I had to spend the night at Gate B27.
Ever have one of those weeks that just feels like the whole thing is conspiring against you? What can go wrong will go wrong. You might as well stretch some bedding out on the couch, move some pillows, and dig up a spare blanket, because your old college buddy, Murphy, is going to stay a while. Dixie and I just had one of those weeks.
I don’t want to really bait and switch you here. I’m not asking for a bunch of comments and messages asking if we’re okay. We are. But the situations that have arisen recently aren’t far enough in the past for me to really reflect on teachable moments or deep insights. Our temporal proximity to ground zero is very close, and the dust hasn’t quite settled. We’re healthy, we’re safe. We’re just emotionally rattled.
However, recently, I do have a recurring memory, reminding me of the time that I spent a whole night trying to get some sleep on the grey, office carpet of Gate B27 in the Denver International Airport. I was on my first business trip out of the state, flying to Wisconsin for work at a couple gas terminals. This was not my first trip of this nature for the summer project, but it was the first and only that required detailed travel plans like flights and rental cars.
The itinerary was as follows: Fly from Montana to Denver for a short dinnertime layover. Fly from Denver to Minneapolis. Pick up rental car and go for a 3 hour nighttime drive to the hotel. Get 7 hours of sleep before reporting fresh to work.
It was an excellent plan if I do say so myself. Maximum efficiency. But context clues have probably shown you the major flaw: delays. My first flight was late by about an hour in arriving to Montana, causing my short dinnertime layover to shrink to about 20 minutes. Okay, doable, but cutting it close. Then! Then, our aircraft is directed into a holding pattern above Denver due to a large amount of traffic. My 20 minute window becomes 15, then 10, then 2. I believe I watched my Minnesota bound plane takeoff without me from the supreme comfort of my upright, tray-table forbidden seat, thousands of feet in the air.
Okay, connection missed. Do I want to stay mad about it? First, I confirm on my airline app that my bag is set aside, to discover that I’ve been automatically booked for the next, soonest available flight that takes off at 0700 the next morning. It is 2145 now. At least my flight is booked, bag secured. Check. Win for systems and customer service. I call the car rental company to let them know I will be about 14 hours late. Check. Win for tech and communication. Now for some dinner. I wander the B concourse for so long trying to make a dinner choice, that they all close except for McDonald’s. I approach the McDonald’s counter as the sharp-suited business man ahead of me finishes his order and just as the employee puts up the “closed” sign. That employee walks off, and the look of dumb bewilderment that involuntarily twisted my face must have made her feel some degree of sympathy and pity, because an angel of McDonald’s moves the sign, and takes my hurried and thankful order with a smile. She was willing to take the ire and anger of her coworkers having to create one more order, of which she took much, visually and audibly. I tipped her personally and privately for stepping in like that. Win for humanity.
So the details are worked out, a mostly satisfying meal has begun the digestive process, and then it dawns on me, “I think I have to sleep here tonight.” I was taking each detail in stride and as they arose in importance, I lost sight of the big picture. DIA might just be my overlarge, overpriced bedroom for the night. I called my wife up home to give her the news. I search for a customer service desk for my airline to look into vouchers and hotels. All the desks have now been vacated. They’ve gone home. I’ve missed that window too. I find my next flight on the monitor and meander my way down to Gate B27.
The story basically ends there. I eventually take off in the morning, get the car, make the drive, and start work right away. I slept for about 13 hours after leaving work. Back at the airport and in the timeline, I stuffed my laundry bag with clean clothes for a pillow, wrapped my bag straps around my legs, scooted under a row of chairs, headphones in, phone charging and gripped tightly, and tried to sleep. If you’ve ever tried this, you know how futile my attempt to sleep really was. I’m on carpeted concrete, no padding, no insulation, no darkness, no comfort. And it turns out, an airport really never sleeps! Lights stay on, cleaning crews sweep the area in trained formation, red eye customers walking and talking, gate and departure announcements over the intercom, planes and trucks still constantly moving outside in the tarmac.
I really can’t tell why this memory is popping up this week, amidst today’s struggles and questions. As if the present didn’t need my full attention. But I can remember an odd peace, not resignation, but acceptance throughout my fitful night in the airport. I remember sitting at B27 and thinking, “This air travel system is incredibly complex. There are bound to be some glitches. This just is.”
Maybe that’s what my past is trying to remind my present? This just is. Do you want to stay mad about these circumstances largely out of your control? Does it benefit anyone for you to yell at the closing McDonalds employee? Can you celebrate and be inspired by the systems that put you and your bag on the next flight? Can you be grateful and generous with the woman willing to serve you dinner after closing time? Can you enjoy the extra time to read and listen to podcasts? This just is.
Between every stimulus and response, there is a choice. That’s what I’m teaching me this week. Anakephalaiosasthai. So let me revise my opening line:
had got to spend the night at Gate B27.