1. Am back in Portland, but not after spending nearly two days in and/or in very close proximity to airports. On Monday my flight home was delayed for two hours, then we boarded and sat AT THE GATE for nearly four hours, only to have the flight cancelled. I then waited on line at the Delta counter for an hour and a half to rebook, and didn’t make it back to my mother’s house until 3 am. In all: ten hours of travelling and I went absolutely nowhere.
2. JFK, 2 am, early Tuesday morning. By this point I’m slap-happy and have befriended nearly everyone on the line around me—conversation is the best way to kill time, as far as I’m concerned. But not everyone has it as good as I do, what with my mother living in New York and an empty bed awaiting me. Not everyone can call this place home. From my spot on line, I notice a woman sitting in a chair by the wall, leaning her head back and trying to get some sleep. She, like most of my fellow passengers, will be spending the night at the airport. Maybe sixty, sixty-five years old, she is exhausted—her cheeks are streaked with tears and bags are hanging from her eyes. I am more than 100 feet away and even I can see that this is going to be one of the longest nights of her life.
3. JFK, 2:15 am, early Tuesday morning. At long last, I have a seat on another flight, leaving Tuesday evening. I gather my things and head toward the taxi stand. I pass the resting woman, who looks noticeably upset and uncomfortable. I reach into my bag and pull out the U-shaped travel pillow my mother gave to me after my pillowless red-eye the week before. I hand it to her. She looks up, her eyes filling with tears. “You don’t need it?” she asks. “I’ve got another one,” I tell her. “Thank you so much. God bless you,” she says. A tear drops from her eye. I put my hand on her shoulder. “You’ll be home soon. Don’t worry.”
4. JFK, 2:20 am, early Tuesday morning. “Anyone going to the Upper West Side?” I call out to the people waiting behind me. Yes. And yes. Three of us agree to share a cab home. Turns out that my fellow passengers are on a business trip and are expensing everything, including our ride. I try to offer 20 bucks for my share and they shoo my money away. “Forget about it. My company’s paying.”
5. The airline saga continues, but it’s more of the same thing: rebooking, delays, delays, delays. A guy next to me on the LIRR Tuesday afternoon told me that he used to work for JFK. “Don’t tell anyone, but the secret is to fly into Newark. You see, LaGuardia and JFK are too close and their runways face each other. Planes can’t take off at the same time from both—they alternate. So you’ve got delays at one airport, then you’ve got delays at both. Newark is the answer.” We sat on the JFK tarmac for an hour and a half, at least, before finally taking off. After all these years of making Jersey jokes, the joke is finally on me—Newark is the answer.