To commence this sad epic, I'll begin with a substantial assertion-
I have the worst flight karma out of possibly anyone before me.
I'm aware that statement may appear melodramatic to the unfamiliar. However, I'm now almost certain that in recent past life I played a significant role in Hitler's personal air transport squadron- consequently I'm now experiencing the repercussions of that questionable career choice as a mid-twenties "free spirit" world traveler from California. I've lived a lifestyle on the road the past six years... traveling over 30 countries, various states and many an island, thus booking a ridiculous amount of plane tickets. My success rate of making a flight at this point is about 10 percent. Its gotten so bad that my "unphased" demeanor is starting to make people uncomfortable. Like, you should be more stressed that you just missed the last three flights in two days you booked.
I feel like Odysseus enduring the wrath of Poseidon. Forever. That's actually a seriously good analogy when I really think of it. Except in my case its like the story of the little blonde girl trying to fly home and Zeus is punishing her for her most flighty and frivolous decision making and lack of regard for the time schedule the rest of the world adheres to..
So, to illustrate my point I'll lend a story about my experience leaving Asia a few months back in attempts to fly home to California. I had been in Asia for two months and had ended my travels in Bali, Indonesia. On this trip alone, I had already lost about a thousand dollars in missed flights (the initial one leaving California unbeknownst to me was scheduled a full day before I showed up at SFO, as well as various small flights throughout Vietnam and Bali).
Now I always know somethings fucked when I arrive at the check-in counter, and within a few seconds I find myself witnessing that very concerned facial expression as it slowly begins to plague the countenance of these forgivingly tolerant check-in reps doubling as inadvertent social workers. This was precisely what I was experiencing in this moment, in the Singaporean airport.
“You don’t have a transit Visa to fly into Qingdao madam. We cannot let you board this plane without a transit Visa to China. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
Was all I could muster. And in those two seconds that followed my weary mind acknowledged the grim realization that I've lived many a time- where I’ve exhausted all other viable options.. there are no plan B’s, god-sends, hysterical crying pitty-parties to yank on the heartstrings of said flight gurus. The only solution in getting the fuck outta whatever country I’m stuck in, is consequently to throw in the towel and drain my bank account faster than 8-year old me at the Radio Shack buying spy gear.
I sat there in the airport bar downing a strong manhattan and experienced a cumbersome wave of numbing existential recollection of my tendency to miss my appointments with life. I made a mental note to work on that when I returned home... whenever that would be. After two more glasses of poison and a most sobering phone call with my parents, I bit the bullet and dropped $800 on a new flight home. Because it's me, and it can never be easeful and simple in these moments, the only flight going to California was for the next day, with a ten hour layover in Manila, Philippines. So I raised my hands in the air, said fuck it and gave in. And in giving credit to where credit is deserved, I recognize the success of this journey can only be rightly attributed to the help of my friends, Valium and Benadryl PM.
Emptying out the entire contents of my backpack, I made a makeshift bed on the tile floor in the Singapore airport with all my clothing… tied a scarf around my eyes, ceasing the florescent light-induced insomnia, popped a Vali and Benny and went the fuck to sleep. By some miracle I awoke in time to make my 11AM flight across the South China Sea.
My ten hour layover in the Philippines ended up being a peppered cocktail consisting of equal parts patience and resilience. It was THE WORST AIRPORT I’ve ever been to, and mind you I’ve been to my fair share of Satan’s Sick Rendition of Flight Facilities- this one took the cake. Upon arrival, I foolishly denied the option to leave said airport because I figured I could casually, comfortably lounge upon a nice cushioned booth seat at some awaiting restaurant. Right? Wrong. There were no restaurants, there were no benches or cushions, or places to rest your weary bones for ten hours. What they did offer, were rows of metal chairs, thoughtfully connected by metal armrests as to discourage any feeble attempts of sleep whist waiting out your falsely convicted airport sentence. This was a cruel, cruel invention and within the first minute of scope, I realized I would be sitting at a 90 degree metal angle for the next ten hours, snacking on oh, nothing. And punishing myself for not reading the fine print.
Something inside of me cracked then and there, and after being denied for the fifth time into the one and only exclusive Frequent Flyers Lounge, I dragged myself over to customs and shamelessly pleaded mercy to a panel of very unimpressed security guards.
To my sheer delight, this supplication resulted in me obtaining a visa to leave the airport by way of a bit of acting, some tears and the compassion of a female security guard that must have had a baker’s dozen children of her own. This led to me hiring a sketchy cab driver and commanding him to drive until we found a hotel that was both A) cheap enough to not exceed the $20 cash limit I had set for myself when extracting monies from the airport ATM (I believe this was my radical attempt at protesting the current situation I was in) and B) not a sleaze-bag cum-stained roach infested establishment.
This was a very (un)surprisingly difficult medium to reach. For both cab driver and I did not know the area well enough to make judgement calls purely based on the exterior decor of each lodging. I believe we hit about seven different motels, hotels, home-stays before Goldilocks found her perfect bed. The three little bears were long gone by then, so I paid the $12 for the room in full, and in cash (which, at the time I found to be enormously over-priced… who am I?) and again, I passed the fuck out.
Now, at his point I hadn’t eaten in about two days except for the crackers they presented to me on the flight over from Singapore… yet my appetite was non existent and my mind was most definitely elsewhere. I woke up with two hours to spare before my final flight (because God forbid I miss that one) and got myself to the airport after a most unimpressive rip off attempt by cab driver #2. Seriously, I actually asked him if he thought he was being cunning, to which I received a less than tasteful response.
Running through the terminals, I found my gate and sat myself down, front and center awaiting my line to be called, like a dog waiting for a treat. I sat there so well.
Once all boarded and settled in I was pleased to discover that I would be sharing my row of seats with no one other than my sad satirical self. I had made it. Nothing could hinder my arrival to the Golden State now, except perhaps an aggressive lightning storm, or an unfortunately timed, long anticipated terrorist attack on San Francisco. After ascending past the troposphere, I called the stewardess over and politely instructed her to bring me a scotch on ice- now, and for the next four hours, every half an hour on the dot, until I was a drooling dreamy infantile version of 24-year-old Madeline. She happily agreed and exceeded my expectations with a overly healthy pour or Manila’s finest bottom shelf golden poison.
After tossing back the last of my Valium, I passed out cold for about ten amnesiac hours, and was only awoken by the forcible shaking of my arm by my favorite stewardess, Cathy.
“Madame, we will be touching down in San Francisco in 30 minutes. Please fasten your seatbelt and prepare for landing.”
I was home.
After two months of dragging myself across the warm sand and seas of Indonesia, the cities and jungles of Vietnam, I was there, in the clouds.. flying miles above my favorite place on earth. I could practically taste that sweet Northern California salty air and eucalyptus in my dry recycled air-filled nostrils. Half placebo, half anticipation.
I knew my mother and my black lab Jade would be standing there at the entrance, waiting for me with smiles and warmth radiating from their beautiful souls.
I sat and closed my eyes for a minute and took it all in. Took in this past journey- the incredible people, the spices adorning each dish of food, the lush green countryside, the crazy nights out, the uninhibited dancing, the hilarious, the depressing, the hopeful and the broken. I took in the lessons I had acquired, and those still yet unlearned. I reminisced on the natural beauty of the islands I visited, on the organized chaos in the streets and the motorbike mayhem that I too eventually played a part in… the folks that had taken me in as a sister or a daughter, humbling me with their generosity and tender compassion.
I could have never anticipated how much I would fall in love with it. The genuinity of Asia enveloped me like a warm blanket and left me feeling so full and elevated, and at the same time overwhelmingly melancholy for what I was leaving behind.. a true dichotomy.
In the darkness of closed eyelids I relived the most truthful moments of that trip as if I were watching a movie, or engulfed in a intrepid dream. The sensory allusions of taste, smell, sound and touch, love- they were all palpable to me in that moment. Another leaving behind of international best friends, saying another goodbye to the man I was falling in love with… relinquishing the wildest lifestyle of free living the in-between, traveling untouched by the societal confines experienced by those stuck in the daily grind. Mourning the loss of those sweet, stimulating, existential conversations you don’t find yourself having with the average American. I would miss that possibly the most.
The wheels of our 747 hit the tarmac with a loud screech, tearing me from my self induced inception and bringing me down to earth. In a sense, it was all over. Hitting the ground in that tangible vessel marked an end to an unexplainable journey. But if reality is subjective, and if all it takes is for me to close my eyes and relive those memories, on some plane- I’ll be free forever.