We've all stood in front of the "departures" screen at the airport scanning for our flights, hoping to read the good, "on time" news. And we've all experienced that sinking feeling when the bad news is there instead, the words "cancelled" or "delayed" taunting us like the high school bulletins that had our names under JV instead of Varsity, Understudy instead of Little Orphan Annie. No matter how hard we stared, the words didn't change--the only thing left to do was hurry up and wait, or complain to the closest person who would listen.
That sinking feeling drowned me Saturday night when my flight from West Palm Beach to JFK was delayed 8 hours; the original departure time 6:45pm, the revised one 2:45am. I suddenly felt vulnerable and abandoned, traveling alone without anyone to commiserate with during the all-night sojourn. Well, I guess that's not exactly true-- there was my lovely waitress Babs at Snead's Restaurant who helped me pass the time with three dipping sauces for my chicken fingers, a free salad, and priceless wisdom about local law. Apparently, loud noises after 10pm in town will get you jail time. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)
I'd read the two books I carried, my cell phone was dying, my iPod earphones were giving me a headache, and it was only 8:30pm-- I'd been there for three hours and my entertainment options were disappearing. I was left with no choice but to observe my fellow travelers so intently that any more staring and I could've been locked up downtown with all those late-night noise-makers Babs warned me against.
Fancying myself a regular Ben Linus, I watched the plane passengers and made mental files. (OK not so much mental files as verdicts, but same difference when it's after midnight and the chicken fingers aren't settling right.) The terminal was ripe with activity and gave me plenty of fruit to feed on, and some bad seeds to learn from.
12am: Man is apparently done with waiting. He rounds up some like-minded folk and the six of them start pounding on the seats and chanting "We Want to Fly!" A veritable coup d'morons. The plane doesn't leave any sooner and their indictable noise wakes up all the sleeping babies. Lesson 1 from Jetblue Gate B3: Getting angry really doesn't help anything, even if you're in a muscle shirt. Oh, and crying babies is the worst sound on the planet: do everything to avoid provoking/hearing that sound.
12:30am: Little Sister is terrified that if Big Sister goes to the bathroom, she'll miss the flight. Her distress is endearing, not desperate nor whiny; a genuine concern for Big Sister's safety. I can't help but wonder if she's had this anxiety for the last six hours. Lesson 2 from Jetblue Gate B3: Call your siblings more because when it's time to fly home, they want you on that plane.
12:50am: Mom in Mets gear tells her kids that the plane is delayed because there's a blizzard in New York. (WHAT!?!? It's March.) Three minutes later, a text from my friend explains that high winds in NYC have delayed all flights for hours. Lesson 3 from Jetblue Gate B3: Never trust anyone in a Mets jersey.
1:25am: Elderly couple in their eighties sit side-by-side in airport-issued wheelchairs. Wife, asleep, has drool making its way out of the side of her mouth and down her chin. Husband takes tissue, wipes her mouth, then punches her arm playfully to wake her up and tease her. Lesson 4 from Jetblue Gate B3: Find someone who will protect you when you're unaware and laugh with you when you are.
2:30am: Eat Cadbury chocolate bar. Lesson 5 from Jetblue Gate B3: Every minute should be enjoyed and savored. And throw away your garbage when you're done.
I made it back to my apartment by 6am slightly dazed and nauseated, but safe and dare I say, maybe, possibly, wiser. I fly to Miami tomorrow to visit my sisters (ahem, attribute that to second lesson learned) and although most of me is hoping for an easy breezy flight, an hour or two delay might provide more training. Or just an excuse to eat fried airport food and read the news. OK, Us Weekly. OK, OK, Star. Either way, I'll be watching.
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