34/300: Well Before Dawn

I set the alarm for 3:38 and took a Tylenol PM at 8:30. The app wasn’t letting me get updates on my flights and snow had blown in, upping the possibility of delay. I needed gas. I showered quickly to account for the time. Usually, it’s about an hour to the airport, a little over 40 miles and a state away. At this time of morning? Who knew. But among my biggest phobias is missing a flight.

A quick stop for gas, just me and the attendant up and out at 4:05 AM. A quiet world blanketed in four inches of fresh snow. It was me and the truckers on the highway. No police officers, no highway patrol perched by the side of the road waiting for speeders to snare in their web.

I put on a podcast, but didn’t listen. It’s hard to listen so early in the morning, hard to listen when you’re facing the machinations and intertwining steps of an out and back to New York in February. If we got snow in Cincy the night before, it would be hitting The City at around rush hour the next evening. I had to plan for that, think through check-in, settle-in, the flight, the landing, the cab to Manhattan.

My first meeting wasn’t until noon. If all went to plan I would land at 8, but there were no other flights leaving later. Where would I go? Probably to the office to sit and write, to catch up on e-mails and with colleagues there. Drink some coffee, call the kids. Hail cab down to 23rd and Park for lunch with strangers. Hail another one back to 52nd and 6th for a meeting with my boss’s boss’s boss. He wanted to meet. It was his idea. He’s the reason I set the alarm.

Maybe I could get him to move the meeting up, stand a chance of catching an earlier flight home, maybe miss the snow. Maybe. But probably not. His life is measured in 15 minute increments and I have two of them back to back later in the day – something not a lot of people I work with get a chance to claim.

A day in the City, many young people’s dream. For me, it’s just another day away from home, surrounded by strangers, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, uncomfortable rooms, uncomfortable situations. Try explaining that to your wife and kids, how the gleam is off the rose, how the City’s lily has rusted for you. How you see the trash not the lights, the crowd, not the people. Trying explaining to your friends and family who don’t get to go places like you do that you’d rather be at home, training the dog, carpooling to practice, helping with homework.

No one would believe you. You’re an asshole if you try.

I love to travel. I love the process and the planning, the adaptation and improvisation. I love the feeling when you first take off and the pilot pulls the yolk back twenty degrees. You’re pushed back into your seat, you feel the ground disappear beneath you, the landing gear spin and retract. That never gets old. Neither does the rush of what to do next – deplane, get your bearings, find a cab, remember where you’re going. Even on such little sleep. Even when you’d rather be home.

It’s easy to get jaded, to take for granted our extraordinary times and the way we live. A trip to London? We’ll have you there between breakfast and dinner. Going to the City? There’s hardly time for your coffee to get cold. It’s astounding when you step back and think of it.

But it’s hard to look forward to when you’ve gone to bed worried just after the kids. It’s hard to look forward to when you’ve set the alarm for 3:38. It’s hard to look forward to when you rub the dog’s ears, kiss your wife and kids heads and slip off into the cover of darkness across a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

The only thing you can look forward to is retracing your steps, parking your car and kissing their heads when you sneak back in after midnight. You rub the dog’s ears, eat an apple from the fridge, slip off your clothes and back into bed without bothering to set the alarm.

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