Saturday, April 24, 2010

Economy Minus

Fasten your seat belts, folks – we’ve got two posts this week. I’m just back from a little vacation, but before I launch into a tale of island romance on sun-splashed Kauai, we’ve got to cover my business trip to Chicago.  Since both trips have a different point, I’m breaking them up into two entries.

I know – a story with a point!  Two, no less.  Shocking.  Like Scheherazade with better taste in shoes.

Our first tale begins in the airport (actually, both tales begin in an airport.  My entire fucking life seems to take place in an airport these days.  It’s actually amazing this column hasn’t yet printed a review of Sbarro or Dunkin’ Donuts.)

And as long as we’re talking about airports, here’s a question I have after ten years of world travel:

Who the hell buys Penthouse at an airport?

Are there people so horny they can’t last the entire flight, and don’t have the skills to land a stewardess (excuse me: Air Waitress) or pick up a fellow passenger?  I can’t even imagine what I’d do if the guy next to me started leafing through a copy of Penthouse? (Well, I can, but I’m married now, so I don’t do that anymore.)

One of these days, when I get bored, I’m going to pick up a copy of Hustler and leaf through it on the Delta Shuttle.  “What?” I’d say to the Air Waitress.  “I bought it at the airport.”)

Anyway, if you’ve travelled in the U.S., then you’ve probably been to O’Hare Airport, and know that there’s no place more depressing than O’Hare airport (unless it’s Hartsfield.  Bleh.)  Want to double your disdain – try it on a Sunday.  I don’t know anyone in IT – particularly IT sales or consulting – who hasn’t had the Sunday fly-out.  There’s no surer way to kill you entire weekend than to fly on a Sunday.  You spend your whole Saturday trying to cram in your weekend stuff – the errands and the sleep and the opportunity to do something other than answer email or deliver dazzling and creative ideas through the totally limited medium of powerpoint  – all while simmering a barely controllable resentment that you are losing your Sunday.  If you’re leaving later in the day on Sunday, your day is dramatically cut short by airport travel, security, and the whole thing is a waste anyway.  If you leave in the morning, you lose your Saturday night and add an extra workday to your week.

Also, you have to devote precious brain space – on a weekend – to trying to figure out why they call it “Economy Plus.”  Economy Plus What?  It’s not plus a meal.  It’s not plus a movie.  OK – it’s plus, like, an inch and a half of leg room which, at 6’-1” is a rounding error.

My Sunday travel fell into the latter category, and 8am found me in a cab on the way to LaGuardia.  I was in Chicago by noon, ready to meet my co-worker and head out to a conference (at which we were both scheduled to give a presentation.)

I went to college in Chicago, so I can’t seem to go to Chicago without thinking about that time in my life.  Occasionally I will have to visit my alma mater – which I love, but which always reminds me of being 19.  Which always makes me wonder if I’ve become the person I was supposed to become, or had the potential to become, or wanted to become. 

Going back to the place you went to college has the potential to really mess with your head – because it makes you think about a teenage version of yourself.  The version that was brimming with energy and hope and dreams and possibility – which is a daunting thing to come face to face with when you’re middle-aged and married and, well, a little tired.  When you routinely find yourself in the place you went to school, it’s a bit like visiting you parents at Thanksgiving: you have to face the specter of your 19-year old self – only on a regular basis.

What was so weird about this trip was that – while I was in Chicago – I kept getting Facebook friend requests from a bunch of my old fraternity brothers.  People I hadn’t thought about in years (and one or two I had, because we had been pretty good friends, but lost contact), kept surfacing all week.  It was strange – almost as if time were looping in on itself like some missing scene from Lost (are we not DYING that Daniel Faraday showed up last week?  DYING!  And am I the only one who will admit to having a major crush on Desmond?)

All of it made me wonder: is there a point in the middle of our lives where we look to who we were for clues about who we are?  I have this theory that all men, as they encounter middle age, begin to feel a little lost.  They become inured to the realization that the trajectory they’re on is the one they’re likely to stay on for the rest of their lives – in their careers, their marriages – which is why so many men up and do stupid things in middle age what really aren’t about their jobs or their wives or anything external.  It’s a rebellion against that feeling of being lost – of feeling that who you were, who you are, and who you wanted to be are all dramatically different things.  It is about wanting to feel “free” – because when you were young enough to actually BE free, you didn’t feel it, know it realize it.  And all of a sudden you remember being young enough that every decision wasn’t fraught with so many considerations and consequences; you didn’t need to weigh what you’d have to give up against what you’d gain.  You didn’t need to worry that a decision was irreversible – if something didn’t work out, there was enough time to pick again. 

It’s hard to feel that way as you approach 40.  Sure, you could decide tomorrow that you really do want to try being a rock star or a talk show host or an astronaut – but you’re probably going to have to give up your job (and, likely, a great deal of financial freedom, along with the self-worth that are intrinsically tied to career and money among men).  Plus, you’re competing with guys 10-20 years younger, with more training or more recent training.  Reinvention and starting over is the great American promise, but it’s largely an illusion for a lot of people.

Some would call this a luxury problem, but the adjective doesn’t diminish the noun.

1 comment:

  1. Astute, well-articulated observations. For a fleeting moment, I almost felt like a middle-aged man. I'll cheer myself up by thinking of our mutual crush, Desmond. Meanwhile, talk to S, he's having the same thoughts. Love you. CKB