12:00 midnight and my eyelids sagged shut despite my increasing effort to keep them propped open. The guard at the airport hotel had finally kicked me out of the lounge after a three hour dinner and sitting on the couch for another two hours. I sat stone ridged on an airport bench with one leg through the strap of my bag and my arm through my backpack straps. The fog in my head grew till the white lights and the shinny marble floor swam with memories and dreams all mixed into one.
This is what I wanted though, to prove to myself that I hadn’t changed, that I still was the boy who lived for adventure and preferred airport floors to bedrooms and confinement. I envisioned carpet though, or soft seats, not being stuck outside of security on marble floors under blasting white lights with the echo of riding floor polish machines. I was dreadfully thirsty, and my back ached from dragging my suitcase from one terminal to the other down a sidewalk not meant to be walked. What kind of airport shuts down their train at night? I let myself drift off with a ten minute timer on repeat set and places against my chest. I didn’t want to be deep asleep.
I thought of the test they did in the 70’s where they kept people from R.E.M. Sleep till they went psychotic. Would I drive myself psychotic? Was it the 70’s? They went psychotic, it didn’t matter.
The night came to an end at 4:30 in the morning. Or 3:30 apparently since I forgot to change my time.
I pulled myself off the bench, letting the pain in my back drown out the protest of my stomach and attempted to sort out passport and visa paperwork and my 3 bags. I couldn’t think straight and I let my routines and double checking assure me of next step. It was all habit. My phone in my jacket pocket, wallet in my pants pocket, the left one, passport and boarding passes in the bottom pocket, headphone cord in top right. Check departure time, walk up to the desk, passport and boarding pass. Recite the phrase asking to check my bag and print new boarding passes. Request seat change, gather passport and boarding passes and walk towards security. Jacket off, pockets emptied from my pants pockets into their respective places in the jacket. Security line. Jacket in one tray with shoes and food, and backpack in the other tray. Let them slide through as I got patted down. Jacket on first, it had the important things in the pockets, like my cell phone and wallet. Shoes next, while holding the backpack. Triple check. Gate? No. Customs. Right. Paperwork out. Recite where I live. What’s my story? Repeat. What’s my story?
Smile. Blink. Don’t stutter. Thank you. Walk on.
I still couldn’t think. But I didn’t need to. I had a system, I had checks. I knew I couldn’t think, so I had mental checklists. I loved this. This complete lack of control, but complete preparedness. I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed laying on a hard bench trying to keep my eyes open. But one could not come without the other.
6:30 am. Time to board. I stank, but thats alright. I had applied several new layers of deodorant but I doubt it helped much. I sipped the last of my Starbucks coffee, and walked to board the plane. I liked this part. Flying. I wasn’t sure if I liked it because every time it was a new experience, or because like everything else in the airport it was a known and I had system for dealing with it.