It’s the day before Independence Day, and I’m miserable.
Less than 24 hours ago, I was sitting in a small craft beer bar that looked like it had been converted from an old mechanic’s garage. My brother and I had just signed a new lease for a killer place a brief walk away, thereby cementing another year in Brooklyn. We were feeling good.
Less than 8 hours ago, I was looking at the bulging snake of a security line at JFK’s delta terminal, realizing that I had left my debit card at said beer bar, and that my flight for a long 4th of July weekend in Montana left in less than an hour. I was feeling a little less good.
Less than 2 hours ago, after narrowly making my flight to a stop-over in Minneapolis, I discovered that I did not, in fact, have a seat for my connecting flight to Billings, even though I had been assured of this by the gate agent back in New York. I was feeling pretty bad.
The agent–Midwestern to a T with a tight, forced smile that told me to fuck off harder than any New York vagrant ever had–asked if I’d like to volunteer to give up my seat, and I emphatically said no as I stormed off, fuming. After a few minutes mulling my options, I realized that the flight was oversold by at least six seats, and returned to the counter to take the offer of a guaranteed seat on the next flight (leaving that day) and a voucher for $800.00. By the time my original flight had boarded and my new boarding pass had been printed, the agent had bumped that voucher up to $1000.00. I was momentarily elated, realizing that I could now plan a new trip, even an international one, within the next year. The only problem? I would now be stuck in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for thirteen hours. With no money.
Let me be the first to admit, the Minneapolis airport (over the course of my stay, it occurred to me that St. Paul is always left in the lurch. The area is always referred to as Minneapolis, or “the Twin Cities”. I wonder if the citizens of St. Paul have inferiority complexes surrounding this fact) is unreasonably nice. There are seating areas with power and USB outlets every twenty-five feet or so. There’s free wifi available, of good enough quality to stream Netflix and the like. There’s also a freaking mall inside the airport with more restaurants, bars, and assorted knick-knack shops than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, like I said, I had no money, save for the $25.00 in cash I had brought in my wallet and the $10.00 food voucher the gate agent had thrown my way. As any seasoned traveler knows, $35.00 in an airport can go in a matter of seconds, and the longer you spend trapped inside an airport, the less sound your decision-making becomes. Example: I had Chik-Fil-A twice while I was there. This was a terrible decision, especially considering that when the sun had gone down and I felt OK about giving myself permission to drink, I only had enough for one stingy pour of bourbon by a grey-haired bartender who seemed disgusted that I was asking him how much everything was (for the curious: a shot of bourbon was $7.00, which was the same as the cheapest beer, inexplicably).
I wandered the airport for hours, never staying in one spot longer than an hour or so, feeling the need to get up and haul my carry-on and laptop bag around with me while I walked nowhere in particular. The sun blasted everything in the airport through towering picture windows, and the constant hum of moving sidewalks, updates from the PA system, and ever-cycling streams of passengers and airport employees made me feel more and more like I was trapped in time, doomed to wander the sterile hallways of MSP for an eternity while the rest of the world rolled and shifted with the tides. Planes came and went, families arrived and departed, and I choked down overpriced snacks and sat around in the bathroom just to feel like I had something to do (side note: the bathrooms in MSP come equipped with red hazmat bins for used needles–at first I thought the Minnesota might have some sort of state-wide heroin epidemic, but then realized there were also an unusual amount of defibrillators). When the time to board finally came, I felt bloated, queasy, and dirty, the collective grime of a crowded travel station and the filth of a sedentary day coating every surface of my body. I even snapped at my girlfriend via text or joking about making out with her gay, engaged teaching partner.
It was a long day.
It was 10:30 PM by the time wheels left the tarmac. I had been up since 5AM EST. My seat was in the back left corner of the aircraft. I would be the last person to deplane. It wasn’t an exit row. I scrunched myself into the least uncomfortable position possible, jammed some earbuds into my head, and let my head fall against the window, half-listening to a podcast as I watched the Midwest roll away beneath my eyes. As we slowly drifted West, the lights of the twin cities began to fade, replaced by staccato pools of street and porch lights in the surrounding suburbs, which in turn bled into the inky blackness of nighttime country. As the cities gave way to towns, amateur fireworks displays began to dot the landscape below, the sporadic bursts of early-bird patriotism growing smaller and smaller as the plane climbed into the sky.
The next few days in Montana passed in a slow and nearly absurd fashion. We ate homemade chocolates, visited a rodeo, and chowed down on amazing steaks on the 4th of July, making it one of the most earnestly “American” Independence Days I’ve celebrated in years. As night fell, our host drove us out to a family homestead where mosquitoes dive-bombed us in the darkness, swarming through thick air that smelled of gunpowder and freshly cut grass. The kids chased each other around the driveway and rode bikes through the field where the adult men were setting off an arsenal that could have put any small town fire department’s display to shame.
As I polished off my third beer of the evening, an impromptu chorus of “America the Beautiful” welled up from the small crowd. It was only half-serious, but it still seemed like it meant something to me.