From Adventure to Anxiety and Back

As a kid, airports were a magical place. They signaled something different, something new – an adventure. One of my favorite parts of the Indiana Jones movies was the semi-transparent plane flying over a historical, weathered map that would show Indy’s progress toward far off and mysterious destinations: Cairo, Venice, Shanghai. This is what I always thought of stepping into an airport, mentally tracing a red line from place to place, dreaming of the adventures that would lie ahead.

That all changed when I started traveling for business. Places like Akron, Conway, and Potterville just didn’t seem as worthy of a red line (nothing against these places, but they ain’t Cairo). Hopping on something like 350 flights over the past 5 years sucked the adventure out of flying for me. The wonderment, that sense of adventure was gone replaced simply with a wince. Ever comfortable flying, recently I’ve become anxious on flights because, while irrational, I’ve determined that I fly enough to skew the odds.

At the top of the air-stairs I step forward, right foot first, and tapping the fuselage with my right hand twice, I board the plane. It’s a well-crafted ritual that has seen me through hundreds of flights without a scratch…well, there was that emergency landing in Detroit once, but everything ended well and I’m quite sure it’s because I stepped right and tapped twice.

Walking down the aisle I find seat 12C and get settled in. When I sit down, the first thing I notice is the headrest doily in front of me says “Merpati Training Center” and, even I know, the company advertised on the bottom has long been out of business. With this, my comfort level drops and I start inspecting the plane in detail. The carpets are stained, the first class curtains are a bit ragged, and the walls and windows shades have long turned a yellowish brown color. Even the seatbelts are frayed, looking as if they’ve been through a crash or two, and don’t even tighten anymore they’re so rusty.

These thoughts are hard to push aside as the plane slowly heads down the runway taking longer to get up to speed than should be necessary. When the nose finally lifts off, it’s at such a steep angle I swear I can hear the tail dragging on the ground unable to lift off. My stomach drops as the engines whirr, scream, and make the most ungodly noises causing bolts of fear to shoot through my heart. With a mouthful of batteries, I silently pray to “If I’m gonna die, at least make it on the return flight so I can dive Raja and die happy.”

I open my eyes, look left and then right just to see the last people I’ll ever be with in this world. Across the aisle, I’m transfixed by a toothless grin from an older gentleman, joy radiating from his eyes and wrinkled cheeks. I can’t help but nod and smile back. With that simple gesture, I stow my anxiety and prayers in the overhead compartment and return to bouncing in anticipation of the next two weeks.