The 80’s group Blondie had a hit called “Island of Lost Souls.” I love that song; it is kind of quirky and fun. However, there is a time when you run into a place where the song seems more true than not. Airports are one of those places, they tend to be some of the most angst and anger filled venues known to man, excepting of course Fed-Ex Field where Dan Snyder is doing his best to destroy the Redskins and drive off their fans. However, I digress as I couldn’t care a whit about the Redskins because they are a football team, though I have sympathy for the fans that have been banned from bringing signs into the stadium. With that exception and maybe the U.S. Capitol building and the set of any Cable Television talk show where politics is being debated the airports have to be pretty close to the top of the hate and discontent list.
I had to travel to Florida in the spring for chaplain conference. Since I came back from Iraq I do travel a lot less well than I used to and to make matters worse conferences of almost any kind at best come close to pushing me to the edge. Sleep tends to be difficult for me, especially before I travel on commercial airlines and endure the hell of airports. The night before I travel, I try to anticipate every contingency, going through my packing list and ensuring I have everything that I need. Then after I go to bed I get up an hour later to make sure that I indeed get everything. Once I am sure that I do I go back and check the multiple alarm clocks that I have set just to make sure I don’t miss my flight. I know why I do this. Before Iraq I traveled a lot and got good at it. However in Iraq a did a lot more of this and got into a routine of checking, double checking and even triple checking to make sure that I had everything that I needed. Over there I knew that if I forgot something, even something simple that it would not be available the places that I was going or places that I might get marooned. I have carried that experience back with me. I pack and lay out all my clothes the night before I go to work. I actually use the same pack that I carried on every mission in Iraq. It is an excellent piece of gear, made by Blackhawk.
Anyway that day was a hellish travel day. The weather across the east coast was crappy. My first flight was delayed an hour, my second flight as well. If that was not bad enough the good folks at Delta airlines failed to have people at gates and jet ways when gate changes happened, leaving people to miss flights and nearly miss vacation cruises. On our connecting flight at Atlanta’s Harts-Jackson Field was delayed, in my case that was a good thing as had it been on time I would have missed it. While in line waiting for the flight announcements were periodically made, each one either delivering a later flight time or excuse for the delay. The excuses often were inconsistent. I began to think that they were lying to us. Now I’m not saying that an airline would lie, but it seemed to my little pea brain that the excuses conflicted and each new excuse contradicted the last pathetic excuse. I hate bad liars. Let’s face it, if you are going to lie be consistent and strive to make it believable, politicians, lawyers and TV evangelists are great at this. Unfortunately the people lying to us were not very believable. However it may have been that they actually believed what they were saying which would be as George Costanza once said: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
As I waited that day I surveyed my fellow disgruntled travelers. I was deep into a PTSD induced ass kinking anxiety attack. By the time this was going on time I had taken both of my extra meds as well as my 8 AM and 1230 PM doses of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Normally I’ll wait until dinner for a beer, but I knew that I needed a bit more on that trip. I try not to self-medicate and over the past year have gotten a lot better in not doing this. However there as something about airports and airline travel that almost inevitably pushes my buttons and so I will do this to take the edge off and keep me somewhat sane until I can get to my destination and hide.
I went to a conference in Orlando in the summer of 2008 shortly after my PTSD diagnosis and that about put me over the edge. If you have PTSD the Gateway to the fricking “Happiest place in the world” is the portal to hell. Thus only a few months after coming out of a combat zone I discovered that Orlando during the height of the summer pilgrimage to Wally World to see Randy Rodent and Doofey is not a fun experience.
Thanks be to God for her good care during this trip. She ensured that my doctor had given good drugs and the airport pubs provided good beer not to mention a Chili Dog with mustard. Thus by the middle of the afternoon I was doing far better than most of my fellow travelers. It definitely sucked to be them. It was then that the Blondie song came into my mind. Atlanta’s airport was not the Island of Lost Souls but the Land of Unhappy Travelers. I listened to some of the folks around me as they lamented their situation and it sounded like “Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Atlanta had become the vortex of very disgruntled travelers who had missed flights, been bumped from flights or delayed endlessly. If you don’t believe in the Catholic in the doctrine of Purgatory just try Atlanta on a day like that, which is about 362 days a year. I looked around, and though barely holding on myself I was able to find some gallows humor in the midst of this agony. I looked around the people around me and said “Ladies and gentlemen it is my distinct displeasure to welcome you to the land of unhappy travelers.” I actually got a few laughs. I then made a comment about the airline, which I had not flown in a couple of years, saying “I’m glad to see that some things stay the same, our airline still has same crappy service that they had a few years ago.” As we started boarding we boarded by zones as some airlines do. I personally prefer the first come or first signed in first seated way that Southwest does things, unfortunately the government contract was no longer with Southwest. As they announced “boarding zones one through five,” I commented, “Yep, you guys in zone 92 still have a while to wait. On each flight we had bad weather, turbulence and on one flight the air condition did not start kicking in until we were getting ready to land.
When I got to my destination I heard stories even worse than mine, all focused around the vortex of doom that swirled around Atlanta. The only place that I thought it could have gone worse was Washington Dulles, where my experiences have been nearly all bad. I survived but by the time I got to my hotel my ass was kicked. At the end of the day I had survived. A few beers and a bit of wine with good fellowship with friends made things better.
Saturday I get to fly again and make my third trip to California to see my folks. I am already making my list and getting mentally prepared for the trip. I get to fly though Chicago O’Hare and on the way back LAX and O’Hare. Thank the Deity Herself that Atlanta is not on the itinerary. I’ll do my best to at least find the humor as I pass through these islands of unhappy travelers, so pray for me a sinner.