It was 8 pm, still early but late enough that sleep itched at the back of my throat. I was in the back of an Uber driven by the most talky Mormon I’ve ever met. Her name was Wendy. I don’t mean to stereotype them, but every one of Brigham Young’s kin I’ve ever met has been loquacious, telling me their life’s story. Years ago, I worked the box office at the Sundance Film Festival and rented an AirBnB from a Salt Lake City lady named M___. M was the kind of person who likes to bond by sharing the story of her abusive childhood over mugs of hot cocoa. With marshmallows on top. It was a twisted version of the game we play as kids, comparing scars from dangerous escapades that include rollerblading and running from the neighborhood’s mean dog.
Wendy decided to skip such heady fare, keeping the subjects to her family and the Christmas gifts she’d bought for them. For her niece, Wendy gifted her a book from a hot new YA author she recently chauffeured. The author was on her way back from signing a book deal, but despite this news she wasn’t in a good mood. This was mostly due to the fact that her trip ended with her nearly amputating her middle finger — her writing middle finger.
For some reason, in the middle of the flight, this author stuck her hand under the seat, maybe to check to see if the life vest was truly there. I can’t lie, I’ve done the same before, even though I’d just finished watching another one of those zany safety videos airlines employ to entertain passengers. You know, the ones with songs or puns about properly securing your oxygen mask. They’re on the same level of hilarity as a preacher farting at a funeral.
I felt as if they insisted upon themselves, trying too hard to convince me that things would be OK if we crashed into the ocean. What were they hiding? And so I thrust my hand under, but unfortunately, the YA author wasn’t able to thrust her hand back out. The middle finger was stuck. An ambulance sped down the tarmac to free her finger. But it came at a cost; she tore a ligament.
“She had a bandage wrapped around it so tight, it stood straight up. She kept flipping me the bird,” Wendy said with delight, the only person I’ve ever met to greet an obscene gesture with a smile.
I interjected her tale every now and then with polite mms and aahs. Small talk is not my strong suit, and as I was also coming from the airport — though with all my limbs intact — I was too exhausted to form sentences, but not because I’d just traveled a long way. Unfortunately,my trip was resigned to the airport terminal. I was supposed to fly out to Atlanta, but a mysterious power shortage effectively shut down Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport.
Over ten hours I tried to glean information from the desk agents, only to discover Twitter was more up-to-date than their computers. Soon I and other passengers began to share the gossip we’d heard about what was wrong in Atlanta. Was it a construction error? A hacker? A terrorist attack? In between guesses, we popped our heads up to the gate monitor, watching the delays increase until they finally announced the flight’s cancellation.
The mad dash began. People from over three different flights to Atlanta hurried to rebook flights at the downstairs kiosks and collect their suitcases from airport purgatory, otherwise known as “on route.” It’s the two words airports use when they don’t know where things are, but they imply movement, progress, that’s supposed to comfort people.
Meanwhile, we wait. I waited, holding back my impulse to knock over the poinsettias decorating the Delta booking desk and scream, “Fuck Christmas!” I didn’t because being more patient is one of my New Year’s resolutions, but also because a local TV news crew had set up shop behind me to film the stranded masses. “News at ten! How one woman had a mental breakdown at LAX, and it’s not even Christmas Eve.”
So I reeled it in and focussed on finding the right words to get people to sympathize with my plight, complimenting the clerk on her nail polish so her nails will click-clack a little faster on the booking keyboard or pointing out the Lady Traveling with Large Dog’s dog is in fact rather large to initiate a convo about whether or not it’s true the airline will hand out complimentary sandwiches. Small talk.
Traveling is a series of negotiations with hotels, bus depots, and credit card companies so they don’t mark your flight overseas as unusual and freeze your account. I think that’s why a lot of people find it so daunting, well, outside of the cost and the free time travelling requires. To travel well is to perfect small talk, and I am a perfectionist.
So as Wendy neared my apartment, where I would hibernate for two days before attempting another trip east, I decided to open my mouth and use full sentences. Communication is key, after all.