“Is my plane on time?”
The employee behind the desk stared blankly at me. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Your plane hasn’t left Las Vegas yet. Your flight is 5 hours from now.”
They say the early bird gets the worm. If that’s the case, I’d get there before the worm was even born. It’s always been this way for me. I can’t help arriving early, to everything.
There wasn’t any particular event in my life that prompted this early-arriving behavior. The last time I arrived late to something was when I was born a week past my mother’s due date. Ever since that spring day in 1977, I’ve been an early arriver to everything.
I’ve shown up to interviews two hours early, only to pace quietly in the men’s room in anticipation of the questions I might be asked. Once, I arrived to pick up a blind date at her home so early that I caught her ending another blind date before ours was scheduled to begin. There wasn’t a second date—perhaps because of her multi-tasking blind dates, but more than likely because of my early-arriving tendencies. A few years ago, I arrived early to a funeral, before the person had even passed away. The absolute worst however, is the airport. It’s only gotten worse with age.
The fear and anxiety of potentially missing my flight is so great that I will force my family to leave hours before we really need to. Last summer, we had an afternoon flight out of Charleston, South Carolina. I was so nervous about missing the flight that I couldn’t eat lunch (it didn’t stop me from having a couple of beers), and I insisted we leave for the airport immediately. It’s the fear of traffic, getting lost, long lines, or a heinous combination of all three. We spent several relaxing hours watching people arrive at surrounding gates after us, eat lunch, commiserate, board their planes and leave. Some of those people undoubtedly arrived at their destinations before we even took off. It was truly the longest day of my life.
Today could be a repeat. I’ve already rushed through security and reached my gate. Now, I have nothing left to do but wait for the next five hours. Assuming, of course, that my flight arrives on time . . .
My wife is a punctual arriver. And therein lies the dilemma. We could leave early to appease me but be forced to sit in uncomfortable airport chairs—not for what feels like 11 hours, but for what actually is 11 hours. Or, we could remain at home up to the last possible moment, while I pace nervously and dry heave until we head out. The former makes me feel better but is admittedly boring. The latter is making me nauseous just writing about it. And on the not so off chance the security line is very long, I cannot help but mumble under my breath (loud enough for my wife to hear) that we should’ve left when I’d wanted to. My wife then defends herself, the TSA agent looks at us suspiciously, and the whole vacation starts off on the wrong foot.
The impractical solution is for us to take two cars. This would allow us to leave whenever we preferred. The issue, of course, is that we’d pay double for long-term parking, and our kids would be forced to choose which parent to ride with. They wouldn’t want to appear preferential, so this has the risk of putting them into awkward positions. The whole thing would just be sad.
We could always just call one of those airport vans to pick us up. We actually tried this once, but when I suggested they pick us up at my desired time, the voice on the other side said something I’d prefer not repeating and then violently hung up on me. Apparently, they don’t like delivering you to the airport the day before your scheduled flight.
The final solution, and perhaps the solution of last resort, is just not to travel anywhere, ever again—to force everyone to come visit us. This would obviously eliminate the scourge that is traveling, but if arriving early to things is the biggest bane of my existence, a constant stream of houseguests might rank #2.
I should address the problem head on. During my extensive research on the topic, I’ve realized that this issue of arriving early is generally drilled into people at a very young age and that the people inclined to arrive early are considered natural leaders. But the only thing I naturally lead is an early arrival at the airport, and my family is undoubtedly leaning towards a violent coup. There is also a fantastic seminar on this very topic. Unfortunately, it’s in Los Angeles this summer and I’m not. And, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’d see the inherent problem with me attending.
Cue the pacing and dry heaving.