Failure: An Anecdote in Three Parts


All dressed up and nowhere to go…

I. Signs that you have not had enough downtime in the last six months or so:

You get so excited just to be alone in an airport bookstore that YOU MISS YOUR FLIGHT.

In my defense, the entire landscape of the SFO Terminal 3 has changed significantly since the last time I was on an airplane back in the Dark Ages.  It’s all vast and light-filled and there are about 50 restaurants.  Walking into it I was like a child who hasn’t seen the outside world before.

Also, the flight left ahead of schedule by about ten minutes.  (This, by the way, is why they advise you to be at the gate 30 minutes before departure.  Who knew.)  I actually was minding the time, sort of, but then I  looked up about 15 minutes before my scheduled take off and the jetway was retracting away from the plane, and then I was standing at the window watching the plane pull away, waving my hands and screaming like it was a MUNI bus.  (I should know: they never take pity on you anyway.)

It was right there!  Can you call it back?! I sobbed at the Customer Service lady.

Nooooo.  No, they can’t call it back.  That’s not a thing in air travel.

The early departure is no excuse.  The old me would have been sitting in my seat 30 minutes before the flight, staring at the updates and tapping my foot to get on board.  The old me knew a thing or two about flights, and flying, and winding up on standby, and being a responsible adult and not getting yourself delayed when flying is about being on time.

The new me, unfortunately — the free-and-loose-and-for-once-I’m-carrying-one-bag-and-not-trying-to-keep-Babygirl-from-running-away me; the business-travelers-race-to-flights-all-the-time-and-why-can’t-I me; the playing-at-being-a-grown-up-alone-in-the-world me — was just having too much damn fun to sit at a gate.

I was having so much fun that BART was fun!

I was having so much fun I WALKED between the terminals rather than taking the AirLink thingy!

People-watching was fun!  And sitting at the airport bar and leafing through InStyle was fun!  And the bookstore was so quiet, and I got lost leafing through the Harry Potter Coloring Book and thinking it would be such a nice gift to bring back for LittleMan.

In an airport, I was having this fun.

To my eternal shame, humiliation, and frustration, the flight was meant to be winging me to an event I’ve literally been waiting for all year: the ALT Summit bloggers’ conference in Salt Lake City.  I was prepared for this day.  I made a packing list in December.  I checked and re-checked my flight times and then got up in the morning and checked again.  I should have been at the gate days ago.  But I was not.  Instead I wandered and played.

Oh, and somewhere in that wandering I checked a bag.  But I forgot all about that because, hey, it was checked.

Free.  And.  Loose.

Writing this down, I kind of hate myself.  (Again.  Because I really hated myself a lot for most of yesterday between 1:30pm and 9:30pm PST.)

Also.  I clearly need to take stock of a few things.

One: I am not a freewheeling kind of a gal.  And not being a freewheeling kind of a gal, life does not work out for me the way it does for freewheeling people (it always seems to work out for them, doesn’t it?).  I have COMMITMENTS.  I am expected to BE PLACES and when I’m not in those places it’s because I’ve made ARRANGEMENTS for other people to be there.  You don’t f— with that kind of planning.  You don’t get all swept up in the moment.  You go where you are supposed to be and you stay there.

Two: I don’t give myself enough freewheeling time.  It’s like going on a cleanse: you say you can’t have gluten for a month and then, Oops, where’s the baguette?  I have been working so hard, trying to keep up my job and the blog and all the volunteer stuff I insanely agreed to.  I’ve been at all the places at all the right times, and doing all the things that moms do, and then I suddenly had ten minutes and greedily took thirty, inserting leisure where it had no business being.

That’s on me, by the way.  I need to do something about that.  Be on time when it’s important — but let go once in a while when it isn’t.

Why is this so hard?


II. Signs you are not a total deadbeat even though you feel like one: 

The airport Customer Service lady offers to make you a restaurant reservation in Salt Lake City when you land.

She was really nice.

“I need you to calm down and we’ll start at the beginning.  Did you check a bag?”

Waaaaiiiit.  My bag was flying to Salt Lake City.  I was not.

All calm evaporated.  “Oh my GOD I checked a BAG!” I cried and dropped my head on the desk.   I literally thought I might faint.

“What does this MEAN?  What is going to happen to my clothes!?  I’m so sorry, I have two kids — that’s a non-sequitor, they’re not here right now, trust me, I’m not that terrible of a mother, I’m usually a LOT more together than this — but the point is I’ve been looking forward to this trip and I got soooooo carried away and I’m actually…Oh my God I’m so stupid…but really, is there ANY way to bring the plane back?  Maybe?  Because I’m supposed to be on South Main Street in Salt Lake City at 6:30 and this is not happening right now!”

She took my hand and spoke gently.  “You are not going to be in Salt Lake City at 6:30.  And there is nothing you can do about that.  So you need to let that go.”  She handed me a new ticket.  “You will hopefully be there at 8:30.  I cannot give you any guarantees.  However, I recommend you stay at the gate and pay close attention.”

“I’m going there now, I’m never leaving for a minute.”

“Well, you aren’t going now because there isn’t a gate yet.  Because you have three hours.”

I gazed forlornly around the terminal.  It had seemed so pleasant just a few minutes before.

She looked at me kindly, then perked up.  “Oh!  As long as your dinner is blown, when you land in Salt Lake City you need to go to this restaurant.”  She grabbed her iPhone.  “It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the whole country; sometimes I fly to Salt Lake for the day so I can eat there.”

“Really?  Wow.”  I sniffed.  “But everything closes early in Salt Lake.  And I’m landing at 8:30.  Best-case scenario.”

“This place will still be open and it’s ten minutes from the airport.”  She looked me over.  “You won’t need to change.   You look fine.  You will love it.  It will turn this day around for you.  I brought my son there last time we went.  He was like, This place is all ten-out-of-tens.  You’re alone, but still…You may want to make a reservation…Do you want me to make you a reservation right now?”

I sighed.  “You are the nicest person I have ever met.”

She smiled.  “This is not the end of the world.  This happens in airports.  To all kinds of people.”

I felt really, really stupid.  But still.  “I know.”

Ultimately, I got the alone time I so desperately craved.  Lots of it.  More, actually, than I wanted.   Sitting in the airport for the next eight hours, I heard every announcement on the loudspeaker, crystal clear, like, How did I miss this earlier?  I checked my boarding pass 10,000 times.  I finished The Martian (book) and wrote for the blog, which ironically I wouldn’t have had time to do at the conference, what with the dinners and the flow of information and the networking.

And I learned a very big lesson.

I’m trying to be glass-half-full and think, you know, it’s nice to know that at 37 years old there are still big lessons to learn.  That even though it’s no fun (at all) to blow it like a hungover college kid, the stakes were low enough this time, and maybe I got what I needed in some roundabout way.  A kick in the ass, first of all.  But also:  Time to write.  Time to think.  Time to stare at the clock and wait in relative quiet.  A healthy reminder that no matter how hard I try or how much I plan or how fast I run or how well I dress or hard I cry in public, I’m still going to make mistakes that can’t really be fixed.

III. Signs that it’s not meant to be:

The hotel doesn’t flinch when you cancel on zero notice.  It’s like they were waiting for my call so they could give the room to someone else.

Time is relative.  Four hours are never enough, and then they’re a whole day.  Flights take off and land.  The airport traffic ebbs and flows.  Toddlers are cranky and parents are trying. People are running, people are stuck.  People are happy, or drunk, or stressed, or quiet.  I read, and wept a little, and waited on no fewer than three standby lists.

Fast and slow.  Here and there.

I never got to Salt Lake City.  I was competing for space on oversold flights as everyone in the world (it seemed) scrambled to get to Sundance, or to ALT, or to the slopes before the weekend storms come through.  Even the flight attendants were going, What is UP with Salt Lake City?  Around 8:30, as the last plane of the day pulled away and no guaranteed seats could be found the next morning, I admitted defeat.  Cancelled the hotel, cancelled the return flight, placed the order for my bag to be returned to me.

On the weepy ride home, I obsessed over the many little mistakes that led to this disappointment.  Should have worn a watch, should have gone straight to the gate, should have bought a magazine at the grocery store at home rather than waiting for the airport.  Never mind that this happens all the time; this doesn’t happen to me.

Well, it does.  But it will never happen again.

The fact remains that for better or for worse, I’m going to fail sometimes.  If all my failures could be like this one — no one got hurt, no one got fired, my kids are fine, the penalties got waived… — well, that would be a win, in the end.

Now, to make lemons out of lemonade.

My favorite shoes are still somewhere in Utah.  I hope they make it home soon.

Leave a Comment