Posts tagged: jet lag
You hear a lot about how uncomfortable modern travel has become and it’s all true. Long lines, security screenings, cancelled flights and cramped seats can take the fun out of getting from one place to another. But, for the sake of argument, I’d like to point out things can go terribly wrong when we get too comfortable.
It was the earliest flight out and we were a bleary bunch as we boarded. I’d scored an upgrade and sank gratefully into my first class aisle seat. Some people closed their eyes as soon as they sat down and you could already hear snores in the cabin even as the line of passengers was still filing down the aisle and fighting for space in the overhead bins.
The woman beside me immediately opened her computer, her fingers flying across the keyboard. Across the aisle to my right, two men, dressed in suits and ties, were silently drinking cups of coffee and scanning emails on their Blackberrys. Finally, the plane took off and after breakfast was served the cabin was silent, except for the sound of my seat mate's typing.
Later, folding back the pages of my newspaper, I glanced over at the two men across the aisle and realized they were both asleep. The thing is, they weren’t just dozing. They were deeply asleep, dead to the world and sort of folded toward one another. Not quite touching, but close. Very close.
Smothering a laugh, I went back to my paper and it was some time before I glanced their way again. But things had only gotten worse. The two men were by then, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. They looked like an old married couple sleeping nose to nose, with eyes closed and mouths wide open. Still not touching, but close. So dangerously close.
I tried not to stare but it was hard. I’ve flown a lot of miles and seen a lot of sleeping passengers, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the two men across from me that morning.
The flight attendant came down the aisle with coffee and did a double-take when she saw them. Startled, she looked over at me and then hurried back to the galley. Soon another flight attendant was peeking out. By this time the woman beside me had noticed and was laughing softly.
Our flight attendant returned and, obviously thinking ahead to what might happen if one of the men woke first and, well, took offense, leaned in and asked softly if she could get either of them a pillow. At the sound of her voice their eyes opened, each immediately taking in the closeness of the other, and they flew apart, retreating as far as possible to the edge of the seats.
The men sat up and with extreme nonchalance, straightened ties, checked wristwatches and brushed invisible lint off their trousers. It reminded me of the scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where John Candy and Steve Martin wake up and realize they’ve been sleeping spooned together, hands tucked where they shouldn’t be, and try to shake it off with a lot of harrumphing and throat clearing. I had to hide my face behind the newspaper in my hands again.
When the plane landed the two men quickly gathered up their belongings, walked out into the crowded terminal and never looked back. And I’m willing to bet that’s one extremely uncomfortable travel story neither of them will ever tell another soul.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The upside of jet lag, and I suppose it takes a certain kind of optimism to even search for an upside, is that you sometimes find yourself awake and alone deep in the night. Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. For days after a trip my internal clock is upended. While everyone else is tucked in and sound asleep, I am a ghost. I tiptoe through the house making tea and toast. With the muffled whine of jet engines still ringing in my ears and a stuffy head thanks to the combined coughs and colds of hundreds of passengers packed into a 10-hour flight, I wrap myself in blankets and sit on the chaise lounge by the window in my living room with wool socks on my feet and a box of tissues by my side. I am miserable.
But, I have discovered, there is a gift. When you are awake - half-awake as the case may be - in the dark and quiet world, you are free to think. Wrapped in warm blankets watching the snow fall on the other side of the glass, a comforting mug of hot tea in your hands, you can plan, imagine and dream. Who cares if you have to struggle to remember dates and names? If you’re too sluggish to do more than fall back against the pillows. Under the influence of too much travel and too little sleep, one is free to play with memory and ambition like a puzzle. The pieces can be arranged in whatever way suits you best.
Back from a December trip to Germany, cruising down the Rhine River past castles and villages and light-studded Advent markets; after navigating snowstorms, airport closures, cancelled flights and last-minute schedule changes, arriving just in time for Christmas with my family, I spent the last days of the year in just that condition. Exhausted, congested, confused and restless at night and too sleepy to function well by day, I cocooned in thick blankets. I looked back over the previous months. I measured my progress against the plans I’d made. I was too tired to run from my mistakes so there, in the darkest hours of the night, I let them catch up with me. There was, as is usually the case, plenty to answer to.
I looked at the year ahead. I lay there and thought about what I really want to achieve. Maybe it is my age, my place in life, but when I really considered it, I realized the list is surprisingly short. I want less now than I’ve ever wanted before. The important things still matter: good health and happiness for myself and my family, time to daydream and write, freedom to travel and explore. But I’m no longer inclined to tilt at windmills. Let them spin. I’ve learned to choose my battles.
Although it didn’t feel that way at the time, those hours by the window, awake in a dark house illuminated by the moon shining down on a snowy world, were the best gift I received. I could see where I’ve been. And where I want to go. And, perhaps this is the most important thing of all, I made peace with where I am.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com