Airports are for drinking, which everyone knows.
Some of my best binges were in airports, which led to binging on planes, which led to navigating any number of strange cities through the delicious fog of my own toxicity. Standing, hip cocked, waiting for my bag, reinstalling Uber through a Boingo hotspot, then carefully avoiding conversation with the driver in case I was slurring. Hotel. Key card. Room service drinking because, by then, who cares about money? Then, finally, oblivion in a puffy pile of four hotel pillows.
If you peel away the marvelous fuzz filter of three glasses of wine, airports are stark. There are lights everywhere, but no sparkle. People everywhere, but no interaction. Water fountains everywhere, but they’re all broken. When I was drinking, airports were exotic societies with no rules. Forty bucks for a pair of earbuds? Of course! Eighteen fifty for a salad I have to eat with a plastic fork? It’s an honor! Another fifteen-dollar neck pillow to add to the pile of neck pillows I never remember to bring with me? OMG I’ll take a green one, please! And yes to talking politics with the stranger on the next bar stool. And yes to shrugging at another five-hour delay because time loses all meaning as soon as you enter the line for security. And yes to fat, trashy John Grisham novels and People magazine and napping in public and toilets that flush while you’re still sitting on them and sidewalks that do the walking for you. (Sober, I am revealed as a Type A person who will walk on an already-moving sidewalk. I used to just lean and enjoy the ride unless I was in a hurry which was never.)
When I was drinking, airport bars were, themselves, the airport. It’s only now that I really notice the gates, newsstands, Jetson-like charging stations, and revolving doors with chambers large enough to engulf families of five. I knew these things were there when I was drinking, but they were ancillary to the real reason we have airports: for the anonymous (i.e. guilt-free) drinking made possible by saint-like airport bartenders who knew that their job was to keep the pours coming, keep them generous, and to never, ever lift an eyebrow when the tab crests $75 and there’s been no food. The bars themselves are gleaming oases with racing stripes of neon illuminating the bottles or soft diffused lights underneath making the bottles of toxins glow like potions.
The fact that airplanes are gleaming metal death machines becomes a bigger deal when one is clear-headed. Alcohol used to widen the synapses in my brain, so I couldn’t figure out that a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet is a terrifying 7.6 miles above ground. Strap me into a pressurized steel tube carrying over 63,000 gallons of flammable fuel and rocket me 10K into the stratosphere, and yes: I get nervous. I used to have a pre-flight, three-drink minimum because two didn’t do the job. It was that third drink that unpacked the anxiety bag, leaving its contents under the bar stool for the night staff to sweep up. (So grateful that airlines have not figured out how to charge for emotional baggage, though if they had it would have offset the cost of the booze, am I right?)
Now, my fear of flying is with me from the moment I hit the “book flight” button on Orbitz through touchdown on the destination runway. There is no ferment available to lift it off my back and I have to carry it everywhere in spite of all the opportunities to medicate it away. I ask not for whom the bottles in the flight attendant’s cart rattle, as they rattle not for me and the sadness of that is so large it almost needs its own seat assignment. I sometimes order a can of Bloody Mary mix (hold the vodka), which is really spicy V-8 juice, just for the memories. Just for the sight of it, pouring thickly down onto the rocks which is where I assume the plane will also end up with me among its mangled remains.
If I had ever learned the twelve steps, I would know which one it is that tells us to pray. Midflight is the only place I’ve tried it and, since I haven’t crashed yet, maybe it’s working. Maybe my clumsy prayers to the gods of aerodynamics have kept me alive, and since not dying is the number one goal of my recovery, maybe I’m doing something right.