“Sir, your gate is at C34; check-in time is at 11:30 a.m.”
You smile as the counter lady hands you your boarding pass.
“Malaysia Airlines; Economy Class” it says. You wish it were business, so you’d have more to Insta-brag about. But it’s okay — you know if the flight time exceeds six hours you’ll get business class; company policy. It’ll happen one day. Eventually.
“Adventure!” screams your heart. You know you’ve made it to the next level now; the company is paying you to travel.
For some reason your senses are more attuned to everything around you today. You start noticing fine details about Kuala Lumpur International Airport that you’ve never realized before: the intricate ceiling architecture, the distinctively pleasing sound of the airport chime, and how your fellow travelers are dressed. You can tell who’s traveling for work and who’s traveling for fun.
(Damn those people wearing t-shirts and sweatpants. Bad fashion should not be allowed on planes.)
You think of all the travel accessories you need to buy. If you’re starting to travel for business you need to look the part. You need to look important.
You’ve mastered KLIA now. You know the plane times, the train times, and even have a favorite spot in the lounge. Your frequent flyer card says Silver.
On flights, you’re nice to the stewardesses, who are in turn nice to you. Maybe a little nicer than to everyone else. Of course — you’re young and professional and well-dressed. You view them as kindred spirits and have learned to speak their flyer language. Of course you get special treatment.
Okay, maybe some of them are pretending, but it doesn’t hurt to be nice to people right? You don’t want them doing anything funny to your drinks. Besides, what kind of low human being isn’t nice to service staff? You’re not like common people who don’t know the nuances of international travel.
Plus Malaysia Airlines is kinda in a mess. You feel like you should be kind to their people. It makes you feel like a better person.
Singapore Airlines is the best airline in the world.
You’re flying somewhere every other week now. You learn to compartmentalize your life and schedule time for your friends. If people don’t book you two weeks in advance, you probably won’t make it. You learn that you don’t have time for everyone.
Week Twos and Threes every month are the best times to travel. Everything slows down towards the end of the month, so you use Week Fours to stay home and catch up with people; to remind important contacts that you’re still around.
Week Ones are when you discuss financial results from the previous month. It’s good to be near your boss during those times. It’s good for survival.
You have no social life on weekdays. Not with your friends anyway. But you’re close with your colleagues from all over the world. You have conference calls every week with them at weird times like 10 p.m. When you meet them once every quarter — they never fail to take you out for drinks.
On weekends when you’re home, you’re just too tired. You just want to stay in and sleep. But that’s okay — no one calls you anyway.
During one of your flights, you watch George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” You feel like you understand him.
You start to get lonely on your travels. So you look for easy fixes. You understand why old men buy drinks they can’t afford for young women now. You also understand why young women accept drinks they don’t like from old men they’re not attracted to.
You learn to be quick with your words and quicker with your actions. When you’re in a city for just a few nights a year, you can’t afford to beat around the bush.
But after a while, you tire of the pretty bar girls who get paid to be nice to you. You wish for someone “normal” who understands you. Maybe a traveler herself.
You meet someone you like on one of your nights out. She’s smart, well-traveled and funny. You feel she likes you too. Actually no, you’re absolutely sure she’s attracted to you.
You push it too far too fast. She stops replying your messages.
You’re constantly exhausted now. You learn to alternate between sleep and work depending on which is more urgent. It’s all a tangled mess, and you sneak in personal stuff that needs to get done between financial projections and progress reports.
You know every frequent flyer trick in the book. Like where the quiet seats are on Airbus 330s, and which credit cards get you into airport lounges for free. Any extra bit of comfort helps. Any little bit of cushioning for your butt; any little bit of support for your head and shoulders. Heck, even the free instant noodles at modern airport “lounges” feel comforting.
You secretly love it when the cabin crew ask you to switch off your phone. At least no one can bother you for a couple of hours.
Every time you land, you nervously switch on your phone: “Did anything go catastrophically wrong during the eight hours I was up in the air?”
You breathe a sigh of relief. None of your 53 new emails is critical.
You’re Gold Class now, and you have the luggage tags to prove it. You get priority boarding, though sometimes you feel like an asshole as you overtake all the people who need it more than you.
Too bad the company is cutting down on travel. It’s the economy; times are bad. The irony: Mr. Gold Class doesn’t make enough money to travel business class on his own.
You still buy the cheapest tickets you can find when you’re traveling by yourself. As you’re lining up with all the Air Asia commoners, you wonder how the well-dressed assholes in business class can afford it. You question if all your anxiety, work stress and travel is worth it.
Then you drown out your thoughts by checking your email again.
You meet someone during one of your short stints back home, and now have to juggle.
You try to fly back every weekend to see her. But you start to think about all the travel opportunities and adventure you’re missing out on. Rushing home at the end of every business trip means you won’t see much besides the office, the bar and the airport.
You wonder if you’re a homebody, an introvert or if you’re just being silly. Your colleagues look amazed when you tell them you’re not staying back for personal travel. They probably think you’re stupid.
You know everyone loves to travel; you think they’d trade places with you in a heartbeat. But you throw it all away anyway.
You miss home.
– – –
You remember the kind, wise man who once helped you snap a picture on the grounds of Griffith Observatory.
It was a beautiful evening from a couple of years ago. Like the lovers in the movie La La Land, you looked into the evening above the city of Los Angeles and felt something. A mixture of gratitude and wonder; something special.
“How nice it would be to remain young and free forever!” you blurted out. The youth in you speaking.
The wise man looked at you and smiled. A knowing, though almost sad smile.
“But what good would it be,” he questioned. “If you visit the most beautiful places in the world; but have no one to share it with?”
– – –