I have a confession. I haven’t flown (on an airplane) in something like 40 years. (Yes, I’m that old...but that’s another post.) The reason is simple: I suffer terribly from motion sickness. I have vivid memories of being stripped down to my petticoat and walking through an airport terminal when I was around four years old. (Please don’t judge my mom. The petticoats of those days were sturdy things and covered more than some street clothes of today! :-)
When I was 18, I flew from New Jersey to Florida for a vacation with my friend and her little brother. As the plane lifted off, I looked out at the horizon that was now at a 45-degree angle, and...well, let’s just say it was not a pleasant ride...for any of us.
In 1996, I went on a dream cruise with my sister to Bermuda. As soon as we cleared New York Harbor, my world tilted and I couldn’t stand upright. I spent the next three days lying on my side in bed while my sister boogied in from the lido deck to bring me one goodie or another...which I ate while lying on my side. As I envisioned myself choking to death trying to swallow in that position, I took solace that at least I’d die happy (eating).
Did I mention yet that I get dizzy watching IMAX? (Not great when you're chaperoning a class of rambunctious fifth-graders.)
About a dozen years ago I finally discovered the cause. Seems I have something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo—which explained why my whole life I kept walking into walls without a drop of any mind-altering substances. Who knew?
Avoiding plane travel has been easy since hubby, who doesn’t trust the aerodynamics that make machines fly, prefers to drive as well. But my run of plane-free travel has come screeching to a halt.
My best friend’s daughter is getting married. And instead of celebrating their nuptials in the D.C. area where they live and where it would be a relatively quick (albeit probably miserable) drive for me up I95, she and her hubby-to-be have decided to marry in a “celebration barn” in the middle of Iowa!
Faced with the thought of a two-day drive by myself (hubby can’t go with me), plus spending tons of money on gas and an overnight stay in a hotel (not to mention precious vacation time spent in the car!), I did the unthinkable.
I booked a flight.
Then I visited my doctor’s office and got prescriptions for some mind-altering pharmaceuticals that will (hopefully) tell my brain that it’s sitting on my living room couch, not being propelled in a giant tin can several tens of thousands of feet in the air, held there by some magic of physics.
As news of my upcoming flight spread to my family, who know of my aversion to air travel, I was flooded with advice.
My sister, who travels frequently by air, is now fretting that I picked “the worst” airport to make a connecting flight (Atlanta). “Oh dear,” she said during a recent phone call, “It can be really confusing.” She mentioned something about trams and gates, departing and arriving...I don’t remember. She offered to schedule a phone call with her husband (a project manager who makes a living planning for worst-case scenarios) to help me map out my route from the arrival gate to the departure gate. Included would be step-by-step instructions on what to expect at the outbound security checkpoint, what kind of luggage to bring, what kind of toiletries to pack, why I shouldn’t bother to lock my luggage...and I forget what else.
So now I’m not only freaking out about the plane ride itself (and what condition I’ll be in when I, God willing, reach my final destination), but getting myself from one plane to the next. So I talked to a friend at work, a former flight attendant from Germany, who said, “You’ll be fine. Print yourself an airport map and follow it. It’s easy.”
That didn’t help. In addition to suffering from motion sickness/vertigo, I am directionally challenged. (I once got lost walking in my in-laws’ neighborhood where I’d walked many, many times because I started off in the opposite direction. God’s truth.) I can’t tell north from south from east from west unless I’m looking at the sun (but not at noon!), or standing at the shore of the Atlantic, with the water to my right...which means I’m facing north...right?
My sister was right. I do need a training session!
My trepidation worsened after I downloaded a terminal map from the airport’s website. The place is HUGE! Immediately my head was filled with an image of myself wandering aimlessly from gate to gate, blathering nonsense due to my now-prescription-drug-induced haze.
In desperation, looking for comfort, I turned to Son No. 1 (in birth order, not preference, of course). He travels quite frequently, too. Here’s what he had to say:
“The worst part of an airport is that everyone is in a bad mood and rushing around. They've gotten good with big maps and directions, and if in doubt, find someone to ask - even it's the closest bartender.”
Big sigh of relief. I’m a master at asking strangers for help, including bartenders. I can do this.
If things don’t go well, though, I might be moving to Atlanta.
Leah writes stories of mysteries and romance, good and evil, and the power of love. Learn more at leahstjames.com, or stop by and say hi on Facebook or Twitter.