When prigs fly
Not that I’d ever want you to, but don’t travel with me. If you need one reason why (aside from my sunny personality), try this on for size: February 14, 2007. No, I didn’t get caught in an organic udon noodle snarl at the grand opening of Whole Foods. It just so happened I had chosen the day of the biggest snowstorm we’ve had in two years to fly – or should I say, to not fly.
As Mainers, we all know winter travel is something of a crapshoot, but as someone with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, I figured I could out-will the weather. Leading up to my Wednesday departure, the skies had been clear for what seemed like weeks. When I caught word of a little snow in the forecast over the weekend, I laughed it off. When the word “blizzard” crept in, I felt assured the whole thing would blow out to sea. Even the day before, when the rest of the citizenry was hysterically emptying the shelves at Hannaford and stockpiling snow gear, I was hand-washing summer frocks and putting them out on the line to dry, where they instantly froze and swung stiffly to and fro in the gathering wind. And, despite the fact the storm was in full thrall when I woke up that Wednesday morning, I still held out hope that I would somehow thread the needle, that the clouds would part long enough for me to be lifted above the mess below and sped off to my much-needed vacation and Mardi Gras. Only when my flight was finally cancelled and I went into Delta Airlines customer-service limbo did I accept the truth: I was going nowhere. Fast.
Although I’ve logged many miles over my life roaming the country and the world, I’m not much of a traveler anymore. Part of it is adjusting to the demands of homeownership: We still need to gut the kitchen, so how can we justify a trek through Outer Mongolia? Part of it is still being in the honeymoon phase of owning our own home: How could doing battle with some surly Parisian waiter compare with a tub, a martini and dinner in front of the fire? And part of it is being married to a white-knuckle flier, who can only get on a plane after ingesting enough pharmaceuticals to take down a healthy bovine, and who giggled through the Holocaust movie The Pianist when we flew to London and, worse, throughThe Wedding Singer when we went to Wine Country. Not exactly a deal-breaker on the marriage thing, but close.
But the real reason I have largely quit my wandering ways is that I can’t stand modern commercial air travel. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying. I’m afraid of notflying. I’m afraid of postponed and canceled flights, of standing in line and sleeping in airports, of sitting on runways, of taxiing, of circling, of seeing Portland appear below me – so close I could almost reach out and touch I-295 – and then seeing Portland disappear, as I am forced into a landing at Bangor, put on a bus to Boston and then flown back to Portland two days later. Really, it’s the type of thing that could make my head blow up, which – with our newly heightened state of security – would most likely classify me as some sort of explosive device, which would keep me grounded, anyway.
Add to this the fact I don’t like to be herded, confined, delayed, ignored, spoken sharply to, told where to sit or stand, jostled, brushed up against or breathed on – pretty much the sum total of air travel these days. Plus it just seems more relaxing to see Bombay in a glass with an olive bobbing in it.
But I had a special invitation to Mardi Gras. I would stay with my friend Marguerite, who lives in Maine but has a house in Baton Rouge, and pal around with all her freewheeling friends. We would have insiders’ access to New Orleans. We would park in friends’ driveways and be able to use their bathrooms. We would sip Turbo Dogs (beer) from Cajun Crystal and Weekend Waterford (Styrofoam cups) and eat brisket (the South’s version of pot roast) sandwiches. We would attend neighborhood parades – Thoth and Bacchus – where I would learn that begging (“Hey mister, hey mister, trow me something!”) is the way you signal to the bead guys on the floats that you are a local and, thus, deserving. We would avoid the French Quarter, where all the tourists without insiders’ access – the novices – would be drinking too much, showing too much skin, plucking beads from fetid gutters and standing in endless lines for the bathroom. All that entitlement, coupled with the fact I wanted to pay my respects to post-Katrina New Orleans, was enough to tip the scale away from my dread of flying. Besides, an oyster po’ boy, “dressed” (insider lingo – you wouldn’t understand), was waiting for me at George’s. How could I say no?
I did finally get out of Portland, although it took me 27 hours to do so and one full hour on hold with Delta. (Travel tip: Make sure you pee before you settle in for this kind of on-hold hell. In my initial try, I lost my standing by answering another call – from nature. Also, speaker phone is key. The Muzak and announcements might drive you mad, but at least your hands remain free so you can pull your hair out.)
And I did make it to Baton Rouge that night, but not without a two-hour delay and lucking into a seat on one of the multitude of oversold flights. (Thank you, short-haired girl with the friend in Atlanta, for giving up your seat. I hope you brought upon yourself a heapin’ helpin’ of good-travel karma.) And I did finally get home – after rising at 4:45 a.m. (that’s in the morning) only to find Marguerite’s and my 7 a.m. flight had been cancelled, and we had been rebooked on an 8:45. And we finally did make it out of Atlanta, after securing two of the last seats on yet another oversold Delta flight, and a mere three-hour delay.
Soon thereafter, there it was below me: the Maine Mall and I-295, so close I could almost brush them with my fingers. And there were the wheels bouncing on the tarmac, the plane jerking to a stop, the door opening and, at last, freedom. And there was my love at baggage claim, waiting to sweep me home where a tub, a martini and dinner in front of the fire awaited.
Insider’s access doesn’t get any better than that.
Elizabeth Peavey’s column appears monthly. You may now place your seats and tray tables in an upright position. Thank you for flying The Bolllard.