On Record: The wait

Our staff flies … a lot. If it’s not to a trade show, industry meeting or press conference, it’s to visit a contractor (our favorite type of trip, by the way). So we all have our horror stories, like beginning the day on a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago and arriving in Vegas 18 hours later. Or – my personal tale of angst – spending the night on the floor of the Cincinnati airport, having been issued the standard postage-stamp-size airline pillow-and-blanket set, with my laptop clutched to my chest just in case someone tried to steal it. (That was back when it was groovy to have a laptop. I might let them have it now.)

One day this past fall, the weather – gasp! – changed for the worse in Chicago. In response, the airlines pushed back my flight from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., then to 7 p.m. and well, you get the idea. Worse, I was on a commuter flight, where you get to pay the same amount of money for a seat that’s 5 inches narrower and comes with a flight attendant who’s just at the beginning of his/her peanut-pushing career.

And so I sat … and walked … and ate … and made calls … and bought yet another book to place on the pile at home that has bookmarks one-eighth of an inch in from the beginning.

In these circumstances, you can’t help but notice people, ranging from irritated to sue-the-airlines cursing, all in the waning hours of deodorant protection. And you hear snippets of conversation:

“I can do that. No one does that better than me.” (Man in a business suit, ear to the phone, walking at a clip down the hallway.) “All that negative energy is not going to help.” (Chic-looking mother to her pouting son while they stand in line for hot dogs.) And my favorite, heard over the loud speaker system: “Make sure you’re going to Springfield, Illinois, not Springfield, Missouri. There is a difference.”

And so I wait. I wonder what math-deficient airport designer put fewer seats in the waiting area than are on the departing plane. Or why hallways that desperately need to be widened are getting new terrazzo floors instead. (Watch our progress!)

I’m not one of those proficient multi-taskers who glory in the wait. I don’t carry a box of note cards to whisk off a personal note. I’ve found airports have too many distractions to write, even if I did lug the laptop through security. And waits like this one can outlast even the most voracious BlackBerry user.

When my plane finally took off after 10 that night, I realized I had little to show for the time spent – no profound insights, no event that would have made me grateful for the experience. It was simply time spent and now gone.

But maybe that’s OK. Not every second has to be crammed with usefulness. It’s two months later and I haven’t come across any evidence I needed to make one more call that night, send one more e-mail or read one more report.