(While this is a poor satire, I extend my apologies to poet, author and NPR contributor Andrei Condrescu)
Nachtflug. It sounds fitting in German. Italian and French make it too pretty. Volo nottore or vol de nuit sound romantic and even vaguely appealing.
Let’s call it what it is.
A punishment conceived by Dante in one his darker moments.
It is the kind of ashen day that I really need Cormac McCarthy’s assistance to describe.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Flashing back to the previous day marks the boundaries of this particular punishment. If I had just told you I was flying out of LAX you might well have winced sympathetically.
When I tell you that I arrived a bit after 11:30 PM for a flight home that would leave at 1:40 AM a tear might even well up in your eye.
But when I tell you that it is a redeye with a connection and a 3 hour layover I can see your eyes harden and your lips compress in judgment.
I can see the loathing in your look. You know that I am being punished for some unspeakable act. I deserve no pity in your view, as I must have done something to deserve a punishment this horrible. I can only bow my head in shame even though I do not know my crime.
There is little in our society to match the misery of a redeye. Three and a half hours of haunted, restless sleep that is carefully calculated to make you feel worse than when you closed your eyes. The timing of that shallow rest carefully breaks all the rules of REM and alpha waves and delivers the comfort of Chinese water torture.
I awoke with knots and kinks in my muscles that left me feeling like a deep see diver with the bends. My mouth was redolent with a flavor that I can only describe as “taxi floor” and I felt simultaneously full and hungry with a queasy overtone like I had been on a seven-day binge in New Orleans.
I crawled off the plane after considering calling for a wheelchair. Shame won out over my desire but only by a very narrow margin.
I stepped off the plane into an airport that must have been designed by the architectural firm responsible for Alcatraz. The place was a mix of cruel neon lighting and bricks the color of hopelessness.
I stumbled up to a cafe with an ironic name and blinked in confusion as the hostess asked me a question. Obviously sensing my confusion she repeated herself. “Smoking or non, darlin’?”
I tasted bile but managed to choke out “non-smoking” and follow her to a table. An impossibly cheerful server brought me water and coffee and offered me my choice of a last meal. The smell of the coffee romanced and appalled me but the promised caffeine was the stronger draw.
Each option on the menu set my stomach rolling. In a fit of self-loathing I ordered the biscuits and gravy. I was reasonably certain I couldn’t feel any worse.
“Smoking or non? Smoking or non? Smoking or non?” My horror multiplied as 6 consecutive people checked in for voluntary smoke inhalation punishments and I bowed my head in a silent moment of prayer for each. Perhaps I should consider taking up smoking, they all looked so happy with their fate.
In the most horrible of times God allows all of us a moment of brightness. Something perfect and pure that we can cling to and base our hope on. Mine came in the form of a travel toothbrush. I cannot describe the bliss and relief I felt in the small act of brushing my teeth. I briefly considered throwing the brush in the trash can and burning the whole airport down around it but realized that not even this would erase its scars. The tooth-brush had suffered enough for my sins for one day.
I caromed from gate to gate before arriving at A9 and my blessed tunnel to escape and home.
I walked past the albino man with the piercings I had seen on first class on the flight from Los Angeles. He was on my flight and looked clear-eyed and refreshed. I briefly considered killing him for his effrontery but decided this was a small overreaction. Besides , I had already done far worse to the toothbrush, and that weighed on my soul.
Finally, my allotted time in this airport of lost souls drew to a merciful close. A final brief commuter flight was as bumpy as my stomach but ended in the sweet vision of my wife there to meet me outside of baggage claim.
I may yet live a normal life but I will carry the scars of the ride for many years to come.