If you live long enough, you learn a few indisputable truths. For instance, if you live long enough, you learn that France isn't merely the fictional setting of nightmarish, bloodcurdling fairy tales about socialist cigarette aficionados, incomprehensible movies, and people who wear black turtlenecks all the time, even during the summer - France is a real place, and those nightmarish, bloodcurdling fairy tales are true.
Also, if you live long enough, you learn that commercial air travel has the potential to transform otherwise functional, rational human beings into glassy-eyed, blathering lunatics. How could I possibly know that, you ask? Aren't I far too good-looking and talented to have endured anything as unpleasant as a bad flying experience in my brief lifetime?
Valid questions, I'll grant you. But picture this (preferably in slow motion): It's February 2008, and I'm heading back to the Midwest after spending the weekend in Saranac Lake celebrating Winter Carnival. Thanks to a combination of snow, ice, and so-called "safety regulations" dreamed up by the spineless bureaucratic losers at the FAA, my flight from Burlington to Washington doesn't take off until 10:30 p.m. - three hours later than scheduled.
When we finally land in D.C., I check my watch and see that my connecting flight supposedly took off fifteen minutes ago. But, because I'm shamelessly self-absorbed, I dismiss out-of-hand the notion that my connecting flight actually took off fifteen minutes ago.
As the plane taxis toward the terminal, I put my hands behind my head and smile. I imagine myself sauntering up to my connecting gate and greeting the airline employee behind the counter with a broad grin. "Sorry I'm late," I'll say, shrugging. "You know those bureaucratic losers at the FAA - they have all sorts of wild ideas about not flying into ice storms.
Anyway, you'd better let the flight attendants know I'm here so they can have a cup of hot tea and a platter of chocolate-chip cookies ready for me when I get to my seat. Also, tell the pilot to fire up the engines - I'd like to get out of here before I'm eligible for social security benefits!"
The employee, overwhelmed by my caustic wit, will spend the better part of a minute doubled over in raucous laughter, pounding the counter with a fist and gasping for breath. Then - wiping tears of mirth from his flushed cheeks - he'll say, "You bet, Mr. L!"
I'll give him a high five and board the plane, and my fellow passengers - who have spent the past half hour awaiting my arrival in a state of breathless anticipation, as if I were Axel Rose - will hoot and whistle, overjoyed to see me.
I return to reality and deplane. When I check the departures screen in the terminal, I don't see my flight listed. I scan the screen fifteen or twenty times, but my flight fails to materialize. The only explanation, I realize, is that my flight never existed in the first place.
"This can't be," I say, glancing at the other dazed late-night travelers lurching around the waiting area like sedated zombies. My mouth has gone dry and sour, and my knees feel weak. "This simply can't be." I lick my lips and realize that I must be in the Twilight Zone.
At the customer-service counter, I ask the airline woman if I'm off my rocker. "This can't be happening to me," I say, running my fingers through my hair.
She examines my boarding pass, frowns, and taps at her keyboard. "Your flight left without you," she says. She looks up at me and chuckles. "What, did you think they'd stick around for one person?"
I back away from the counter, shaking my head, and I realize that she's right - the heartless ne'er-do-wells have left without me, and I was a fool to ever think they wouldn't.
Anyway, long story short, I spend an uncomfortable night in the terminal and catch a flight out the next morning. The important thing is that, as result of my brief break with reality and subsequent emotional anguish, I learn one of life's indisputable truths.
And while such truths might not be comfortable, living with them certainly beats dying with them. Living with them also beats dying without them. It doesn't, however, beat living without them. So I guess the moral here is to close your eyes to unpleasant truths, because life is much more relaxing when you're an ignoramus.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at email@example.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.