Making It Home

Passenger plane
Air travel is a privilege. I know that. I have read the Little House on the Prairie series enough to know that Laura Ingalls Wilder would give me a total, “Bitch, please!” look if she heard me complaining that it took me 10 hours to get from Chicago to New Orleans. But I am not a brave prairie girl with a pioneer spirit who will happily eat cold bits of food inside a covered wagon while fording a river. I am an entitled, spoiled middle-class American, and I was pissed off because my iPhone was dying and my flight kept getting delayed and my toddler – also completely spoiled – was hungry and cranky and tired.

Chicago itself had been wonderful. Yes, it was way too cold – I am such a Southerner that I refused to even wrap my brain around the idea that late April anywhere could require warm clothes, and so I packed sundresses for the baby and tank tops for myself and sandals for us both. I didn’t bring a single pair of socks. But I was staying with my best friend, and she lent me socks and baby sweaters, and we mostly just stayed inside and drank coffee and wine and gossiped and acted out various scenes from Frozen with her 3-year-old. I guess that’s not what most people go to Chicago to do, but it was perfect for me.

I was ready to go home, though, by Wednesday, and our first flight, from Chicago to Nashville went fine. But then we started getting delayed. And delayed. And delayed.

When the flight finally boarded four hours late, it was close to Georgia’s bedtime, and she and Robert and I were all completely done with the day. But it slowly dawned on me, as we filed through the jet bridge (yes, I just Googled “what is that thing called that you walk on to board an airplane”) that most people boarding with us weren’t weary and eager to end their vacation. They were drunk and eager to start their vacation at Jazz Fest. They were cheering and yelling and singing and making friends with everyone. LOUDLY.

I love New Orleans. I love people who love New Orleans. I even love obnoxious drunk tourists when I’m in the right frame of mind. But when you’ve been trying to get home for the better part of a day and you’re covered in cracker crumbs and toddler pee, listening to some guy proclaim five times in a row that he’s going to “get bourbon-faced on Shit Street,” your – or at least my – patience starts to fray a bit.

I’ve never felt the disconnect between local and tourist quite so strongly as I did on that flight, whispering lullabies to the sleeping baby on my chest and wanting desperately to be home in bed while listening to the people all around me talk about Hurricanes and Hand Grenades and partying till dawn.

“I’ll shoot you a text later, babe; we’ll hang out,” one guy (LOUDLY) told his seatmate, who had been a stranger to him earlier in the day.

In a more sentimental frame of mind, I would’ve thought, “Aww, that’s the power of New Orleans. You can make friends with anyone, anywhere, even on an airplane at 10 o’clock at night, if you have New Orleans in common.”

But I wasn’t feeling sentimental. I was feeling crabby and hating everyone around me for their stupid, noisy revelry when all I wanted to do was get home, put the baby in her crib, and take a hot bath.

When the plane finally touched down, the passengers around me cheered. “Finally!” the woman behind me said. “I have been waiting for this all day!”

I had, too. And now, a couple of days later, I can see that my dark mood and murderous thoughts directed to the boisterous drunks all around me really were out of proportion to the situation. We are lucky to live here year-round. I can’t get too bent out of shape that some people – who have to live in other places, cold and snowy places, places where you can’t drink on the streets all night long – got a little too excited at the prospect of spending a weekend here.

I am definitely no Laura Ingalls Wilder. I will never learn to be stoic, take setbacks with unfailing good humor, delight in making a balloon out of a pig bladder, or subsist for an entire winter on bread and weak tea. But I am not so spoiled that I can’t recognize that even when it is inconvenient or less than perfect, air travel is a privilege – and so is being able to say, “I’m home” when the plane lands in New Orleans.