If I’d gotten a fortune cookie yesterday, it would have read: ‘Overconfidence brings misfortune.’ Or maybe, ‘Stay close to home today.’
Lacking such foresight, I was feeling cheerful about the two little flights – each less than 4 hours – that would take me from Florida to Arizona. This trip was trivial compared to the one from LAX to Melbourne: 16 hours in the air, which I do several times a year.
I barely even packed. In my carryon, I had just a computer, wallet, and paperback – Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl, which I was reading for the first time.
A friend dropped me at sweet little Sarasota/Bradenton airport exactly 90 minutes before my 1.34 p.m. flight. But at the Delta counter, I heard a staff member apologizing to another customer: our flight was delayed at least an hour.
Over the PA, an agent made the unsmiling declaration that that Atlanta airport was opening and closing all day, due to “weather,” and that if we made it there during a brief open period, we’d probably be spending the night there, not getting on to our final destinations. That, or we could go home and start again tomorrow.
I had booked a “calming facial” the next morning at the Royal Palms Spa, and I needed it. My pores were clogged from months in the sun, and relaxing in the hands of a competent, smooth-skinned aesthetician would make this trip worthwhile.
The flight to Atlanta kept being further delayed, in maddening, twenty-minute increments, which meant there wasn’t time to go to Starbucks or watch the soothing tropical fish display. We finally boarded about 3.30 p.m., and I strapped myself in and sat reading Anne Frank’s Diary. Having never read the book before, I’d assumed it would be horrifically depressing, but in fact her journal was amusing and the narrator almost incredibly cheerful, as in this observation shortly after her family went into hiding.
“I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to ‘disappear,’ well, all I can say is that I don’t know myself yet. I don’t think I shall ever feel really at home in this house, but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse.”
I was glad I had chosen the book, but at the same time I felt guilty. The inconvenience of a delayed flight would surely seem like heaven compared to hiding in an attic from the Nazis. However, I found a few similarities in our situations, at least at first: Anne was unable to move around during the daytime, and I was strapped into a small seat. She was living on beans and bad spinach; I had only tap water and peanuts. Neither of us could go outside and we both longed for fresh air and freedom. She chose to see her situation as a kind of adventure, and with her doing that I could hardly bemoan my own misfortune.
I don’t mean to trivialize the Franks’ suffering and the danger they were in by comparing their years of hardship to my two-hour delay in economy class. But having Anne's company lessened my discomfort. It was like traveling with a young, happy companion who was determined to make the best of things: I couldn’t complain.
My reading was interrupted by exasperated messages over the PA from the pilot, each one beginning with an apology and ending with, “You know as much as I do.”
At 5.15 p.m., we disembarked at the same gate we’d left more than 2 hours earlier. The terminal hadn’t changed much in our absence, except that the lines to talk to the gate agents were much longer.
I heard about another flight, rumored to be heading for Atlanta, and joined in its line. After only a 20-minute wait, I got the last seat on that plane, which actually flew to Atlanta. As we landed, the pilot sounded almost smug in his final apologies for the inconvenience. However, once on the ground, we learnt that the plane in the gate where we were meant to pull in had no crew, and therefore it would not be leaving the gate for some time. We sat on that plane for another hour, making long slow circuits around the runway. Meanwhile, Anne’s family was enduring rat plagues and threatening news about the Gestapo. I knew where I’d rather be.
We finally deplaned about 9.45, walking in to see Atlanta airport as crowded and hot as it is on Christmas, but without the faux cheer. At gate B24, as at every other gate in Atlanta airport, every seat was taken and there was a disorderly throng waiting to remonstrate with the harassed gate agent behind the desk.
On my way to gate B21, the background noise was an overlapping cacophony of anneouncements, things like, “Passengers on the Delta flight 4970 originally scheduled to leave at 10.30 for Dallas out of gate B47 please note that the gate-change anneouncement to gate C21 has been cancelled. Please return to your original terminal for further anneouncements.” Everyone looked confused and kept moving, except for the people who were stone-dead-looking in the plastic seats. I felt that, unlike Annee and me, they had given up.
The flight landed about 1.15 a.m., giving me a personal record for time taken to cross America by air. I had arrived in Arizona 16 hours after leaving Florida – the same time it takes to fly from LA to Melbourne.
It was ridiculous to think that my baggage might be on the carousel, but I waited for the last bag to come through before going to make a claim at the baggage office …which was closed.
I’d have given up if not for Anne -- and my spa appointment in nine hours. I trudged off to the ticketing counter, and dragged an unwilling Delta staffer back to the luggage room. As I filled in the forms so that I could get my belongings back, I remembered how Anne had had to leave home wearing all of the clothes she would have for the next three years. She’d made a game of it, and she’d helped the people around her by not complaining.
Leaving, I looked with sympathy at the miserable, bedraggled, luggage-less passengers, and I thought how lucky we were. And then I got a cab to the Royal Palms, and went to sleep.
Gillian Kendall is a writer who divides her time between Australia and the USA. She is the editor of SOMETHING TO DECLARE: GOOD LESBIAN TRAVEL WRITING, and author of MR. DING'S CHICKEN FEET, a New York TIMES notable book of the year. Her website is at www.gilliankendall.net.