Friday, September 2, 2011

How I Got Home From My Vacation: A Hero's Journey

Imagine, if you will, me, your faithful Thursday blogger, groggy and exhausted, staring heavenward into the fluorescent lights of the LAX airport so as not to dislodge any more welling tears from my eyes besides the wayward droplets already streaming through the foundation on my cheeks. Trying to get home from my week long vacation in LA, (it was awesome, thanks for asking) I'm in a line of about 10 people that have all just been told that their 1:30 pm flights to Philadelphia have been canceled; due to Irene, nobody is going to be flying into Philadelphia today. Kaitlyn (friend since squalling infancy, in it for the long haul) and I have been standing at the desk for about 15 minutes now as a very professional US Airways clerk maintains a deeply impressive calm as airports across the country close their runways left and right, and more and more angry, hungry, unwashed masses swarm at her gates, boarding passes held high clasped in sweating, clenched fingers. We're all tense; its Sunday, august 28th, and Kaitlyn and I have already had our connecting flight from Philly to Boston canceled at about 2 am that morning. The plan now is to get as close to Boston as possible and take a bus, train, car, another plane, we don't know. I make a joke to Kaitlyn about renting a burro and leading her into Boston, Mary and Joseph style. My own laughter at my own joke makes me start to cry in an obvious way, so I excuse myself to the ladies room.

When I get back, puffy, red faced, we book a flight from LAX to Charlotte, North Carolina leaving at 10:30 pm, and a connecting flight to Chicago that will land around 9 AM. Chicago is as close as US Airways can get us, and its still 17 hours and change away, but at this point, getting out of LA is our primary goal. The next step is to whittle away at the hours separating us from our flight. If you've never spent the day at the airport, let me tell you, it's a surreal in-between experience, the way I always imagined the anti-gravity room in Ender's Game must have felt like. You can attempt resistance, try to create a forward propulsion for yourself, but you'll just end up spiralling, wandering around a children's toy store and stroking the fur of a plush Spongebob Squarepants doll like some kind of feral wolf-child, just for the tactile comfort it provides you. My advice: take a nap, sprawled across two or three of those uncomfortable airport chairs with one foot on your baggage, then find a bar. Gin, if you can afford it. Just gin, gin, gin, 'till your breath reeks of juniper and suddenly, magically, everything starts to seem just fine.

We landed in Chicago around 9 AM, Saturday, August 29th, right on schedule. From there we took a shuttle bus to Alamo car rentals, and rented a boxy, early-model black PT Cruiser that was promptly named "Rosie O'Donnell" for reasons I can't remember now. We immediately start driving, blasting through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and finally, we're in New York when Kaitlyn's parents call at around 7 PM and tell us that there are road closures, and that we shouldn't try for the straight overnight boom to Boston the way we had originally planned. A little defeated but mostly oily and exhausted, we book a room at a Hampton Inn, buy some Margaritaville Lemonades and Miller High Life tallboys at a nearby Walmart Superstore, and watch TV until Kaitlyn falls asleep with National Treasure 3 or something equally inane starring whats-his-name projecting fluttering light across her closed eyelids. I turn off the tv and sink into a quiet cave of soft, white hotel linens and I don't stir until 8 AM the next day.

We are back on the road by 10 AM, where we cook along at a good pace until about 1:50 PM, when we follow signs forcing us off of I-90, which is closed for a few exits because of flooding and other damage. We are taken through Johnstown, New York, which, it turns out, is a pretty rural part of New York. We hit traffic, oh, such traffic do we hit. We hit epic poetry traffic. We hit traffic that the movie "Traffic" should have been based upon. If Odysseus had found himself in this kind of bumper to bumper line up, he would have instantly thrown in the toga. Or maybe he would have done what we did: cry. We cry. We cry and cry and cry, and then I have a panic attack, and then Kaitlyn calls her mom and we cry more. We are crying because we can't get home, no matter how hard we try and it just seems like we never will, we will never get out of these back roads and we'll never feel the tepid, stale air of Allston ruffle our lashes again, not even once more. As you all already know, I am not licensed to drive, nor am I insured, nor am I insured to drive the rental car we are in, so it's totally up to Kaitlyn to drive the entire 900-odd miles between Chicago and Boston. My role is purely that of encouragement, support, rearranging beverages in the cup holders according to necessity, and half-assed navigator. I perform these with a stalwart heroism, but when Kaitlyn grips the wheel and starts yelling obscenities through her tears, it is all I can do to look out the window and not think about how we are doomed forever to trees, and cars, and the little hick towns we pass through where citizens sit out on their lawns in deck chairs taking digital camera pictures of the traffic because this is the most exciting thing to happen on their street since the street itself was cobbled.

Finally, around 8 or 8:30 PM, we reach an intersection and some blessed modernity; stores, a fire station, a Wendy's. We get to use an actual bathroom, porcelain and everything. When we get back in the car and back on the road, we rejoin I-90 and it is a ghost road, just our lone car, passing orange safety lights and the dark outlines of trees. When we get into Massachusetts I try to take a picture of the border sign, but the reflection of my fingers from the inside of the window shield turns the photo ugly, blends two separate images into something bizarre. We pull into a large, dark parking lot and take a power nap; half an hour of quiet time, to try and fool our bodies and minds into thinking we've actually had some legitimate sleep. We recline the front seats into an almost-horizontal position and ignore the adjacent highway. When I open my eyes next I notice the cars on either side of us are doing the exact same thing. It's weirdly intimate, napping with strangers. Kaitlyn and I get back on the road, where we play 20 questions for the next two hours just to stay awake. We play until I can't remember names anymore, and I'm curled up in the passenger's seat with my chin on my knees trying to remember if Meg Ryan has done any movies in the past five years. We pull up in front of my apartment at 2:30 AM, Monday, August 30th, my key works in the door and there is mail crammed inside the small vertical mailbox my roommate and I share. Bills, and something from school, something from Fedex. I get upstairs and my room is a mess, clothes everywhere, dishes abandoned. Proof of my sloth. It looks like a goddamn hurricane hit it.


Anonymous said...

Twitter version: flight canceled. Drove home.

Zoe said...

Essentially, yeah. This is why my twitter account has long lay dormant. Why say something in 140 characters when you can say it in thousands?

Zoe said...

and thousands, and thousands....