Tension & Release

Airplane travel, I realize, is all about tension and release.

It begins even before you leave the house. You pack your bags and agonize over what to bring, what not to bring, will this be necessary or will I regret not using the space for something of more substantial value? Am I really going to use my full-spectrum therapy lamp during my weekend in Florence?  I'm pretty sure I'll be spending most of the time at the beach. It is the middle of August after all. But what if I get to Florence and only too late realize that an overnight coup of government has brought down marshal law and I end up sequestered to my hotel room? I would become a trifle off-kilter without my full-spectrum lamp, wouldn't I? Better pack it just in case. For the same reason, I should pack my collapsible easel and watercolour set, in case the creative mood should strike me whilst wandering the majestic streets of Brandon, Manitoba. Invariably, I always seem to pack far too much or far too little, and never the correct necessities for whatever adventure on which I am embarking. Thus my tension begins.

It continues the day of the flight, setting quadruple alarms to make sure you don't sleep in—which becomes a complete moot point since the paranoia of waking up late prevents you from achieving any modicum of sleep in the first place. Yet somehow with all your preparations and paranoia, you still manage to scurry around the apartment like a coked-up squirrel with short-term Alzheimer's fussing over last minute details which you curse yourself for over-looking.

You fret that even though your flight doesn't begin boarding for hours, some unforeseen complication will delay you at the check-in desk for eternity. Some nitwit who processed your reservation accidentally booked you on a connection that turned out to be oversold and now they have to re-route you to Hong Kong via Sidney when you were only trying to fly from Portland to San Jose. If you are spared the agony of delays checking in, you are ushered directly to your next level of Purgatory: checking in your luggage. Beads of sweat moisten your brow as you compare your suitcase, loaded with ponchos and hiking boots and encyclopedias, to those being weighed and measured ahead of you and you know beyond a doubt that you have packed too much, that the scale will determine your bags as the over-sized burden that will bring your flight down over the Atlantic. At the very least, you will have to pay a moderate fee to compensate for your utter disregard for the rules and regulations, not to mention the overall safety of your fellow passengers.

But your bag goes through fine—you exhale with relief. You watch as your luggage is taken away by the guys in charge. They are now out of your hands, out of sight and out of mind. Your burden is instantly lightened. Armed only with the contents of your pockets and your easily manageable carry-on bag, you enjoy this brief reprieve from worry.

It does not last long, because now you must face the security check. And no matter how confident you may have been up to this point, the security check is expert at nurturing every paranoid thought the human mind is capable of conceiving. It doesn't matter how well you know your carry-on, as you wait for your turn to place your bag on the conveyer belt you begin questioning everything. Could I have accidentally packed my hunting blade in the wrong bag?  Maybe there's cocaine in the side pocket of my back-pack that I'm unaware of.  That happens all the time, doesn't it? Random plantings of cocaine from strangers who only want to see the world burn and the innocent squirm, they run rampant through the city, reeking senseless havoc on me and people like me. I've never traveled with these boots before. I bought these boots from the army surplus store—maybe there is a secret retractable bayonet blade hidden in the thick sole of the boot that I was never told about when purchasing them. Never mind how many times that would have come in handy while wandering around drunk at night pretending to be a vigilante, it's going to get me water-boarded here.

But the security check goes fine, you even pass through the metal detector alright even though you entertain the momentary notion that at some point since the last time you traveled you inherited or absorbed some manner of metal body part. Perhaps an experiment by the government, or aliens. Perhaps some accident which involved reconstructive surgery, which you're unable to recall because of deep psychological trauma. Such ridiculousness passes through your mind every second as you pass all the magnets and X-rays, red and green lights, uniforms, beeping carts, buzzing alarms, advertisements and warnings intermingled and indistinguishable from each other. You don't know whether to buy life insurance, have a coke, see some sights or report a felony which you fear may have occurred.

All the overly aggressive and threateningly strict restrictions and precautions do little to reassure me when travelling by air, which doesn't help considering that air travel as a theory alone is a daunting premise. What could be more unnerving than the thought of rocketing off the ground at a thousand hundred kilometres a second while being locked inside a giant, winged, aluminium tampon?


Bernard was born in a house in the country in Thunder Bay, Canada. His poetry and fiction has been published in EveryDay Poets, Winterwind, and Ink, Sweat & Tears. He currently resides in Vancouver with his wife. They fly rarely. He tweets @BernardSBarnes


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