I used to love airports, firmly holding onto a Love Actually-esque romanticized view of hubs for gravity-defying transit, international exchange, and simply harmonious human coexistence. Below is, well, not that. There’s no deep meaning. No profound analyzation. Just a bafflingly long insight into the experience of a chronic schlimazel. Read at your own will.
Part 1: SFO
“This ain’t you, what is this?” she said. I stared back blankly. The TSA agent returned the boarding pass, pointing to the top right corner. PASSENGER: GLICK, NATALIE “Crap.” I turned around to weave back through the security line. A few dirty looks and a ‘what the hell’ later, I made it back to the agent who’d issued my erroneous ticket. I skipped the line and waited by the desk (It was less than an hour until our flight was to board, having been delayed earlier on by the daunting task of checking in 75 teenagers at 5am. I was not about to queue again for 30 minutes) for the current client to finish, and then I slid in. Someone called out something in angry German, but I did not care. I handed him my boarding pass and explained. He insisted that it was not his fault. I insisted that I needed a ticket. After going back and forth like this for a couple minutes, he printed me a new ticket and I rushed to the line. If not for the kindness of that TSA agent I do not know if I would’ve made my flight, but she saw me approaching and called me to the front. Several more (even dirtier) looks and a couple more ‘what the hell’s and I made it to the front of the line, got through security and boarded my plane. Mission Accomplished. Barely.
Part 2: JFK
I take great pride in being a seasoned traveler. Rookie mistakes like losing a boarding pass? That’s someone else’s issue. Not me. I always put my boarding pass somewhere safe. 20 minutes before we’re supposed to board, our coordinator, Na’ilah, calls out “Clean up your stuff, make sure you have your ID and boarding pass handy” I reach my hands in my pockets to fetch my boarding pass. My fingers grasp at a receipt, a couple pennies, and that lint somehow ever-present in pants pocket corners. No boarding pass. I check my bag, my Ziploc bag wallet, my backpack, nothing. I figure it must’ve been thrown out with the food trash. I check the bin…the bag had already been replaced. I run up to the gate and luckily they printed a new one, once again, in the nick of time. We board, I drop my tray table, and set my phone down. Sure enough, folded up in back of my phone case, there’s my boarding pass. I’d slipped it in my phone case to ensure I wouldn’t lose it… You win some you lose some.
Believe it or not, that was the easy bit. If you’re still reading, I applaud your resolve. The next bit is, simply put, long:
Part 3: São Paulo
“Alright guys, this layover is a bit tight. We’re gonna need to stay focused and move fast.” We retrieve our bags, speed through the terminal, and line up at baggage check. I only tripped twice and dropped my bags once. In other words, success. After almost an hour, it’s my turn and I walk over to the desk. “Boa Noite!” I say in my friendliest voice. She takes my passport and starts typing. I stood there for a good 10 minutes waiting in silence as one by one, the other fellows checked their bags with ease and headed to the convening point. Eventually, she hands me back my passport and shoots something in annoyed Portuguese. “Um…não falo português?” She points at another desk and calls the next customer, clearly done with me. I walk over to the other check-in desk and hand my passport. Again, about 10 minutes, and then more Portuguese. Na’ilah had come over at this point. They begin discussing. I know at this point I should’ve been stressed, but I couldn’t help revel in awe. Na’ilah, just a couple years earlier, arrived in this very same airport. She too não falou português, and now here she was, speed-talking her way through the logistical nightmare that is air travel in perfect Portuguese. “Come on, we gotta go,” she says, I scramble with my bags and run after her. We get to the in-airport airline office, take a queueing ticket, and sit. “So what just happened?” I ask, completely lost. “Turns out you don’t have a ticket” she replies in her most business-as-usual tone. I’m sorry…what now?? They call our number. I hand the guy my passport. More Portuguese. “Your ticket has been refunded.” She says quickly, as we turn and leave the office. “I gotta make sure the other 34 fellows are good and then contact the program to see if they can buy you a new ticket, just sit tight” ‘If’. Cool. We walk [run] back to the meeting place, I take a seat with the others, all with tickets and bags checked. She disappears into the group. 5 minutes pass. I start to get antsy. I message her. No answer. 10 minutes. I try calling Tufts– maybe they can buy my ticket–but my phone won’t work…of course. 15 minutes. A thought occurs to me…where’s my passport? I check my pockets. My bag. My backpack. A true seasoned traveler does not panic, but moves into ‘solution mode’ and I take great pride in being a seasoned traveler. Bag again. Under the table. My bra. In my suitcase. Nothing. I begin to panic…just a little bit. Maybe I’m only a salt and pepper traveler. 20 minutes.
Finally, Na’ilah makes it back; the guy at the office had handed it to her, and she’d quickly stuffed it in her pocket. We return to the office, Na’ilah buys the ticket, and we head to baggage check. I brought two checked bags so Na’ilah paid for two checked bags. At the desk, I put my first bag on. Easy living. I go to put my second bag on, and she stops me. “Your ticket is only good for one checked bag” Of course it is. I step to the side, and as quickly as possible repacked and consolidated my things to fit into one bag. And we’re off. At this point, we’re in a full sprint (well, I’m running as fast as my legs will carry me. Na’ilah, the fastest speed walker maybe ever, is at a comfortable stroll) we arrive at security. 20 minutes until boarding. I hand the lady my boarding pass. BEEP. She scans it again. BEEP. She tries twice more. BEEP. BEEP. She shakes her head and mutters something in Portuguese. She gets her supervisor. The supervisor scans it. BEEP. About 11 obstacles ago, the comical nature of this whole ordeal had set in, but at this point, I just could not contain myself. The supervisor’s annoyedly typing at the computer, the employee is standing by absentmindedly, Na’ilah is speaking unanswered Portuguese at the both of them. Me? I’m laughing. Audibly. I think every possible thing that could’ve gone wrong did, and all this while 34 other kids got on without a single hitch. So I laughed.
There are times in life which fully justify, but are not helped in any way by, stress and worry. In such times, I find that laughter is the best course of action. Physically, the act of smiling, and particularly laughing, releases endorphins which create good feelings in the brain. Socially, laughter can be quite contagious. At stressful times, laughter is a human kindness. Philosophically, laughter is an absurd reaction to stress. And life sometimes can be quite absurd. Absurd situations call for absurd responses. And I did make it through security…eventually. In fact, I did so with enough time to stop and buy some pão de queijo (my favorite Brazilian snack) for the flight.
In my lifelong endeavor to earn the title of season traveler, I know that I’ll have more than a few such experiences. But each time I do, panic comes slower, ‘solution mode’ more easily. So maybe now I’m a salt, pepper, and cumin traveler. And I’ve got a lifetime to build my spice cabinet.