"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." - Chris Guillebeau
The light enters and my pupil’s contract to raisins, arms are shaking my body to life as I try to sort out in the brief moments of confusion what the hell is going on. My mouth is dryer than a sand shovel and my head pounds louder than a live orchestra. Fully clothed and sprawled out above the covers on a bed much larger than needed for a single person. A massive beard extends from the chin of a head to which arms extend nearest me. Clarity comes rushing back. I’m in my friend’s apartment in Brisbane where may 10 hour flight layer-over happened to be. That explains where I am but then I remember last night was my last night in Australia after an eventful two years. Of course such a sendoff needs to be toasted with a beer.. or many, that explains the sandy mouth and pain waves resonating around my skull. I’m fortunate he woke me because my sleep was sounder than a lifeless corpse. I’m hung over and behind schedule to catch my 9:00am to Papua New Guinea.
Missing flights is the catalyst for anxiety. The one and only worry I ever have about travelling. I don’t care if I get beaten and stabbed for the five dollars in my pocket but I can’t deal with the pain of missing a flight and missing out on a nonrefundable adventure. Every flight missed is a step back in life both financially and mentally with the disappointment of missing out. The benefit of being beaten and stabbed (granted you survive) is the wisdom gained from misinterpretation of body language, misuse of eye contact, and overzealous attitude. The only worry I have and yet without fail I manage to nearly miss every single flight I have ever had. The list of reasons stretches around the block and I’m almost inviting nowadays to see the new complications that arise.
I’m an hour and forty five minutes on time, half the stress is lifted from my shoulders as I read red and green L.E.D information screen scrolling my flight details informing me that check in will commence in 45 minutes. Perfect, I’ve got some time up my sleeve to soak up the alcohol in my stomach and replenish the fluids lacking from my blood. Subway wins my approvals and provokes the hefty appetite brewing inside. Delicious herb bread and cold cut meat washed down with an ice cold coke treats my head and stomach with graceful satisfaction. I lean back in my chair rolling my eyes up as one does when savoring a precious piece of nutrition to an inch of its existence. With my head rolled back chewing slowly I can see the information sign better now that lingers just above my head. My eyes examine departure to departure until resting on the one I thought was my own. This relaxed concentration reveals that I’ve misread the information and my actual flight is calling all passengers to the gate. Here we go again. My stomach flips over and the recently savored feast wants to come back out all over the table. I’m still alright, I’ve got about an hour to check in, drop my bag, run through the gauntlet of security, find my gate, and board my flight.
The directions to the check in counter send me speed walking back and forth across the length of the kiosk terminal in their unsynchronized method of confusing passengers. I’m not surprised. The counter is finally found and I drop my luggage on the scale (the only benefit of being late is the absence of waiting in line to the airline kiosk). I’m as pleasant as possible to avoid any unnecessary problems or even drive guilt into their stomachs if my bag happens to be a little bit over the weight limit that varies between every airline. It doesn’t work. “Where’s your exit ticket?” I haven’t even gotten to the country yet and they want me to leave. I expected this happen at some point in my journey that a country would want to see an exit flight to ensure that you have a way out, some countries even want bank statements to prove that you can support yourself. “I don’t have one, I don’t even know how long I can stay in the country” My passport is handed back and she asks me to remove my bag from the scale “There’s a Flight Center office over there” I don’t bother asking for specific instructions to help with my dwindling time limit because I already know to look in the furthest away corner possible to where I am and that’s where it will be, it’s just my luck.
Thank god she’s cute, the last aussie Il need surrender my money to. Lily from the flight center office provides me with the cheapest option out of Papua New Guinea to Manila in the Philippians for $900 nonrefundable. I know I could build a plane and fly it to the Philippians myself for cheaper than that. My Australian visa is expired, and my nonrefundable $300 flight to PNG departs in 50 minutes. We both know I’m backed into a corner and her worriless expression tells me she gets idiots like me all the time. She has to pull my credit card so hard from my grip that the plastic filings curl up beneath my nails.
One exuberantly priced piece of democracy later I’m shuffling along through the security queue like a reenactment of a Penguin Migration. I know I’m not the only one suffering from airport anxiety because I can taste the distinct pungent smell of sweat. Security queues in every country around the world smell like this. I can sweat 8 liters of water a day at work and not smell anything more than a wet shirt, but it’s true when criminals say they can smell fear. The salty acidic moisture excreted when nervous smells as bad as it feels. People try to indiscriminately turn their heads and look for a nonexistent pen in their right pocket, pushing their nose into the valley of the shoulder checking to see if that smell is theirs. It is. We all stink. I’ve got nothing to hide but I’m still nervous even after all these years. I would be a lousy client for a homicide defense attorney. TSA the American company responsible for airline security hire an equal amount of interrogators as they do custodians to clean the pools of sweat off the floors in these queues. I thought the lady at immigration was going to surprise rip my shirt open looking for a bomb in my transit though Los Angeles once she saw my stamp from United Arab Emirates visa. God help anyone who wears a turban in that airport.
I know the routine, my belt, phone, and wallet go in the tray with the day pack carry on, my laptop lies uncovered in a tray of its own, passport stays in my pocket. I time my belt threading to coincide with someone else randomly getting swabbed for gun powder and drug residue. Such over necessary test’s would cost me an extra 75 seconds I don’t have. I’m charged an extra $15 to buy enough Kina to pay for my PNG visa on arrival at the travel EX counter. I have no room or time to negotiate a better rate or check for partner discounts with my current cards.. more money dribbling between my fingers. I hear my name being called on the intercom for final boarding and try to speed walk off like it’s not my name. They see me coming as expecting and I see the Australian Tax Office kiosk next to my gate. My head swivels between the Air Nuigini staff and the Tax office window contemplating begging for a few extra minutes to submit my superannuation claim. The man holding the red fussy blockade in his hand shakes his head in hindsight of what I wanted. My pace turns into a defeated slouch and I hand my boarding pass to him and he hands it back a little bit smaller this time. I look back at the tax office knowing that I just walked past $4,397 of superannuation in my account that will now need to be submitted online and mailed to my address in Canada as a cheque. I wouldn’t be seeing that money for a very long time.. between the fingers it goes, out of reach, out of use, out of budget.
Here we go.