It’s possible to suffer jet lag even if you don’t leave your time zone. I know this because I’m still trying catch up after a day spent trying to get home.
My daughter and I went away last weekend, and found ourselves parked in the Philadelphia airport during the snowstorm. We boarded the plane at 9 a.m., and as we sat there waiting for take-off, snow was quickly covering the windows.
The captain said we’d be rolling out to the deicing station. An hour later, sheets of green liquid spilled into view as the antifreeze washed the snow from our window. Maybe we would finally be headed for home.
There are worse things than sitting in coach, folded up like a staple remover, for three hours, but right then I couldn’t conjure them. Grace was dozing on my shoulder, and I dared not stretch to get comfortable. And so it was a relief for my neck and back when the captain said, “There’s too much snow. We’re headed back to the gate.”
We returned to the terminal to find mobs of people who had been through the same drill. What did people do before there were cell phones? Grace and I took the two last open seats in the hallway, directly across from a bank of pay phones. All were empty.
All around us, flights were being canceled, causing clusters of frustrated travelers to form around the help desks. Occasionally, the air would be punctuated by a loud obscenity. The gate agent said an announcement would be made in the next 30 minutes about when we would reboard the plane; she asked that we stay in the immediate area.
Every so often a loud rumbling would spread through the crowded gate, the result of a passenger conveying a new snippet of information, and everyone would make phone calls.
“Don’t you wish you owned the cell phone company?” I asked Grace, and she looked up from the game she was playing on her smartphone and shrugged.
Hungry, we thought of going to a restaurant, but at the Philly airport that means a long shuttle bus journey, and so we made do with what we could forage from the convenience shops: pretzels, juice, an apple and a banana.
There’s something in airport air that makes hair greasy and skin pasty and children grumpy. By 3 p.m., Grace was tired of her game and of me.
In every long ordeal there’s a point at which you realize you can no longer sustain your current level of frustration, and you start hoping for different things. By 5 p.m., I was giving up hope that we would fly home that night, and started to hope they would cancel so that we could get on the shuttle and find a real restaurant. We nabbed two slices of yucky pizza from a stand. I wanted to do like the Very Hungry Caterpillar and chew through one nice green leaf.
The boards showed almost every flight as canceled, but not ours. I gave Grace some money for snacks, and she returned with a big bag of Reese’s Pieces. I ate two handfuls, a forgivable slip that I’ll pay for all week.
Finally, at 6:30 came the announcement that the flight was ready to board. A cheer erupted in the gate. In minutes Grace and I were back in our seats. The plane landed an hour later. As soon as she was allowed, Grace turned on her phone and took a selfie of the two of us. We looked like members of the cast of Les Miz – bedraggled and pale and filmy.
Believe me, we were so much cuter when the day began, days and days ago.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.