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TDG #002: Markets, traditions, and airport purgatory

Since most of us are probably dealing with some travel-related nightmare at the moment, I figured I'd take a satirical look at the airport experience.

by Skylar Renslow

christmas eve in rome

Greetings friends,

This week's newsletter is coming to you from Rome. It's around 6 pm on Christmas Eve as I write this; I have a Negroni in hand, the church bells are ringing, and there's a feeling that the city is about to hunker down for the next two days.

Today we went to the Campagna Amica market to grab some provisions for the next couple of meals - and by provisions, I mean mostly wine and pasta. It's a great market to visit if you find yourself in Rome. The Campagna Amica Foundation was created to help bring awareness to issues such as environmental protection, food security, and equity -  to name a few. The market itself is full of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, fresh pasta, focaccia - you name it.

Later it was time to keep a tradition - Steph and her dad go to a brewery on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, this works well with my personal tradition of consuming beer. Sadly things close early on Christmas Eve in the Christianity capital of the world, so an Irish pub was as close as we got.

I suppose traveling during the holidays can be seen as another type of tradition - odds are most of us have hopped on a plane in the past month or week and might do so again soon. But it's probably not a tradition that any of us are particularly fond of - hell, I stopped flying cross-country in the U.S. during Thanksgiving because it was a terrible experience of delays, cancellations, and way too many people.

So since most of us are probably dealing with some travel-related nightmare at the moment, I figured I'd take a satirical look at what feels like to fly right about now.


Airport Purgatory

I've always found airports to be peculiar places. On the one hand, they represent the freedom of movement, ideas, and technological advancements you can't help but marvel at. On the other hand, we've managed to make the whole experience pointlessly insufferable.

Let me explain...

Check-in

The airport experience actually starts at home. Some hours or days before your flight, you get a notification on your phone telling you it's time to check in. This seemingly innocuous moment is the first time you're confronted with some monetary choices.

You opted for the cheapest possible ticket, because of course you did. You haven't packed yet, but you won't be checking a bag - that shit is expensive. Plus, you dare not send your suitcase on its own odyssey.

Next up, you pick your seat - that "saver fare" definitely didn't come with an assigned seat. $8? $22? $34? Don't worry. The airline has multiple options to determine exactly how much you value those 3 hours of your relationship time with your girlfriend.

Ok, all that's sorted now; you feel good about the trip.

Then comes the day of the flight. It's 8 am, and of course, you live in a city with no decent public transit option. Or at least that's what you tell yourself to justify the $50 Uber. Plus, your credit card is already in the app, so it's basically free.

You get to the airport, bubbling over with excitement about your trip!

You walk by the check-in counter, wondering why those still exist. Then, in the corner of your eye, you see the baggage sizer. Suddenly the excitement fades, and you start to wonder if your bag is too big.

Security

Then you deal with airport security - a dehumanizing experience that makes you confront your sanity and all the worldly possessions you deemed necessary to bring with you on this voyage.

Am I really going to read that book on my Kindle? Why did I need ten pairs of underwear? Two of the many thoughts racing through your head as the toiletries spill out of your bag.

Unsure you took everything out properly, you send the bag down the conveyor belt.

Wait. Fuck. Did you accidentally pack that machete you keep in your underwear drawer?

Too late. The bag is already too far gone.

You make it through the x-ray machine because this ain't your first rodeo.

So you stand there, waiting for your bag to make it through the machine. In the meantime, you watch other travelers make their way through the security, letting out a slight chuckle when someone has to take their shoes off and go back through. A little petty, but you'll take your wins.

Then you glance over to the all suits breezing through the pre-check line. You're a little envious, but the envy fades into self-loathing. You just got one of those "travel credit cards" but haven't found the time to schedule the pre-check interview and go through all the paperwork. Stupid.

Suddenly you see it. Your bag emerges through the machine unscathed and slides right to you. A smirk comes across your face. You feel dirty as if you got away with something.

Another traveler gives you a slight nudge as they reach for their bag. You snap out of it.

But a flurry of anxiety strikes as you realize you have to shove all the shit you just took out of your bag back into your bag.

Your stuff doesn't fit - then you remember the Jenga masterpiece you put together the night before.

Your anxiety reaches new heights as more people crowd around you, waiting for their bags. A single drop of sweat drips down your face. You're causing a pile-up, and frustrations are brewing.

Fuck it; you summon a force you didn't know you had until then, shoving everything back in and quickly zipping the bag shut before your toiletries think about escaping. You felt a snap, but whatever, you'll investigate later.

You walk out of the security area, triumphant.

Shopping

The bright fluorescent lights escort you to the next capitalist litmus test: The Duty-Free Store.

What exactly is the purpose of these stores? You can't help but feel you're missing out on something by not buying that $100 cologne.

But no time for that. You're on a mission.

You did manage to sign up for lounge access before the trip. That's right. This is it. This is what you pay $700 a year for. That mimosa and buffet food is going to taste SO. DAMN. GOOD.

There's a line at the lounge. Don't sweat yet; it's probably just timing.

Are you flying first class? Are you an elite member? No? Sorry, the lounge is full.

Rage.

How can they do this to me? Don't they know I pay for this? I'm special - American Express told me so.

But god damn it, come hell or high water, you're still going to have that mimosa. You spot a bar across from the lounge. That'll have to do.

It's $15, but you're on vacation, so what's money? Plus, you found a good table since you can see the departure board without even moving.

Waiting

That second mimosa was cheaper. Or at least it felt cheaper.

While eyeing that breakfast sandwich, your ears perk up - did they just say your flight number? You can never understand the damn loudspeaker.

You look at the conveniently placed departures, briefly forgetting where you're going. Then, suddenly, your stomach drops: DELAYED.

Of course, it is. Why the fuck did you book a flight with that budget airline? You vow then and there to NEVER fly them again, and you'll gladly pay the extra money next time.

You smirk and remember how you always get a little feisty after two drinks.

It's only 30 minutes; your vacation is still alive - it could be worse.

It gets worse.

An hour delay? You're now three mimosas deep, stuck between hysteria and rage. You now vow to NEVER fly again during the holidays. There are too many people, and it's always delayed.

The waiter sets the fourth mimosa down on the plastic table. You briefly consider if you need it and if you have a problem, but you're on vacation - time and space are irrelevant.

Time to board

After an hour of frantically checking the departure board, it's your time: GO TO GATE.

An emotional high carries you to the gate. You've never walked that fast in your life.

You get to the gate and see a hoard of people crowding around the gate agent.

There's a palpable, optimistic tension in the air. Everyone is itching to get on the flight.

You look around and evaluate the size of everyone's carry-on bag. You feel the gate agent's eyes burning a hole in yours? Is it too big?

Fine, next time, you'll pay for the carry-on. The anxiety is too much.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, a voice comes on the loudspeaker. You try to listen but can't hear it over the sound of the obnoxious businessman on the phone behind you.

The mass of people starts to form into something resembling a line: BOARDING.

Slowly you creep up toward the gate agent. With every step, you try to find a way to put yourself between them and your carry-on.

That anxiety starts to creep up again. Or is that just drunk paranoia?

You hand the Great Decider your boarding pass. They look at you. They know. They know you know. You know they know you know.

They scan your boarding pass: GREEN.

Be cool, you think to yourself. You take back the boarding pass and take a few steps. Another smirk is revealed.

Ha! You managed to escape. You managed to outsmart the corporate overlords.

You saunter down the jet bridge, victorious. You take a look down at your boarding pass. You've stared at the damn thing 100 times since check-in and still don't know which seat you're in: 22C.

An aisle! Second victory in a row.

The Plane

You step on the plane, passing by the smug first-class people. Look at them with their legroom. One day. One. Day.

You make your way down the aisle. You must recheck your ticket - right, 22C!

But your heart sinks again. Overhead bin space! You look down the plane - it's not looking good, so you stash your bag above row 15A. Nobody will know.

You finally hit 22C. You're the first one there and now optimistic you might get the row to yourself.

After a few seconds seated, the four mimosas come back. Yikes, you are a little drunk.

Inevitably a couple comes and dashes your hopes of an empty row. But that's ok; they seem nice enough.

You sit back down and get a little comfortable. Or at least as comfortable as you can get on these plywood-esque seats.

Suddenly a duffel bag hits you in the back of the head. God damn it. Why can't people control their shit? Idiots.

Then you see it. Peering over the seat in front of you is a chubby-cheeked infant. It smiles and waves at you. It's a devious smile, though, and it knows full well the hell it will unleash in approximately 45 minutes.

Not to worry, you have noise-canceling headphones!

Fuck, they're in your bag above 15A. Whatever, you'll get them when the seatbelt light is off.

Onboard

After what feels like an eternity of wondering why it takes people so long to put their shit away - you feel it.

The wheels start inching backward. Or is that the booze? You peer out the window to confirm. Both are confirmed.

You feign interest during the safety display. And in another act of corporate defiance, you keep using your phone - you know it doesn't matter anyway.

Finally, you're in the air!

The seatbelt light comes off, and you bolt up to get the headphones. You can't get stuck behind the drink cart.

You waddle up to 15A and sheepishly ignore the angry stares from passengers whose overhead space that rightfully is. Oops.

You get back to your seat, narrowly avoiding drink cart purgatory.

Then the hostess asks you if you want something to drink. Realizing you forgot to fill your water bottle, you ask for water. They ask for your credit card.

Damn, you forgot this is a budget carrier.

You scramble to dislodge your wallet from the seat. And then you hear it. That chubby-cheeked baby isn't so cute anymore, eh?

You hand over your credit card and ask for another mimosa.


I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even got a bit of a laugh. Reply and comment to let me know your worst airport story.

That's all for this week. I hope you're spending some time with family, friends, a roaring fire, and something tasty.

Salute,

Skylar

P.S. - do you remember last week's email when I wrote a poem about a dive bar? Well, I asked ChatGPT to write one too, and here's what it came up with. What do you think? Which do you like better?

A dive bar, a place of mystery,
A haven for those who seek company,
Where laughter and music fill the air,
And cares are left outside,
without a care.
The floor may be sticky,
the chairs may be worn,
But the atmosphere is lively, never forlorn.
Friends gather around the bar to share a drink,
The memories made here, forever in sync.
The bartender knows your name and your drink,
A friendly face, always there to think,
Of the perfect concoction to ease your mind,
Leaving you feeling warm and kind.
So if you're feeling down and all alone,
Head on down to the dive bar, your new home.
Where the music plays and the stories flow,
And the troubles of the world, they come and go.