I have been traveling for work more and more frequently over the last two years. At first it was exciting. I felt like George Clooney at the beginning of Up in the Air. I was jetting across the country for business. I moved quickly between towns, did my work, and returned home. It was all very thrilling.
Then, I started to feel like George Clooney at the end of Up in the Air. The travel was a grind. Everything that initially felt so whimsical became mundane. Waking up early. Being away from friends. Sleeping in a strange bed. The shine was off the apple, as they say. I think they say that. Are apples shiny? I haven’t seen one lately. I’m on the road right now, and I haven’t been seen a lot of fresh fruit.
Lately, though, I’ve assimilated all the travel into my quotidian routine instead of treating it as an occasion. I don’t think of it as a special treat anymore, but I’ve found ways to take pleasure in even the minor inconveniences of air travel.
Taking a Taxi
The first nicety of flying is the cab to the airport. Waking up early is hard. Public transportation goes from my apartment to the nearest airport, but it adds at least an hour to my trip. A taxi is much more expensive, but it’s like buying an extra sixty or ninety minutes of sleep and then a quiet, private ride. It’s a very appealing combination. Sleep is, obviously, the best. A cab ride by myself is also kind of the best. It makes me feel like a spy. Awake in the dark. Moving wordlessly through the city. It always feels secretive and important. Whenever I rarely take taxis for any other reason, it’s usually super late at night and with a zillion people. We’re crammed against the windows, and we all just want to get home. The only pleasure in the ride is the relief that it’s not the subway. It’s very pleasant to take a cab at the beginning of the day rather than the end of the night.
The mechanics of checking in and passing through security are also comforting. Swipe the credit card into the self check-in. No, I’m not checking a bag. What am I, some kind of amateur? Stash my watch, belt, wallet, and phone in the front pouch of my backpack. Tuck my keys somewhere that I’ll remember when I get home. Anything with a zipper gets tossed in a bin over my sneakers (always sneakers, I’d wear slippers if I could). The laptop gets its own bin. It’s special. Like a youngest child. A youngest child suspected of containing explosives. It’s a violation of privacy I’ve come to know and love in a creepy 1984 kind of way.
Overpriced Airport Breakfast
Then, oh my goodness, airport breakfast. My favorite part. Everything is wildly overpriced. This morning, I paid four dollars for sixteen ounces of orange juice. That is the usual price for sixty-fourish ounces of orange juice. And a breakfast sandwich cost probably six dollars. That is usually the price of several breakfast sandwiches. Somehow, though, since there are no other options, it feels like I’m doing something very reasonable (eating a regular breakfast) while still treating myself (by paying an inane amount of money for breakfast). This one is more of a rationalization than anything else, but it feels like a tiny bit of luxury. Let me hang onto this.
People have written lots about the benefits of “single-serving friends,” but here’s the dirty secret. I like to talk to people when I travel because the threshold for rudeness is much higher. An airplane is the only place I can carry on a full conversation with someone, forget everything they said to me within hours, fall asleep in the middle of talking, and have it be okay. For someone who is compulsively polite and obsessive about remembering minute details, that’s a relief.
Maybe the best part of air travel is being inaccessible to people’s demands on my time. When I’m at the airport, I can talk on the phone, text, and e-mail, but I can’t really be expected to get anything done. It’s thirty minutes or an hour of relative peace even amid the madness that is an airport terminal. Then, once I get on the plane, it’s all over. I don’t pay for the internet if it’s available. I always say I want to read more, but I only really ever get it done on airplanes and subway cars. The last novel I read took me a year, because I read eighty percent of it in the sky. I catch up on podcasts. I nap, guilt-free. What I sacrifice in legroom I reap in productivity.
I get off the plane in a different city. If I managed to sleep the whole flight, then it feels like time travel. The velocity alone is incredible. If there were airplanes in the video game Oregon Trail, you just would have gotten to Portland nine hours after you left home, founded a strip club, and called it a day. Guys, life’s so rad.