It’s here. The day I have been dreading, the day vacation ends, the day I travel back home to my “normal” life. With every pore of my being, I don’t want to go, but I am duty bound. My airline ticket is paid for and I have work at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning and I know Mom has been missing me. I thought of “missing” my flight, but I know that would just create way more drama than I’m willing to manage.
I’m packed. I’ve been packed for a couple of days. This is the only place I visit or travel to, ever, that I actually unpack into drawers. Ordinarily, when away from home, I just live out of my suitcase. Even at home, some things, I just leave in my suitcase and deal with from there, because I know, sooner rather than later, I’ll be heading out again. I started making my customary piles several days ago. As a frequent traveler, that’s what I do. I make piles. I have my electronics pile, my personal care products pile, my shoe pile and my clothing pile. To most, I appear hyper-organized, to me, the piles are random, but very necessary, and the only means by which I’ve managed to never forget anything vital. A few things, I just have duplicates of, one for home, one remains in the bag, to avoid that horrible discovery, no deodorant or no toothbrush.
I’ve begun to leave things behind here, now. For example, my snow boots, which we bought here when I visited in March. I have more use for them here than in Cali, though I do snow camp, and such, I’m equipped enough for the snow down there. I’ve left my favorite old pair of Vans, too. Ironically, I bought them here when I first came here for work, nearly three years ago, the day before I met the man I call mine, now. And they came in so handy, an impulse buy, a BOGO I picked up with the purchase of practical work shoes for my last day on site training my client. I ended up using my BOGO Vans for the first ever airboat ride. Now, though pretty worn out, they are permanent residents in Alaska and have been on many, many more airboat excursions. And now I’ve left my old Lucky Brand jeans behind, the ones I always use for painting and staining projects when I visit, one size too big and soft beyond soft from wear, spattered with various shades of wood stain, the deck of the neighbor’s bus, the porch posts of my man’s house.
What I am taking home is crammed into my suitcases and my computer bag, headed back to Napa after four weeks away. Bulging is an understatement. Heavy is a gross understatement. The temptation of a third suitcase, full of frozen, dried and jarred salmon is met with sheer practicality. Alone, managing three suitcases at nearly 12:00 midnight, when I am due to land, then having to make my way to the bus and to long-term parking, then to load them into my car and make my way the additional hour and a half home, to then have to unload them into the freezer. With my alarm set for tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, it is just more than I can bear. I do manage one generous Ziploc of dried salmon strips in my purse. Double bagged. They are quite aromatic!
Quietly, early for a Sunday, we make our way to the airport. We arrive early, thankfully, because the line to check bags is moving incredibly slowly. At last, my bags are checked and I head for security. A brief goodbye, they are never long enough in my opinion, but that is probably for the best. He heads back to the car as I enter the short security line. Before I make it to the podium, I see him back out and drive away. And, as always, I fight back tears, more successfully this time than any time before. They are there, I just don’t let them out. Yet. My computer bag gets pulled off the conveyor at this airport, but never at LaGuardia, Logan, Newark, LAX, SFO, O’Hare, or Kennedy. Funny. But I am patient, the TSA folks are doing their job, and with all the electronics and cords I carry, I can only imagine what my backpack must look like in the x-ray. I have actually been conducting an ongoing experiment, unwittingly, mostly out of forgetfulness, but, still, for months, and probably nearly 60,000 miles of travel on four different airlines through, likely, a dozen different airports, I have had a bottle of eye drops in my computer bag and a bottle of mouthwash in my purse. Undetected. So I am actually relieved when my bag garners some scrutiny, and yet, the eye drops and mouthwash go, again, undetected, even with a “thorough” inspection. My shoes and my cardigan back on, my computer bag zipped up once again, I go to the coffee stand and buy a coffee and a yogurt. I’m not hungry, my stomach is actually quite unsettled, either from too much wine last night, too little sleep, or just trepidation. Maybe all three. I put the yogurt in my purse for later, I’ll eat it on the plane, in coach. I have window seats both flights and an eight-hour layover in Seattle, which just makes the dreaded trip home seem that much worse. An eight-hour layover! Another reason the suitcase full of fish may have been a less than fantastic idea. I sit, without thought, waiting for the boarding announcement. I pay very little attention to what is going on, I just sit.
I do hear an announcement from the gate agent, for those with flexible travel plans, a voucher for this overbooked flight and a later flight out. I am alert once again and run for the counter. I show the agent my ticket and tell her if I can make the connection in Seattle, I would be happy to rearrange my flight. My name is added to a list. The boarding announcement comes and I am asked to wait to see whether they’ll need my seat. I am just a little “anal” about boarding at the earliest opportunity, I like to claim my wee bit of overhead bin compartment territory for my computer bag. My oversized purse fits snugly under the seat in coach, and there is no room for both under the seat. I’m a rather particular traveler. Travel is a very large part of my life, I seek to move through this world with ease and as much comfort and convenience as I can secure for myself. So, to miss my boarding opportunity makes me a bit edgy, it had better be for good reason.
At long last, it is determined that my seat can be given to a young lady who is traveling with her grandparents. I am happy to forfeit it, and, in exchange, I receive a $400 voucher good for a ticket to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, like right back to where I’m standing now. The agent is tapping madly at the keyboard and revealing no expression whatsoever on her face, I can’t tell if she is making any progress in rebooking my travel. I DO have to make it home in time to teach early tomorrow morning, I DO have to make that 9:30 PM connection in Seattle. Finally, she looks up, makes eye contact, and then smiles. The only seat available for me on the later flight to Seattle is first class. Oh, darn. It is 8:30 AM, my new flight leaves at 2:00. And I only have a one-hour layover in Anchorage and two in Seattle. Darn. I hate when that happens. Not. Upgrade. Upgrade. Upgrade.
I take my voucher and my new tickets and text my man to tell him I gave up my seat on the morning flight. He turned around and picked me up out front and we spent the next few hours strolling through the Georgeson Botanical Gardens at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, one of our favorite pleasures that we hadn’t taken the time to enjoy during this visit. We grabbed a quick breakfast at Sams’ Sourdough Cafe and finished our time together browsing through Gulliver’s Books in town. Just those few bonus hours made all the difference in the world. Cherished time.
Back at the airport, a few hours later, I made my way through security. My bag got pulled off the conveyor, again, and I smiled. I like consistency. And, again, the eye drops and mouthwash go undetected.
I flew to Anchorage, in first class. Is it bad when you begin to recognize flight attendants and crew members on more than one airline? I was fortunate enough to be on a plane with Woody Woodhouse piloting. I’ve flown with Woody before. Woody is an “old school” pilot, he speaks clearly, and loud enough to be heard, he loves his job, he loves Alaska, and he wants to share. One part of Alaska that Woody is particularly in love with is Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. Woody somehow manages to fly the plane, while narrating, within what looks like mere feet of the peak, first so the people seated on the left side of the plane can get up close and personal with the mountain, then he turns tightly and the people on the right side of the plane get to get personal with the mountain. Last time I flew with Woody, my camera and iPhone were buried deep inside my carry-ons and I couldn’t grab them quickly enough. This time, I was ready! With both!
We landed shortly after we buzzed past McKinley, with just enough time in Anchorage for a quick porter at the Silver Gulch Brewery in the airport there where I chatted with a jolly woman who’d been to Beerfest at Silver Gulch in Fairbanks just the night before, as had I, sort of. I flew first class, again, to Seattle where, with my two-hour layover, I had just enough time for a quick flight of wine and some lively conversation with other traveling wine enthusiasts at Vino Volo.
In a state of travel induced exhaustion, I collected my luggage in Sacramento, grateful to have only two suitcases to wrestle onto the bus and then into my car, where there already was a box of my “career clothes” and a third suitcase, left from my brief parking lot visit between my flight from Newark and my flight to Anchorage over two weeks ago. I cram my suitcases into the backseat, marvel at the total and complete darkness of the sky, and make my way home. I arrive at 2:00 AM, huck my luggage upstairs, set up my computer and training materials for morning and find my way to bed. As I turn off the light, the darkness feels oppressive, almost as though it has weight and volume and I struggle to fall asleep. Finally I do, about the time my alarm jolts me back into the reality of “my world”. I am not ready to face it, but I do, I must, and I plough through, with thoughts of that $400 travel voucher safely tucked in my wallet and I begin to plan what I will do with it.