Life as an Extreme Sport

it’s the delays that break me

7:00am, Washington DC, Dulles International…
My final night in Santa Cruz, I joined various members of the CTY staff to see The Dark Knight. I don’t know many comic book fans in Albany (in fact, I’m not sure I know any), so seeing the movie with a bunch of very bright comic book fans was a special treat. My Taurus Twin Missy sat right behind me, while the clone of the ex-husband next to me, and between the three of us, we kept up an animated glee and snark during the previews (the group of physics majors in front of us turning to snark the ex-h clone’s reaction to the name Quantum of Solace was particularly amusing, given Jacob’s got his MA and will likely get his PhD in the field), especially for the utterly phenomenal OMG-can-I-see-it-NOW Watchmen preview. Then the movie started, and I was in heaven. Fabu movie.

Came home, packed, managed to get a comfortable 5 hours of sleep, and finish my odds and ends in the morning – impressive for me, I actually was well prepared to leave. I had checked in the night before, bought my upgrade (as $45 is really worth the extra leg room on a cross country flight for someone my height), reconfirmed my flight and its delay due to the massive thick pea soup permeating the entire Bay Area, from San Fran down to Santa Cruz, and enjoyed my final breakfast and casual goodbyes.

Driving back through 17 and the mountains was a continual trip through memory lane; the smells, views, roads, even the roasted dusty taste of fire smoked air. Resonating home. Where I grew up, played, worked. Moffet Field, Blue Angels, NEC, Great America. That way to the house. To places irrevocably changed by time, places I can never return to save memory. It was a little sad, a little sobering; I reached the airport contemplative.

Checking my bags, contemplation burned away to irritation – my flight was canceled and they were offering me the next available flight out… on Monday. They hadn’t even bothered to call anyone on the ticket – when my cell, Dad’s, and even Tracy’s were options. This, more than anything else, is what pisses me off about the entire thing. When I got an agent, that was rescinded (eventually) to Sunday afternoon departures. In theory I could have caught the noon shuttle back to the CTY site, but we would have had to figure out where to stick me for the night, how to feed me, and someone would have had to bring me back – not something I wanted to infringe on an already overworked and short numbered staff. I could have tried relatives, but again, a last minute imposition seemed wrong.

Finally, my bitchy and domineering personality got me a departure out of SFO at 10:30pm. Red eye to O’Hare, then a normal flight to Albany. Fine, fine… they shuttle me to SFO, I go to the ticketing line, and after nearly two hours of waiting get to an agent, who can’t get me out earlier, but offers to place me in a hotel overnight, let me wander around SFO, have a leisurely departure in the morning, and arrive home in the early evening. I take the offer, she books the flight, upgrades me the entire way, and goes to print out my hotel voucher… to discover the original flight was canceled due to crew being over flight flying allowance. Which they don’t cover for hotels.

Sigh. Fine. Back on the 10:30 – but wait! In that time, someone else grabbed those tickets! Suddenly I’m facing spending the night in SFO! Wonderful. Except! Eventually she offers me a flight that will have me home around 10pm Saturday night. What? FABULOUS! Sold, I’ll take it, I’ll sit in baggage for all I care, I just want to go home. I want to crawl into my own bed, cuddle my cats, see people I care about. Just let me go home.

She books me, doesn’t remember the upgrade that I had paid for on the long haul, or the complementary upgrades she provided for inconvenience. I don’t care – I’ll fix it at the gate, or deal.

Going through security, I check my tickets one more time for departure information, and discover the agent either lied to get me out of her face, or forgot how to tell time. She was going to be getting me home at 10AM Sunday, not Saturday night.

I bit back my tears but accepted the flight; I still left earlier than the 10:30 flight, and would get to Albany around the same time.

I proceeded to head to the correct gate, and confirm the flight with the agent there. A few tears have fallen, frustration winning, and she hands me kleenex and asks what’s wrong, expecting the typical travel story of departure, leaving a loved one, etc. I tell her briefly, and her eyes well in sympathy. Taking my tickets, she upgrades me again, all the way through. I am grateful, and find a corner to retire in to read for the next 6-odd hours.

Some 4-hours later, I get up to walk around, shop, get food. On the way back to my gate, I check my departure to LA, and discover, to my horror, that the flight has a delayed departure. A departure so delayed I won’t make my connecting flight.

Once again, I am stranded.

This time, I break down completely, huge wracking sobs. I simply sit in the middle of the nearest departure area and cry my eyes red and swollen. The only gate agent in the entire area comes flying over to find out what’s wrong, and I manage to choke out the entirety of my day, that I’ve been traveling for nearly 12 hours, that I’m stranded, that I can’t afford a hotel in SFO, that I want to go home. I want to go home.

She takes pity on me, and gently guides me to her podium, where she begins sifting through massive amounts of departure information. She eventually gets me on a flight to Seattle. There’s still the possibility of the flight out of Seattle, to Washington DC, being canceled, but at least in Seattle I could call on friends. Maybe delay my return a few more days, and recuperate up there – both from the travel ordeal and the month of teaching. If I did make it to Dulles, I would have an array of flights to Albany – and again, friends to call on if I was stranded. In fact, the only real concern was that, depending on when I arrived in Albany, there might not be anyone available to retrieve me from the airport. A hurdle to deal with if it ever even occurred.

I made it to Seattle, and discovered there another set of upgrades to Dulles and then to Albany – upgrades I became grateful for at 3am, trying to nap, muscles constricting with pain and frustration and exhaustion. I’m currently sitting in front of a combo News Connection/Starbucks, half a terminal away from my plane to Albany, departing in approximately one hour. Before most of you are even awake and reading this, I will be home, hopefully tucked into bed and quite passed out. (Although much more likely that I will be fending off persistent and irritated cats.)

I realize that delays and cancellations, especially with the economy being what it is, with high oil prices and fewer people flying, are a part of air travel. And I also realize that I’ve spent much of the last 18 months traveling frequently, and without any significant delay or other problems (save a single mishap with getting the cats back to Albany last April). It was my time, and the travel gods were not smiling; hopefully this means another two-odd years of travel juju.

But I’m still tired, exhausted, and wanting nothing more than to collect the hug that I know is waiting for me, and to go home.


written on United Flight 262, SeaTac to Dulles, red eye

The stars are bright and the moon is full, illuminating the wisps of clouds below. Further down, under the cloud layer, are the cities of Middle America, the flyovers, stretched out in bright hazy orange clusters as far as the eye can see. Stretched to and beyond the horizon. They look like neural ganglions, the glowing tendrails of the highways connecting them in a perfect mimicry of our own neural makeup.

The sun set for me almost two hours ago, but we are racing east, racing home, and soon enough the sun will rise to meet us, cutting night off with a mere five hours, if lucky.

The sun will be up and burning by the time I am home, a new day. But I will be home.


It is 10:30pm, and I am dreadfully tired and not tired at all. Thoughts refuse to form in any sort of coherence, words flying around like leaves scattered in a breeze, but my fingers pluck them out and down with ease. Split in two, I at once want to sleep, to sleep for weeks, and to madly push through all that needs to be done in a single fell swoop. I want to go out, expereince the people around me and life, and curl under my blanket until dawn breaks over the tips of the trees surrounding my bed and room.

The split life is everything right now – the immediate of where I am, the reality of coming home and back to the place I grew up, where everyone has embraced my casual attitude. Santa Cruz time, Santa Cruz casual – don’t bring your East Coast attitude here. But at the same time, my East Coast life hasn’t stopped, hasn’t really even paused, and what was at one point just a gentle reminder of the life I have now became the lifeline holding me together and on through an increasingly difficult experience. I look forward, now, to going home, and that has shifted in my head to mean things like my bed, my cats, the people physically in my life in Albany. But I know once I am there, as happy as I will be in that moment, it will be the echo of arriving at San Jose International Airport, and in a few days I will begin to ache, again, for the Left Coast life.

beauty in the rising signs

I’m sitting at my desk, a little after 9pm on a Saturday night. The sun has set, the sky is a rich indigo, the trees inky black stains against it. Jupiter is rising, bright twinkling just peaking over the copse of redwoods in the distance. The air is sweet with the richness that comes from being near water and forest, a loamy earth-scent that is warm and familiar, relaxing. I’ll need a sweater, soon – a sweater in summertime, something I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I’m tired. Exhausted. Bone weary and barely moving. I was expecting this, but wasn’t expecting the additional strain on ankles and knees – the only thing that makes sense is having sprained an ankle and not noticing, something that is too easy to do. I spent most of the day napping, reading, stretched out on my bed like a cat in a sunbeam, warm and content.

It’s going to be weird going back to New York from this, from a place that so closely resonates as home. My settling into New York has yet to really happen, roots haven’t set, I could still blow away from there. Not so easily, not without pain and loss – I’ve grown attached to at least a small group of people, and there is one person in particular whose presence alone draws me, an incentive to return. But I realize how fleeting it is, still, and how much I would be served to fall in love with where I live as much as I love where I’ve come from.

I smell of salt and sand and sea, of musky smoke and fire and burning cloth and singed hair. My feet are blistered, my throat hoarse from laughing in all the smoke. And I am utterly exhausted, delighted, happy.

Jacob took a group of us to the beach this evening; we had decent Indian food for dinner, then parked downtown and walked to the Boardwalk. We hung out with the sea lions, broke into small groups to talk, watched people get sneezed on by sea lions (not me, for I move faster than a sea lion sneeze… but oh, poor OCD Emily…), then wandered past the amusement park to another beach to watch the fireworks.

These were not city-sanctioned fireworks. No, these were people spend hundreds, if not thousands, at fireworks stands, and set them off on the beach. And we, through what kind of luck who knows, ended up smack in the middle of the display. The fireworks were bursting overhead close enough to touch, sparks and flame raining down on us, we all carried home small paper parachutes that were part of the sparkling spiral fireworks. We had to watch and sometimes run, paying attention to where they were coming down, if they were too low, what the dangerous drunk people were doing.

It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced; the awe, the laughter, the joy in living and being alive.

Eventually the danger outweighed the benefit, and we crept carefully out of a landmine of fireworks and sparklers and flares. Our original plan, to get alcohol, derailed when we walked by a Coldstone. Instead, we sat around small tables sharing ice cream, like we shared dinner, like we shared our laughter, and marveled at how, after only a week, it seemed like we had all known each other for years.