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EarperConUK: A Reflection - Let's Do This

So, when last we met, after months of stomachaches and nerves, self-doubt and sanity questioning, it was Thursday September 12th, 2019 and I was fuckin' ready to go.

I got up, went through my morning routine and got the dog hustled off to daycare, where she'd be spending the next 5 days. After David assured me that everything would be fine and wished me a good trip, I was back in the Jeep heading for work.

I went to work with my game face on. Admittedly, it's not exactly the most friendly of my faces, but it's one of the only things that keeps me from flying apart like the rubber band center of a golf ball when you cut into it. I'm not a gigantic fan of flying or all the rigmarole involved in actually getting my butt into a seat. It's not that I'm afraid (necessarily) of plummeting to earth at a million miles per hour, it's that I don't like being in the middle of things that are completely out of my control. Hell, I'm not a great passenger in a car (god help you if I'm riding somewhere with you driving and you turn your head to look at me while we're talking), so being confined to an airplane for hours on end is akin to torture.

And if that's not bad enough, getting to the airport, through TSA and to my gate only to sit there and wait to be confined...Ugh. So, game face when I'm all keyed up works to keep people at arm's length and from them asking me stupid questions about being ready to go. I've found that people are happier ignoring me than being on the receiving end of my near hysteria. Apologies to those poor souls.

Unfortunately, I can't walk into my classroom and be that person with my students. I can't just tell them to sit quietly and read or do a worksheet or...really anything else. A: Because I'm a teacher and I don't get to take days off in the classroom. B: Some kid would start a desk on fire or something would go flying out a window or a fight would break out. And that's just bad for the nerves. Needless to say, I got all of the questions I was trying to avoid from adults from the kids, "Are you packed; are you scared to fly; how long's your flight, etc., etc., etc." But, I found that, from them, it was OK. They were genuinely curious and not just making idle conversation. Very few of my students will ever get out of Buffalo, much less overseas, so I always try to bring excitement to travel to them in the hopes that a couple of them will want, someday, to see what all the fuss is about.

At 3:35, my day officially ends. Now, I know that some of you are probably saying, "Oh, must be nice," but if you are, I don't think you quite get what being in a classroom is actually like. Imagine, if you will, 7.5 hours of your life being filled with nonstop noise, the filthiest language you have ever heard coming out of the mouths of children, hundreds of people - most of them well in the throes of their teen years and everything that comes with that - a great number of them wanting your immediate attention and the only peace and quiet to be found is in the bathroom. And even then, you're only allowed to be in there for a maximum of three minutes and ONLY if a bell has rung telling you that you can. You have to eat your lunch with the stealth of a heroin addict shooting up in an alley unless you're willing to share it and no matter what happens, you have to keep your emotions in check. I used to wonder why my mother always came home from work in the mood for absolutely no nonsense from my brother and I believe she should be up for canonization. The only thing that keeps me (relatively) sane is the fact that I only have The Whitemare to come home to. And, even then, there is the occasional day or two when I find myself wishing that she would just go out for a little while...maybe go see a movie or have a drink somewhere.


Once the day ended, I went speeding home to finish packing, close up the house and get to my mother's house by 5:15. My flight was scheduled to take off at 6:58 and she gets a little antsy thinking there's something that's going to stand in the way of my getting on the plane. So as not to make my mother a nervous wreck - when she feel especially stressed, she starts to forego the actual STOP at stop signs, instead going with the Slight Tap On Pedal interpretation - I try to be to her when she thinks I ought to be. Remember what I'd said about being a terrible passenger? Yeah. That.

I got to my mother's house at, literally 5:16pm. I pulled into her driveway and before I was even out of the Jeep, my mother popped out of her back door saying, "Do you need anything in the house? I packed you dinner" while she pulled the door shut behind her.

"Ma," (Sicilians/Italians out there know this "Ma" well). "Ma, relax; I just want to pee."

She reluctantly unlocked the door...and if I'm sure of what I saw, hesitated for a second before she did! I'd no sooner walked out of the bathroom when I got a text telling me that my flight out of Buffalo was being delayed until 8:20. I glanced at my watch...5:20. I was as dismayed at spending an extra hour and a half with my nervous and stressed mother as I was the thought that things appeared to be derailing. Let's go back to the Beetlejuice references, shall we? Remember when he was sitting in the waiting room holding number 9,998,383,750,000 and the Now Serving counter clicked over to 03? Yep...that's exactly my immediate reaction to the flight delay.

Aaaaaaand the next was abject panic.

See, my connecting flight out of JFK was scheduled to take off at 10pm and there was (in all probability) no way on god's green earth that I was going to make that flight. Evidently, Delta agreed because the next text from them told me that they were booking me on a seat on the 11pm flight out of JFK. My first thought was, "How many fucking people fly to London every day that they have flights every hour?" My second was, "11:00?! I'm going to fall asleep in the airport and they're going to leave without me."

To make a long story short, I got to the airport at about 7:00 and bid my mother a farewell. I got through TSA with my usual apology to the gate officer for the picture on my Nexus card (I look deranged and there is not a single person on this earth who hasn't burst out laughing when they see it...that's not hyperbole; that's actual, literal truth) and made my way to the gate to sit...and wait...For them to tell me that they might be allowed to take off a bit before 8:20 and that I might make my original connection. Awesome!

Or not.

Minutes ticked by (I admit, I might have been driving Emily a teeny tiny bit crazy with my texts about this whole ordeal--apologies!) and it was obvious that we wouldn't be leaving so much as a squeak before 8:20. So, they get us shoveled onto kind of a tiny plane and I am in my seat rarin' to go........

Pilot comes on saying that our actual departure time might not be until 8:56pm. Eek!

And then I see her...the gate agent is on the plane and I know, in my heart of hearts, that she is looking for me.

Yep. She was.

She, as kindly as humanly possible tells me that there's a pretty good chance that I'm not going to make my 11pm connection either. It was truly like a gut punch--or what I imagine one of those would be, as I've only experienced face punches--long stories--and was immediately followed by confusion. Mathematically speaking, there was a good chance I'd have a solid couple of minutes to get to my next gate. Flying time to NYCity is typically, give or take, just under an hour, so even with getting to the gate and off the plane, I probably still had a full half hour before my next plane took off.

So that they could talk to us both, another guy and I were invited off the plane to talk about all the particulars. Two gate agents, this guy - Jim, as it turns out - and I are standing on the jet bridge talking with the gate agents when the pilot joins us to listen. The first gate agent (who I really should have emailed Delta about as, she was fuckin' awesome) says that there is a good chance we'll miss out flight, so there's a couple things Jim and I can do:

We could give it the old college try. Stay on the flight and take our chances. If that's what we chose, we could either make the flight and have all be well or we could miss the flight and end up having to stay in or around JFK for the night (which they would not pay for, should that happen). If that happened, they'd get us booked on the 8:15 am flight out Friday morning.

Or we could get off the plane and stay in Buffalo for the night and get on the plane out of Buffalo at 5:15am in order to make that 8:15 out of JFK....which would get into London at about 8:30 PM Friday night. Well, what the crap am I supposed to do with that??

Jim and I must have had pretty similar looks on our faces, because that's when the pilot jumped in. He was very clear that he couldn't tell us what to do...couldn't make us promises, couldn't make suggestions, none of that. But he did say that it looked good for us getting out of Buffalo at 8:56, it was only a 47 minute flight, that we'd probably be at the gate by 10 or so, that our next gate was only 13 gates away from our landing gate and that, a brisk walk would make it a 5 or 6 minute stroll. At that point, I knew two things:

A: That if I missed the 11:00 pm flight, the whole trip was off. It made less than no sense to lose the entirety of Friday. There was no way I was spending that amount of money for, what would amount to 31h45m on UK soil.

B: There was probably nothing that was going to keep me from trying to make it

C: I really needed to hear the pilot say that, if it was him, he would try to make it

So, I asked him, hypothetically, if he were in our shoes, what would he do. And he said exactly what I needed to hear. Jim asked if his bags were going to make it and the gate agents assured him that they would; I told him that I hoped he had extra underpants packed into that backpack he was holding.

Jim and I were both in for a penny, in for a pound and we moved to get back on the plane. I, delightfully, got a better seat than I'd originally had--Bonus!

Flight was a piece of cake and as we were taxiing to the gate at JFK, the flight attendant was kind enough to make an announcement saying that there were a couple people with a tight connection and asked that people stay in their seats once we came to a stop in order for those people (Jim and I) to get off and to our connections. The flight came to a stop, I shot out of my seat...and so did the 20 or so people in the seats in front of me. Fuckers! I saw Jim look over his shoulder for me, but there was nothing he could do...I simply had to wait my turn. Which I did...seething with nerves that had morphed into rage. Luckily, my mother taught me, at a really young age, that we don't have temper tantrums, so those 20 or so people with no thought for their fellow humans, were safe.

When, three million hours later, it was my turn, I snatched my bags and blew out the plane door, up the jet bridge and to my next gate in plenty (read: 15 minutes or so) to spare. I spoke with the gate agents - who, I gotta say, were considerably less pleasant and helpful than the one in Buffalo - got my seat assignment, and eventually made my way onto the plane.

I got my bag stowed, my seatbelt fastened, my travel necessities in order and settled in for six and a half hours of discomfort and restlessness.

Coming Soon: EarperConUK: A Reflection - I Made it!

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