The cab is late, the roads are terrible, we choose the wrong exit. When I try to check-in, the airline has cancelled my flight. It’s eight o’ clock, and it’s been twenty minutes since I left behind the sweet refuge of Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s place. The plane will begin boarding in an hour; I start my new job tomorrow morning.
I’ve had a close call or two before — but always the historical smoothness of last minute travel miracles. Yet a man’s patience is truly tested when he waits in deadlocked traffic, as the minutes tick away between a crowded plane and an empty departure gate. American Airlines tells me it will cost $36.90 in Additional Fare Collections to renew my ticket. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, nobody’s supervisor is helpful. I give them my credit card number once more, and celebrate the small victory of not having cursed at anyone.
It’s almost nine when we reach the airport, with my hands full of bags but lacking a confirmed itinerary. The ticket kiosk feeds me a soulless slip of paper directing me to a service representative. The lady at the desk asks me if I’m an elite rewards member or in first class. Then she can’t help me. Happy Thanksgiving, you…fifty meters away, there’s someone else, feeling more empathetic.
There are two lines for entry to the security checkpoint, and there are another two lines once you are inside. The lines stop moving when someone goes off shift. As the other customers stand around in blissful unconcern, my heart hammers though my fragile chest, and I abstractly consider the wisdom of looking this distraught among airport security. One of the security guards flirts obnoxiously with the woman behind me. Reminding myself that it’s all out of my control, that I will make my flight or I won’t, I try to focus on breathing; by the time I’m through, my breath evaporates with each sprinted step towards gates 30-45.
Say what you want about JFK, but one must give them credit for the terrible size of their terminals. Gate 31A is miles away. I run as fast and as hard as my poor lungs can handle. Up an escalator, down the stairs, through a long corridor of storefront windows with mannequins that glare at me in stylish indifference. I spill into the final aisle of departure gates, and into dismal disappointment when I note that the divine hand of misfortunate has placed my gate at the far end of this behemoth hall. There’s a lady, alone, at the departure desk who sees me long before I arrive. She hurriedly asks my name; all I can muster is the boarding pass in my pocket.
She grabs me by the bags and ushers me onto the jet bridge, where a pair of secret service-looking agents are exiting. They give me dirty looks as I wheeze past them, having just finished escorting someone more important. Around the bend, there’s the door to the plane, and an angry flight attendant is standing in my way…
They’re not going to let me board. I drop to my knees in unabashed shame, breathlessly pleading with a wordless mouth. It doesn’t matter — it’s a matter of security. They shoo me away like a vagrant dog. From behind the window at the gate, my mind grasps at the incomprehensibility of the plane pulling away. Of all the things that went wrong on the way here, if I had been not unlucky just once then I would be on it. It looks like it might start raining.
I sink into a hard chair in the vacant terminal, pathetically. I ruin the sanctity of dinner with a desperate phone call back home. There’s an eleven o’clock Amtrak that leaves from Penn station. Barring the literal hand of a divine entity sweeping me off the roads, I have just enough time to make it. I make the long walk back to the departures entrance and I call myself an Uber. I crawl inside and surrender.
The driver turns out to be an interesting guy. We talk about missing flights and about helplessness. He agrees with an old laugh that the universe is too big to care about the plight of privileged passengers. As the car rolls onwards, the big city lights begin to rise around us. At any point, one of these bridges could topple over or a truck could slam into our poor little vehicle, blasting us into the river. It’s a question of blind, grinning luck that it doesn’t happen all the time. The earth isn’t a cold, dead place, it’s just mostly indifferent. But the driver says that most people don’t understand acceptance. There’s the question of what we can change and what we cannot, but when you live at a certain frequency, when our feeble lives intersect with similar frequencies, they resonate with celestial majesty.
When we arrive, I tell the man that I’m glad to have met him, and I mean it. It’s funny. I get out of his car with a smile on my face, and head inside to catch the late train back home.
And when it turns out it’s running late, all I can do is laugh.