If you believe in the adage “it’s not the journey, it’s the destination”, then you’ll probably agree that the airport is the most thrilling place on the planet. A lot of people find it a hassle, but I love the airport, always have. I’m certainly not a morning person, but if I have a flight that leaves at 7 am, waking up at 4:30 is no problem: the alarm goes off and for a change I wake up with a smile and think, “ooh, time to wake up!” instead of the usual homicidal reaction to any given weekday’s incessant ringing. It’s a relatively familiar scenario to me; waking up in pitch darkness, the jittery feeling as if I’ve just had a cup of coffee on an empty stomach as I scramble to pack up the last of my toiletries, and the obligatory stare-down of my suitcase as if through x-ray vision I’ll be able to tell if I’ve forgotten anything . . . even though I’ve decided to forego putting in the contacts.
Not enough pictures are taken in airports, and I think we should change that. Once you leave it, all anticipation of what your trip will be like ends, and for better or worse, it becomes real. No more imagining how things will turn out, or what they’ll look like, what they’ll smell like; you’ll soon find out the truth.
The longest chunk of time I’ve devoted to air travel was about 17.5 hours for my flight to Hong Kong, where I was to meet John. The flight, though very long, was uneventful, and at about hour 14 I started to get extremely antsy. The thought, “WE ARE NEVER EVER GOING TO MAKE IT” raced through my mind and became an actual fear. To make matters worse, my claustrophobic-ass was seated in the middle seat of a middle row, in economy class, on Air Canada: the worst possible scenario OF ALL TIME. It’s not like it was even the longest flight ever, but the bad seating combined with being so excited to finally see John and the two-week trip we had before us was a horrible mix. What is also a horrible mix is a lack of patience and rampant ADD . . . not that I would know anything about that. If I were the kind of person with the ability to look ahead, I would have relaxed and written all that I was expecting for this spectacular trip I had in front of me, but no, I was mainly concerned about DVT and coming to terms with the likelihood of having to live on that crappy plane FOREVER.
When I (FINALLY) got off the plane, I had to wait a very long time to go through customs. As I stood in line, I remember feeling a great sense of accomplishment that I had made it, as though I myself had flow across the globe. I pictured a world map and thought about the little dot where I resided in Arlington, VA in comparison to the where I was currently standing, on the other side of the planet. “I was there, and now I’m here. Isn’t that insane?” I pictured a traveler’s version of connect the dots with all of the destinations I’d be linking over the next few weeks throughout China, and I couldn’t help but smile imagining the picture that would come about.
Though at the time I couldn’t wait for anything more than to get out of that boring line and get going to exciting Kowloon, I’m glad that I was alone, forced to stand there with nothing but my own thoughts to distract me. Though maybe I didn’t consciously take the time to collect my thoughts, my mind was racing, and at that point I still had no idea that my imagination concocted only a fraction of what I was about to see.
I finally got my stamp and made it to a bathroom, where I changed out of my sweatpants, put in my contacts and on a little makeup, and waited for John, who was arriving from Shanghai. When I finally saw him I was so excited that I jumped into his arms, and like two kids hearing the bell on the last day of school, we raced for the train to downtown, fumbling with luggage, and new currency, and tickets, and all of that practical stuff, totally unaware of the bubble we had just popped.