listen to — those are likely to be mislabeled tracks from an “Alvin and the Chipmunks Gregorian Chants and Whalesong” album I don’t know about. And I made sure to pack my chargers — which are sure to spontaneously combust in my carry-on, taking my phone and boarding pass and an innocent foam neck pillow out with them.
I suppose what I’m saying is: Happy holidays. And wish me luck.
If I’m not back in a week, I’m stuck in an airport somewhere, rolled into a fetal position and muttering to myself about Prancer, poinsettias and peanut packets. Airport Hell Time strikes again!