Getting There is Half the Fun

According to the map app in his phone, the distance was almost exactly 4000 kilometers, along a nearly-straight line running southward.  More to the point, a nearly straight line running from the dark cold of a Canadian January to comfortably into the tropics. When he had been planning the trip, he had been amused to discover that the app believed this distance could be covered by walking for eight hundred and ten hours.

He came to think that walking would have been a better plan.  Nearly as quick, and probably cheaper.

Cheaper was the problem, of course.  A direct flight, even at this peak season of flight from winter’s tyranny, was within his means… just.  Save on the flight, and spend of accomodations; it had seemed like such wisdom at the time.  He had turned from one app to another, and found a flight for not quite a third the cost of the direct flight.

Sometime during the third layover, it occurred to him that, given money spent in airport restaurants, he might well literally eat up all he had saved on the flight.  That had been toward the end of the first full day of travel.

As the second day neared its close, he was able to reflect on the unreliability of human planning.  Not one connection had gone according to schedule.  He regretted the smugness which had accompanied the first change of planes in Abbotsford, striding from the tiny turboprop which had brought him there to the real grown-up jetliner which would take him back eastwards, all the way to Winnipeg.  That arrival had been five minutes ahead of schedule, and as he made his way past the angry man wrangling over the size of his carry-on, it had not occurred to him for an instant that the beneficent tailwinds he had just enjoyed would be contentious headwinds for the next leg.

Not that it had mattered.  The late landing had meant he only had to wait four hours in Winnipeg for the next stage… not counting the hour on the tarmac for no reason revealed to him.  That delay had brought about the mad sprint through Pearson airport, landing seventeen minutes before the official departure time of his fourth flight at the farthest possible gate.  The boarding staff had at least been sympathetic when he got to them, merely scanning his pass and hustling him down the jetway rather than forcing him to speak.

He was still damp with that sweat in Minneapolis when he had been required to pass through the US Customs checkpoint, a senseless exercise as he was never going to be outside the secure part of an airport while in the country, but he was technically entering the country so it had to be done.  Tousled, fragrant, and bleary thanks to getting up at four in the morning for the first flight, he had been much too interesting to the blank-eyed inspector in the little glass cubicle labelled FOREIGNERS, and apparently his sort of friendliness came across as evasive.  He was able to view the interview, once it was over and the threat of deportation or imprisonment had passed, in much the same light as the slow flight to Winnipeg; he had that much less time to entertain himself in the Minneapolis airport.

Or rather, the would have, if only a three hour delay had not been added to the flight, mere minutes before boarding was to have started.  The dawn he should have seen chasing him to San Francisco instead revealed the wind-polished crust of old snow between Minneapolis’s runways.  The staff at the gate was once again helpful, assisting him in re-booking his connection to Houston.

It was on the Houston flight that a young woman wearing what he only slowly understood to be the uniform of cabin crew bent close to him, and said quietly that word had come from San Francisco that his stowed luggage had not left with him.  When he understood what she had told him, he simply nodded as a fat exhausted tear dribbled down his cheek.  Did it matter?  There were surely places to buy shirts and swim-trunks at the resort.  He had saved so much on the flight, he could afford a new wardrobe! The young woman gave him a whole can of ginger ale for free, the airline’s apology for its lapse.

He felt a moment of superstitious dread as he neared his departure gate in Houston.  He had landed on time.  There was no delay announced for his departing flight. As he passed into the jetway, he nearly screamed; as it was, his little mewling cry was heard only by the woman behind him, who stepped around him as he recovered from a momentary weakness of leg.  The plane outside was the same model and much the same colour as the first one he had been on, and in his weakened state he suddenly thought that he had been transported back the miles and days to start the trip anew, possibly forever.  Reason returned before he made a spectacle, the surge of adrenaline which accompanied the terror paradoxically reducing his panic by returning him to alertness.

Alertness faded in the final leg of the flight, and he shambled off the plane in Mexico only after a flight attendant, unsuccessful by softer means, pinched him awake.  The customs officials at this airport, apparently used to such spectacles, gave him only a cursory examination, and from there to the resort was plain sailing, although there was a tearful moment at the end of the cab-ride before he understood that the vast sum on the meter was not in dollars.

At last, as last, the vacation he had long dreamed of.  It began with a coma, a sleep with saw him miss a dinner and a breakfast in his all-inclusive meal plan, a blank period he only understood as sleep because the quality of light in the room changed in the length of his subjective blink.

It was the only restful sleep he had.  Each night thereafter, a thin, unnourishing doze came to him, ceasing at the slightest sound or the first hint of a dream’s onset. Initially, he thought it was the difference in pillows, or in mattress, or in the duration of daylight, and he could dismiss it, distracted by frolics and tours.  But as the days passed, he understood, and desperation was kindled in him.

He did not sleep because of fear.

He feared not sleeping.

He had to sleep, or the return home, with two more connections than the outbound journey, would surely destroy him.

“Getting There is Half the Fun” ©2018 Dirck de Lint. The story is developed from a writing challenge set by Chuck Wendig, which gave as the theme “travel woes of some kind.”