The following (nearly 1300 words) were written on very little sleep. They don’t form a coherent narrative. They are best described as “somewhat coherent ramblings”. But I wrote them because I like to write and I will now share them with you. Maybe you can think of this as “How the Author Thinks Under Experimental Conditions (No Sleep and Extensive Travel)”. You’ve been warned.
The people who have to put up with me often say that I analyze too much and too often, but I think it’s one of my best traits. I’m at one of those forking places now. I have a choice to make, and – another stroke of good fortune in a long series of such events – I make the correct choice. You’d think that’d take the sap out of the tree, but that’s just not so. The sweetness, for me, is in the decision-making procedure and the commitment that follows. Almost whatever the outcome, the right decision-making procedure renders the outcome the best for which I can hope.
That I choose wisely now won’t become evident, obviously, until later. I allow myself twenty seconds’ hesitation and then commit fully, knowing that anything less than all of my concentration on haste at every step will sabotage my hope of making my connecting flight.
Was the gate agent in Amsterdam mistaken, or was she not? Must I collect my baggage and re-check it at a different terminal? That would require a left-hand turn now and a wait at entry customs, the duration of which is as-yet-undetermined. If she had spoken accurately, I estimate that turning right and heading directly to the next terminal and toward my next flight will guarantee that I do not make the flight. It departs in under 90 minutes. If she were right, I’d have to double back and do the other thing anyhow. Only, I’ll have further delayed the yet-to-be-determined wait.
Things overall are very confused, inside and outside, and the likelihood rates highly that the check-in agent was mistaken. I had booked with one airline and am flying on two others, though the two airlines that were handling today’s two international flights are not connected with one another and, by all appearances, also unconnected with the airline that managed my ticketing. If I trust the company that booked my tickets, I will proceed directly to my next gate; if I distrust it and trust instead the human being who I’d asked almost absent-mindedly this morning, I will go to the customs lines. I play this out in my head.
Assume she was wrong. What is the loss? I could turn left, wait through customs, hoping against the facts that she was right and trusting that my bag will meet me in what must be no time at all on the other side, find another way to the proper terminal – one that’s “on the other side of the airport,” according to the federal security woman with whom I’m about to speak – and then re-check in and go through security for an international flight in the other terminal. (What if, furthermore, the border service, realizing that I have no reason to be at the border, decides that I’m ‘suspicious’ enough to warrant further detention?) If the gate agent gave me incorrect information, then turning right will work out fine and turning left will probably put me out of reach of my flight – (how long awaiting my luggage before I can establish with certainty that it’s not coming down the ramp?).
I take a few steps down the stairs to my right. There are doors for a bus. The right-hand option is looking less and less likely to bear fruit. It would be hard to come back here if I choose unwisely. The cost of taking the right-hand turn is high, unless of course the agent was right.
Assume she was right. I must reacquire and then re-check my pack, and continuing directly to the next terminal would sink me for sure, while a left-hand turn would be pushing the clock – but necessarily so.
If only there were an airline employee in this terminal – but there is not. Other than the passengers I worked so hard to outpace (and my lead on whom is shrinking by the second), there is no one. Not since I left my seat. I should have asked on board. They probably wouldn’t have known the answer. Whether or not they would have been helpful is irrelevant now.
I double back now, go back up the short set of stairs, and commit to the left-hand turn. I hope that (a) she had the right idea, and (b) I make it through customs, transit across the world’s largest (?) airport, check-in with my airline, and security. I have 89 minutes and 40 seconds.
I made my way through London’s Heathrow in what must have been record time. After landing at one terminal, I disembarked my flight from Amsterdam, went through customs (and waited in a long line there, at that), acquired my backpack, dashed to an inter-terminal train, rode it to a building that seemed quite far away, checked into my second flight five minutes after deadline (I am grateful to the employees, who probably realized that I was about to do what comes next), skipped most of the lines en route to my actual airplane gate (which, bizarrely, was still 20 minutes from the security line).
When we acquire means – money or opportunity – the first thing we do, humans that we are, is to purchase some solitude. The more money or opportunity at our disposal, the more solitude we are able to appropriate. We separate ourselves. There are different variations of this. A first-class airline seat is a different variant of the same chord as a top-floor central park apartment… there are exceptions: Montana, for instance. In poorer neighborhoods, neighborliness and opportunities to do good increase proportionately to our social (and sometimes economic) proximity to one another. Another exception is air travel. When we board an airplane, we’re at the mercy of the pilot, crew, and the faceless enemies of our neighbors in flight. It becomes a kind of cold war, and one misstep by anyone around us will bring the scorn of the herd for threatening the peace. We silently but constantly work to nudge one another into worse positions – and to improve our own lot. Acts of kindness are difficult to find under such hostile circumstances.
The airport is most usually a very social experience (to our great discomfiture). Today I queued (if it still can be called that in this case) at check-in alone, rode a private elevator to a private security line – watched the legion of other travelers stand in long security lines… at the mere appearance of people in my path once I rejoined the herd, I was intensely miffed. I checked myself, asking whether or not I really was more important than everyone else around me. I determined that I was and I barreled ahead. Through what can essentially be deemed an accident of luck, I found myself among the wealthy and isolated members of the “upper class” in a Virgin Atlantic flight.
I ordered a “Pillow of Smoked Salmon” and “Tomato and Mozzarella Gnocchi,” to be accompanied by warm Ciabatta bread. It arrived after the crew prepared my table with linen and silverware, along with silver salt and pepper shakers. They served afternoon tea with cookies and sandwiches. “Would you like some afternoon tea, sir?” Why yes, I would, thank you. I don’t want to go back to the old ways. Ever.
I am FDR in reverse – like him, a traitor to my class. I was both ashamed and elated to have luxuriated through the long travel day. I believe firmly that such luxury should be prohibited. No human being should be treated thus. For eight hours, I believed that I deserved my good treatment. But no one deserves anything, without exception.
I arrived in New York to rejoin the plebs and proles, resenting myself thoroughly – but not resentful enough that I would have done anything differently, were the opportunity to play the traitor once more present itself.