Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doctor, I have a recurring dream in which I am running late to catch a flight.

Doctor, I have a recurring dream in which I am running late to catch a flight. In one of these dreams, I had to rush to finish packing. Then, I went to the airport, and, inside, I was in the kitchen of a single-family home and there was a buffet of Turkish food and I had to put some in a styrofoam container to take with me so that I would have something to eat on the flight; the line for Turkish food was long and I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it to the gate on time. When I got on the airplane, just before take-off, my whole family was there, except for my dad. Dad was in the cockpit. He told the pilot, “I read last week that they design these things so that they can take off going backwards as easily as they can going forwards.” The pilot had never heard that, but he thought it was an interesting fact and decided to let Dad try flying the plane, taking off in reverse. The plane crashed into a hill, bounced, flew forward, crashed, bounced, flew backwards, and then I woke up. The most scary thing about that dream is that it’s not unlikely that my Dad would charm his way into the cockpit of a jet and get the pilot to let him fly it. He’s very friendly.

In a lot of my dreams about travel going wrong, I forget to pack my shoes, and I somehow make it to my destination before I notice that I’m in my socks. There are plenty of reasons to be anxious about travel: the car could break down, the trip itself could be unpleasant, it’s uncomfortable to be in a different environment without normal routines. At the start of my trip to Turkey, as I waited at the departure gate, I started to worry about whether I had locked my car. So, I worry some about leaving my car and house behind when I travel, but I mostly worry about forgetting to bring things. This doesn’t even need to be a major worry: as long as I have my credit card, I can buy anything that I need that I’ve forgotten.

I normally fly in order to go to scientific conferences or to visit relatives, Mom is from Alabama. While I was growing up, we would drive down south every year or two. I am the oldest of six kids. It took until I started grad school for my parents to give up on the road trip and take us by plane, instead. To have plenty of clean clothes for the trip, I did all of my laundry the night before the flight. On the day of the flight, while running errands, I was rear-ended at a traffic circle; this made me run late getting home. When I got home to pack, I had forgotten to allow enough time to dry my clothes, and so my family arrived at my apartment right as the dryer was almost finishing. I counted out slightly damp underwear, shirts, socks, and pants, and threw them all, unfolded, into a duffel bag. I felt embarrassed because I had made my family run late. It turned out that it wasn’t a real problem, my parents had allowed for plenty of time to clear security, but I was ashamed, anyway.

The first time that I attended a scientific conference, I was preparing my slides on my computer. I didn’t like how PowerPoint typeset my equations, so I installed a piece of software that would do a better job of that. Between my unfamiliarity with this software and a goofy mistake, my computer wound up in an unbootable state; I had to reinstall the operating system, back up my data properly, then re-reinstall the operating system. Between repairing my computer and packing, I was up until two AM. I had to get up at 6 AM to be at the airport in time for an 8:30 flight. I was delayed going through security because the TSA agents were confused by the external hard drive I had wedged into my luggage. They opened my suitcase, and I didn’t want my underwear to be seen in front of everybody. I finished my slides in between Nashville and San Antonio.

I make lists. I have a list of everything I wish I’d brought on a trip, and before I pack, I just delete from the list the things I won’t need. I have an extra list, five items, that I have forgotten before: soap, shampoo, pajamas, towel, and underwear. The time that I forgot my towel, I thought about drying myself with my dirty clothes, but, instead, a friend let me share his towel with him. This is the one friend that I would regularly talk with while urinating in public restrooms, and, even then, it made me uncomfortable to share a towel with him.

The time that I forgot to pack underwear, I was on a retreat in upstate New York. I had packed precisely one pair of underwear, so I didn’t notice the problem until my third day on the retreat. At first, I thought that it was a prank, but it wasn’t. I took the morning off, from studying the Gospel of Mark, and drove an hour to the nearest K-Mart.

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