There’s a wall in the Philadelphia International Airport that’s lined with pictures of celebrities, athletes, and notable public figures holding up signs that read, “I’m in Philly.” These photographs were probably taken while passing the time during a major delay, cancelation, or mass grounding of airlines. They were snapped while wading in a river of disgruntled passengers working their way to the front of the terminal to be rerouted. And they were carefully photoshopped, so as not to reflect the honest, original verbiage, “I’m Stuck in Philly.”
After giving a presentation on millennials in the workplace to a group consisting of mostly baby boomers in Valley Forge, my team and should have been in the air, sipping Diet Cokes and exchanging knowing head nods because we were halfway to Cleveland. Instead, we found ourselves stuck on the runway in an aircraft traffic jam. Hours earlier, our presentation had us tearing down walls and opening up a dialogue between two often-conflicting generations. Now there was a healthy mix of young and old trapped in a hot, long metal tube, making small talk, breathing the same air, and getting familiar with each others’ bodily odors. The man next to me smelled of Cool Ranch Doritos.
My team was separated. Our intern (we’ll call her Annie) was up front eavesdropping on the flight attendant as he spoke on the phone with the pilots, relaying the information back to me via text as any great intern would. Our Social Media Specialist (we’ll call her Maggie…probably to her strong disapproval) was a few rows behind me, talking to a man in his mid-fifties about her job and the presentation we gave earlier that day.
It was a well-received presentation, so at least the trip hadn’t been in vain. The part of the talk I gave was on work-life balance and how it’s fading for millennials. We look towards work for life experience and we often value this over a large paycheck. We also want to be the same person at work as we are at home, rather than having a professional personality and a fun personality. Despite our insistence that this is completely true, a fine line still exists. For instance, I consciously censor myself more at work compared to the shit I write in this blog.
I thought a lot about our presentation as we slowly drifted towards the runway. When they grounded the entire airport due to weather, I started thinking about how much I wanted to be in my own apartment in front of my television. When we returned to the gate and deplaned, I was thinking about how trapped I felt. When we attempted to take off a second time only to return to the gate again due to traffic, I was too exhausted to do any thinking whatsoever. And when our flight was finally canceled, I used whatever energy I had left to imagine myself punching a small, crying child. Anything to make myself feel better.
An hour later, Maggie, Annie, and I were in a rental car, embarking on a six and a half hour drive to Ohio. It was almost eleven-o-clock and there was no way we were going to make it back in a single trip. Annie was navigating from the backseat. Maggie was riding shotgun, calling every hotel along our route for available rooms that we didn’t have to rent by the hour. We didn’t have much luck. As it turns out, southern Pennsylvania right off the highway is a popular vacation destination this time of year.
The first stop we made was a Walmart in a shady area just outside of the city. Maggie and Annie were wearing business attire for our presentation and needed to purchase clothing they could sit in for the next several hours. I needed an energy drink. When we asked the rental car associate about the nearest clothing store, this was the only one he knew that would still be open.
“But you shouldn’t go there after it gets dark.” He advised just as the sun had finished setting behind the freeway that was about to become our best friend.
I knew he was most-likely referring to the gang-related activity and crime that occurs around most major cities, but I fashioned my business cards into a cross and hung out in the garlic aisle just to be on the safe side.
Our second stop was a Starbucks a couple hours into our trip. We had just driven through the major thunderstorm that had grounded all flights leaving Philadelphia to begin with. Nobody spoke during the most intense moments, when my hands gripped the wheel so tight that my knuckles turned white and the visibility in front of us felt like it was no more than a few feet.
Our last stop for the night was at the only hotel that had rooms available on our journey. It was the kind of hotel my dad used to put our family in to save money on our vacations to Cape Cod, only with slightly fewer prostitutes outside.
As I carefully put my bag atop the table and zipped it up tight to keep the bedbugs out, I realized I was so exhausted from the trip I could barely stand. I fell backwards onto my bed and planned to remain there for the next three hours until my alarm went off and the drive continued.
I was exhausted, but not ready to sleep yet. The events of the day were still fresh in my mind. Maybe it was the fact that I was finally lying down and the day was over that made this string of inconveniences appear less horrible than they seemed when they were happening. The two failed attempts our plane made to take off became much more comically unfortunate than they were when we were actually on the plane. The eight hours we spent at the airport went from a travel nightmare to a story for fellow travelers on our next adventure. And then there was the drive…
There was a moment when we were driving through the strong storm that you could see the bolts of lightning coming down behind the hills around us. There were moments where the world would light up like it was daytime and the sound of thunder was mixed perfectly with our shouts of awe. And there were moments where, despite the fear of crashing, we were still singing along to the radio at full blast to make the best of the situation.
In an alternate universe, our plane would have taken off without a hitch. We would have made it back in time to have dinner, go out for a drink with friends, catch up on television in front of a sixty inch plasma screen, and go to bed at a reasonable time. It would have been…convenient.
But good life experiences rarely happen when things go according to plan.
While trying to fall asleep, I imagined how I was going to tell our story to everyone in the office the next day. And I tried to imagine all the things that could go wrong on our three-hour drive in the morning.
Will we break down? Will we get held up in a gas station robbery? Will one of us get car sick?
I doubt I’d greet any of these situations with any enthusiasm if they actually happened, but could you imagine the look on everyone’s faces when we bring this up at lunch? It would be so epic.