I am writing this from a hotel room in Chicago, away on business for a couple of days*. I’ve been to Chicago on business too many times to count**, but this is the first time that I’ve chosen to drive instead of fly. I’ve had to answer the question, “Why the f*** are you driving?” many times over the past few days, so I figured I’d try to explain.
In a word, anxiety. Or rather Anxiety. I had booked plane tickets originally and felt physically ill at the idea of having to travel. Then I threw the destination into Google maps and realized that in 7.5 short hours by car, I could be here. SOLD.
I’m not afraid to fly. Or rather, I’m not afraid of flying in any traditional sense. I am confident that air travel is a scientifically sound method of transportation. I have never seriously thought about my plane crashing or being a victim of terrorism. My anxiety over air travel has very little to do with the air travel at all. I’m not concerned about death or my physical safety. My anxiety is a fear of so. many. people. in so small a space. I’m not even talking about the airPLANE. The plane is almost a quiet respite from the utter chaos that you must endure immediately before and after.
That’s right folks. I’m afraid of airports.
“Afraid” isn’t the right word. I’m afraid of airports in much the same way that I am afraid of preschools. I don’t really fear for my safety. I feel reasonably certain that I will survive. But will I survive without severe emotional trauma to either me or someone around me?
An airport is over-stimulation at its very worst. Airports are people and noise. Bright, often flashing, lights. Computer screens with tiny print and scrolling message boards. Airports smell of humanity and food. Sweat and Cinnabons***. Airports are a waiting room with very few, very uncomfortable seats, where everyone is anxious, angry and more important than you.
When traveling by plane, you must be aware of everything. You have to make sure that you have packed everything that you might need, and nothing that you will not. You must follow a rigid schedule in order to arrive on time, planning every step and every potty break to optimize your efficiency. You have to listen for relevant announcements and filter out the irrelevant ones. You have to appear friendly enough that your fellow travelers will be kind to you, but not so friendly that they will attempt to speak to you. If you are traveling on business, you must be prepared to talk about what you do for a living, and feign interest when someone strikes up a conversation about the Midwest Life Insurance Sales Conference that they have just returned from.
Upon arrival, there is the scramble to get your bag (if you are lucky, safely in the overhead bin in the plane). There’s a rental car with unfamiliar steering and brakes, or worse – cab drivers you can’t hear or understand. And if the zombie apocalypse comes, you are stuck in an unfamiliar city with no way to get out.
In contrast, there is the freedom of driving. My car. The open road. No schedule except “today”. No limits on potty breaks, except those imposed by the occasional rest stop under construction. I listen only to whatever I choose to listen to, and the infrequent reminders from my British GPS-lady. No uncomfortable smells or noises, except those which occasionally escape from me. I pack as much as I can fit into my car, including six pairs of shoes I know I will never wear unless maybe I will. Because you never know when I might need hiking boots. And flip flops.
And best of all, if the zombie apocalypse comes, I can get hell out of Dodge (or Chicago) without getting stuck in a security line at the airport.
*I know you are not supposed to announce when you are out of town on social media. I really hope someone doesn’t break into my house and steal my old crappy television while I’m away. It will creep me out. But if you DO, can you at least move my clothes from the washer to the dryer while you are there? I’m pretty sure I forgot to do it before I left.
** I’ve been to Chicago on business like… eight times or something. It isn’t a very high number, but I’m lazy and it’s too many to count accurately.
*** This will be the name of my all girl punk band someday.