You're leaving in the morning and pack the night before, throwing in your phone charger, toothbrush, the novel you've been meaning to get to, an extra shirt you won't need. Before bed you count backward from the boarding time, padding five minutes here, ten minutes there, allowing extra time to get through security. In a state of disbelief you set the alarm for an hour you haven't seen in years, one that makes you wonder if you should go to bed at all.
When the alarm goes off, you groan, cursing fate and the executives of airlines. Not to disturb your wife, you dress in the living room while the coffee brews, putting on the clothes you set out just hours ago. Dressed, patting down your pockets you run through a mental checklist, afraid you're forgetting something. Meanwhile, the cats watch you sleepy-eyed and disgusted from the sofa, wondering what you're doing up at such an hour. You take a slug of coffee and tell them you wish you knew. When you kiss your wife goodbye she tells you to be safe. "I'll call when I land," you say, and close the bedroom door behind you.
Outside it's dark and cool, the sky clear and starshine lights the tops of your shoes. When was the last time you were awake to see this, you wonder. Walking to the truck you can feel the morning surround you - a calmness and older way of being. As the coffee kicks in you begin to feel good, buoyant almost, expectant, but you know in the hours to come you'll drink too much and become nauseous and jittery. Still, right now the spark of caffeine is what you need and you feel synapses begin to fire. Looking in the mirror you run your finger through your hair. They should call this the redeye as well.
Driving to the airport, the low rim above the black hills to the east is turning a deep blue. For reasons unknown, you think this is a color you can approve of. Even better, the lights along 97 are stuck on green, a good sign, and you tune into the morning news: war, famine, political unrest and deceit - the usual. You turn it off and roll down the window; listen to the tires hum. Checking the time, you're doing OK, but the worst worry in the world is being late for a flight and uncharacteristically, you've factored in more than enough. Even so, you drive faster than needed, keeping an eye out for the police. Passing out of town you run through a conversation in your head. "I'm sorry officer, I'm on my way to the airport," and motion to your luggage in the seat beside you, hoping he'll let you off with a warning. You are not stopped.
At the airport, you park and wheel your carry-on across the tarmac. You're dressed nicely: chinos and good shoes, dress shirt, sport coat. When did it come to this? There was a time when it was Birkenstocks and faded jeans and a backpack full of carefree. At security, you're reminded to take off your belt, empty your pockets and run your laptop separately through the screener. How do they manage it? To make you feel guilty for no reason at all. You haven't done anything illegal in years and yet secretly you're surprised they let you through. Now, waiting at the gate you study the noses buried in the Nooks and Kindles and with smug pride pull out your paperback, The Complete Essays of Montaigne - take that People Magazine. A book you actually purchased at an honest to goodness local bookstore - take that Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Others are playing solitaire and scrolling through song lists, swiping at iPhones like shooing flies. There's a man reading a paper in a Stetson, boots that look specifically designed for a kick in the groin. Two seats from him, a woman struggles to appease a small child. Please Lord, not next to me.
On the plane you store your bag in the overhead compartment and drop into your seat. It's incredible the way they pack people in and the word sardines surfaces in your head. The stewardess runs through her emergency exit spiel, which you ignore, and it's not until the plane accelerates down the runway that you let out a deep breath. Six-thirty a.m., sleepy, high on caffeine, you feel yourself pressed into the seat, already looking forward to the return trip and what it will be like to finally get home.