Newark: I had a three hour layover with a seven and a half hour flight ahead of me, so after going to the bathroom twice out of boredom, I decided to get some food and drink that would make my eyes water a bit. So, I bought an overpriced panini and an extra dirty martini; the type of martini I ordered back home on a Friday night with the girls to wash away the agony of a week passed, and the dread of another to come. Only, the bar olives were stuffed with red chilies, and the waiter cautioned me several times that my drink “wouldn’t taste right”. But I like the idea of a mingling of things that don’t seem quite right together, so my dirty martini became a sweaty, dirty martini. The red chili, a burning flame in the murky shallows of vodka. The taste a symphony of salty, smoky and spicy. Not overly complicated – just an added bite to an off-the-menu sort of drink. And I thought to myself -the way I always do when some form of symbolism strikes me- “There’s a bigger picture here.”
Things started out a bit rough at the airport several hours before. I couldn’t even find my airline – it was an affiliate of United with no mention of United anywhere – and it took over an hour and a half to check in because of countless issues. By the time I finally did, I was charged nearly $500 for two overweight bags. I reluctantly paid, fretting as a I always do, making calculations, thinking about paying what I did for 20 pounds of hairspray and nail polish. Then I literally ran to make my plane; I was the last one to board. And then I decided to let it all go. Because it was done and was now a thing in the past. The simple past, for anyone who knows much about grammar.
Sitting in the airport in Newark, I was looking around at the people walking by: kids in marshmallow jackets being tugged by their parents, young couples holding hands strolling along kiosks of neck pillows and packs of gum, friends laughing and teasing as they sat lined along their terminals, eating Pizza Hut and sharing headphones with one another. That’s the candid beauty of an airport – the unexpected calm. Everyone is moving and sitting, rushing and waiting. Unknown sounds swarm through a sea of nationalities, humming as they float up through a ceiling of sun-stained glass. I pretend to know what country the words are from and laugh at myself for not having the slightest idea. They are just sounds to me and I can’t distinguish where one ends and another begins. I wonder if English sounds the same way to someone who doesn’t know it. I convince myself that isn’t the case.
I slept a little one my last flight – the only way I know to sleep on a plane: with my head tilted all the way back, mouth wide-open, mouth-breathing, my $20 neck pillow sitting on my lap. Then I heard the wheels, then felt the bump-bump-bump of an amateur landing. Careful as items in the overhead bins may have shifted during flight. Follow the signs to baggage claim.
I can’t completely convey the sinking feeling that takes place in the pit of ones stomach when luggage never makes it to the conveyor belt. Once you realize luggage is no longer coming up, you look around the belt with the conviction that you simply did not see your bag. Then panic slowly sets in, and you scour the area, walking around the entire belt. Then you start giving people dodgy looks, wondering who would take your bags. You make lunges at a few strangers before realizing that isn’t necessarily your black duffle bag they are wheeling behind them. Then there’s a calm sense of purpose as you walk up to the baggage help desk. Then anger as you realize the form you are filling out has been filled out a million times before and your things are no more important that any of those other times. Then the realization that those are your things. Then a returned sense of hope as, surely by now, your bag has been returned. Then more anger. Eventually, apathy takes over as you realize you can live without it all but secretly hope you don’t have to. There is a sense of victory once that bag arrives though.
So it has all been perfectly dramatic. The type of drama we all secretly crave so we have exciting stories to tell, the tools we use to keep our listeners on the edge of their seats. The way we leave 5 minutes after we should, tempting fate and congratulating ourselves when our bets pay off. And there have been more of these dramatic encounters, even in the last day, of tight deadlines, missing money, and getting lost in a city I know nothing about. But, tonight, after sitting on a tram 11 stops too long, getting dropped off somewhere on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, and eventually taking three trams to get back to my apartment, all I could think about was a little red chili that fit so unexpectedly well inside an otherwise ordinary martini.