Mr Banh Mi and I spent some time in South Bend, Indiana this past weekend for my brother’s wedding. We spent some time in the Studebaker museum for their reception, but otherwise engaged in family activities. We aren’t the College Football Hall of Fame type, so we stuck to our favorite family activity: gossiping.
We flew in and out of Chicago O’Hare on United. I am a United Mileage Plus Gold member and generally love them. Yeah, lots of people bitch about them and yeah, sometimes I am #24 on a list of 47 for an upgrade but I get my seat in premium economy. I get upgraded for free about every fifth flight, and that does me right. They call me if the plane is late, rebook me automatically in a cancellation, and generally don’t rip me off too hard in exchange for a glass of wine in the sky. I am usually either flying to Chicago or connecting through it so I know my way around that airport. Tortas Fronteras is the bomb.com. The tiny bar en route to gates B 19 – 22 has good views of the airplanes. The ladies room along the lower B gates often has a line.
My memory was refreshed as we spent 5 hours in O’Hare. Hundreds of my nearest and dearest who were in the same position as we were — delays creeping back hour by hour — but no cancellation.
I know what I’m doing. I was tracking my inbound aircraft making sure that took off. I was tracking other flights operated by United Express. I was watching the other DC flights. I would have almost preferred to stay than deal with this increasing drama. In hopes of avoiding the hassle of a cancellation, I spent an hour in line to offer to take a bump for another flight. The agents shook their heads at me — there were 47 people on the standby list– my bump wasn’t going to be helpful. Mr Banh Mi and I checked area hotels to see where we could cash some points in for a night’s stay. We got a little excited about an impromptu, Chicago weekday trip. I could take him for Japanese on the Near North Side that I love. We could forage for delicious meats in tube form. We could…And then we heard our flight boarding.
After sitting on the tarmac for nearly an hour, we took off into the storm. I was gripped by a ridiculous but very real, in-the-moment panic that this plane was going to go down and we were going to die. We were on a 60-ish seat regional jet flying over some thunderstorms. We were sitting in the back. It was loud. You could feel the plane heave and bounce. I almost felt my cheeks flapping with the velocity. Every slight breeze sent a surge of electric energy across where I had shingles a year ago. My palms were sweating. My legs were tense. My vision blurred. I was panicking. Whenever you read about panic attacks people will tell you they think they are going to die. I’ve had a few in my life– I am a Nervous Nellie — and this is true. I was in a state where I was beginning to slip away from rational thought and I was doing everything I could think of to to snap out of it. I kept telling myself “no plane ever crashed because of turbulence”. I drew deep, belly-filling yoga breaths. I bargained with the following deities: Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I held back tears, and then it happened.
I forsake “The DREAM”. I thought, “I am too scared to do this. The voice of the Captain sounds 25. A baby pilot is flying this plane and he won’t know what to do. If I survive this plane ride, I won’t do it. I can’t live through this again. I won’t get on another plane. I’ll move to the suburbs and live in a padded house and put my nervous babies in bubbles. ”
Then we landed and I promptly relaxed and told whichever deity that got us safely to the ground that I was just kidding about that part. The “maybe I’m too much of a scaredy cat to do this” part.
Welcome to the Mrs Banh Mi Brain. It is a place that’s prickly with fear of the unknown. The uncontrolled. If I can’t fly from Chicago to DC on a mid-size airplane over a thunderstorm with a company I have trained myself to trust, how am I going to fly budget asian airlines in planes from 1998? How can I trust the Cambodian bus driver not to kill us? How can I trust a Vietnamese tuktuk driver not to crash and burn? How am I going to have no plan? No eye to the exit row?
So we talk a big game about this trip. We talk a big game about the adventure, about bucking the daily grind. But deep down inside, I am terrified.