When you’re always traveling, as I was for many years of my life, you always feel like you’re accomplishing something, even if all you’re doing is shuttling back and forth between the same few places. Spend all day reading and watching TV and you basically did nothing. Spend all day reading and watching TV on a plane, starting in one city and ending in another, and you’ve been busy indeed.
At first I was traveling so much because I was running a company that had offices in two places. Later, it was because I had gotten so used to being in constant motion that it had stopped feeling unusual. When you’re already on a plane all the time, the marginal impact of any one additional flight feels negligible, and it was easy to accept every invitation that came my way, to fly to North Carolina for the wedding of someone I wasn’t even that close to because hey, why not, it might be fun. No one wants to be constantly away from home, but when you’re traveling all the time, you end up not even feeling like you have much of a home to be away from.
Besides, I always liked airports. Some of it was the symbolism: when you’re in an airport you feel like you could be anyone, could have any life. That you’re one person when the plane takes off, but who knows who you’ll be by the time it comes down. Of course, most of the time when you land you’re the same person you were when you took off, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy being suspended in that liminal space for a few brief, glorious moments.
And sure, even the nicest airports are somewhat unpleasant, but there’s a satisfaction that comes from having an intimate familiarity with even an unpleasant place. After years of navigating the same few airports over and over there was a certain magic to the ease with which I was able to perform the intricate ballet of steps that takes one from the entrance to the gate: knowing which drop-off area is closest to the precheck security line, the deposit of my phone in my bag and my bag onto the conveyor belt in one single smooth motion. I prided myself on having this routine down to the minute. If you get to the airport and don’t walk straight through security onto your plane, I liked to say, you got there too early.
And I was good at being on planes too. Good at packing light, good at cramming my carry-on bag into even the most tiny and inhospitable spaces. Good at not getting bored during flights. And so good at sleeping on them that to this day I have a Pavlovian association that leads me to fall asleep for twenty minutes or so on almost every flight I take.
On some level I’m sure I knew that all these red-eyes weren’t good for me, that all this sleeping on floors and couches and cardboard Airbnb mattresses was probably taking a toll. If you’d asked me to design my ideal life, it probably wouldn’t have involved two flights a month. But for the most part, I never really questioned it. It was just the way things were.
Lately I’ve been traveling again, just a bit, for the first time in years. Five days in Detroit recently left me absolutely exhausted, and I couldn’t believe I used to do this every few weeks, couldn’t believe I could live like this without it taking a constant toll on my mental health. Then I realized that it obviously did take a constant toll on my mental health—I had just been doing it for so long that I no longer noticed.
I won’t ever again build a life that requires me to travel so much, or trick myself into thinking the life I already have requires more travel than it really does. But I still love airports—even after years away from Detroit’s I could navigate with my eyes closed.
In fact I’m writing this from the air right now. Who will I be when I land? Probably the same person I always am. But a boy can dream.