The following first appeared in Stephinitely, a weekly newsletter from columnist Stephanie Hayes featuring a bonus column and behind-the-scenes chatter. To get it in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.
We deserve this, don’t we? This travel turmoil we find ourselves in circa 2022.
Humankind is spoiled. We have too much, and the country’s rash of airline woes are a natural contraction of amenities to correct our swollen, grumbling ways. We can simply board an air-conditioned tube with wings and within hours be drinking Imperial ale in Costa Rica. Our predecessors would have been stuck on a tall ship called, like, “Our Westerly Queen” made from crab claws for… one… two… 463 fortnights.
Do we ever stop, while gorging on Subway rotisserie chicken flatbreads and milky cisterns of Starbucks at the gate, to ponder travel at any other time in human history? Do we pause in gratitude for the opportunity to hurtle through the sky when the lady in the neighboring seat gets a little chatty?
No. We issue a closed-mouth Costco aisle grin then talk bad about her later. Fact: Conversations with strangers on airplanes are terrible. I mean, consider the physical setup. Where else would we sit adjacent, shoulders touching, pinkies dangerously close, faces a breath apart, and say, “SO, WHERE IS HOME? I AM GLAD YOU ARE WEARING A MASK. MY FRIEND STACY GOT COVID. HAVE YOU WATCHED THE NEW MINIONS MOVIE? I AM FROM PITTSBURGH.”
We deserve it! We deserve it when she says no one has common decency anymore, then proceeds to manspread into our precious floor space. We deserve that she is somehow still talking even as we slide in AirPods, the international sign for “This conference is unalive, mon frère.”
We have had this coming, the rudeness, the crusty bare toes, the gals in bralette tops who have clearly taken sour apple edibles and are trying to pee during takeoff. When we desperately ask for help finding a hotel as the flight home is canceled, we deserve a gate agent who deadpans, “The internet.” We deserve short-staffed airlines, suspended routes, slashed flights, no backups for unpredictable weather. Our greedy little bodies have cast perspective to the sea and are ready to partyyyyyy. The bill has come due.
I am working up to telling you what happened to my family in Costa Rica, but this framing makes me feel better. I suggest you use it next time your flight schedule is imperiled. Before you cry in front of an American Airlines employee, think of paying a farm boy to carry an oil lamp as you lift petticoats through the mud to call on ailing Aunt Clotilde in Gretna Green. Just say thank you.
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What happened? OK. We enjoyed a magical five nights in Costa Rica, doing volcano-ish things involving sloths and hot springs. Our flight from capital city San Jose to Miami was delayed, then delayed again, then canceled. No worries! We’ll get another! Think of the cowhide sails!
After a confusing hour spent in what can only be described as a holding cell in the basement of the airport, we were escorted through customs in groups of 30. We tried not to be Pushy Americans™ and patiently waited near the back. This was a mistake! We should have started fistfights with children and the elderly! By our turn, the good flights had flickered away like sickly fireflies. The only options were to live the rest of our lives in Costa Rica or take a four-hour bus ride in hopes of leaving from another airport the next day. “But our medication!” we cried, and everyone put in AirPods.
To the bus. An avuncular and friendly taxi driver who praised my middling Spanish turned out to be a traitor who took us to a different bus station 40 minutes afield and demanded cash. Once on the bus, we realized we were going back toward the airport bus stop where we started. It’s fine! Buggies! All those horses euthanized after tripping on a cobble!
The bus trip was actually 7½ hours, including a break at a glorious roadside potato chip emporium after 90 minutes in a traffic jam. The locals on the bus stayed so calm. It was admirable. Pushy Americans™ would have screamed at the powerless driver and organized a one-star Tripadvisor campaign. Or they would have choreographed a viral TikTok dance to Doja Cat and monetized the experience.
The driver gunned it like Han Solo, and we poured off the bus at 1 a.m. Somehow, we secured a taxi to take us to our new hotel, which we found on “the internet.” We flew peacefully to Miami the next day and drove — four more hours — home. It was stressful, scary and full of lying uncles, but offered a teachable moment that there is almost always a way forward, almost always a way home.
Just remember, though, we do deserve it. Despite current conditions, we are living in a blessed and highly favored era. We deserve to sit in aisle seats in the back row by the bathroom, noses inches from countless, and I do mean countless, butts. Just so many strange rear ends. Do you think they had sky toilets in the Middle Ages? Wine for $9? A USB port? No. They walked 30 miles in goatskin booties and probably died. Be thankful for each and every backside.
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