When my dad dropped me off at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), I was really nervous. He handed me my duffel bag and he may have given me an awkward hug. I should note that my family is not touchy-feely. We’ve never been one of those families who say I love you—not because we don’t feel it, but because we don’t think it needs to be said and because c’mon this isn’t a novela, grow a pair, and stop being so fucking dramatic.
(Is this why I can’t seem to date good guys and only go after jerks who tend to say the right things and I fall for it every time because I so desperately just want someone to tell me that they love me even if it means they’re also being dicks the rest of the time?? Ooh, no. Let’s not open that door. #I’mAStrongIndependentWoman #I’mNotCryingYou’reCrying)
So, after my dad gave me one of those dad looks—which I can only assume meant that he was trying to communicate some loving parent-y things via telepathy like don’t worry, you’ll be fine, and be careful—I headed towards the sliding glass doors.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I looked up TSA regulations and protocols. I wanted to know what to expect. I wanted to seem like I knew what I was doing. Like I wasn’t an inexperienced twenty-something year old flying for the first time in my life because seriously, who hasn’t been on a plane before?
Me. I was flying for the first time and I was flying alone. I would be taking an hour and 40-minute flight by myself to visit my brother in Portland, Oregon. I had never even been inside of an airport before and I had no idea how it all worked except from what I had seen on TV or in the movies. Naturally, I expected to see people walking off their plane and immediately finding someone waiting with their name written on a white piece of paper or someone running across the airport trying to catch their flight that is announcing their final boarding call or someone trying to stop the person they love from getting on their flight and leaving them forever.
I had heard people complain about the added security measures and increased random searches after 9/11. Even though I had nothing to hide, I felt nervous. Sort of like when you go to a store and leave empty-handed yet for some reason you’re afraid that the alarm will go off as you’re walking through the door.
As I stood in line, I observed everyone who had already gotten their IDs and boarding passes checked. There were the people whose shoes were off, electronics, wallet, and keys in the bin in just a matter of seconds. They obviously knew the drill. Then there were others who had to be reminded to take their belts off and others who were asked to step aside after having gone through the big x-ray elevator-teleport-looking machine.
I mimicked the experienced crowd and didn’t need any reminders. When I stepped inside the x-ray machine, I placed my feet in the indicated spaces on the rug. Because I’m more petite, it felt like my legs were a little too spread out. I put my arms up and was scanned. Simple enough, I thought. When I stepped out, the TSA agent asked me to step aside. She asked me to show her my hands and she wiped my palms with a little wet napkin—like the kind you get to clean your hands after eating ribs. After a few seconds, she said I was good to go.
I found my gate quickly and then I waited for about an hour. I had my Lord of the Rings book and my phone, but I wasn’t interested in those things. I was too busy taking it all in. I wondered whether people were traveling for business or pleasure. Were they also visiting relatives? Had they been on a plane before? How many places have they been to? Can they tell that I’m new to this? Mostly, though, I noticed that people kept their heads down as they watched movies on their tablets, worked on their laptops, or checked their phones. I couldn’t bring myself to look down at my phone or read. I didn’t want to be distracted. I wanted to stay alert.
Once the plane started boarding, I got nervous again. Not because I thought the plane would crash and kill us all, but because this was happening. I was going to get on a plane and travel somewhere.
When I found my seat, I sat down right away and buckled my seat belt. I wiped my palms on my jeans. Once the flight attendants began telling us about the safety procedures, I made sure to sit up straight and listen—or at least, try to. No one else seemed to be listening. Some were still talking to each other. Others were reading and others were still sending out last minute texts.
But, not me. I paid attention. The other passengers might’ve heard this spiel numerous times before, but I hadn’t and I needed to know what to do in case of an emergency.
My family never traveled and we never took vacations. To put it in today’s term, I suppose we had many “staycations.” When I watched families on TV, they always took at least a week off and flew to Hawaii or Europe or the Bahamas for their vacations. My parents didn’t take days off from work, so this idea of taking vacations and flying to a different place was very unfamiliar.
When the plane began to move and the engines began to roar, I couldn’t help but feel some butterflies in my stomach. This was it. In a matter of minutes, we would be in the air. I felt like a child. I wanted to giggle as we got off the ground. I watched the people, the cars, and the houses shrink below us as we ascended.
When I was a kid, I would squint my eyes and measure the planes between my thumb and my index finger and determine that they were really, really far away. I would imagine that my family in Mexico, the one that I only knew from looking at pictures, was on one of those planes. So, I would wave at them as they passed by, knowing that eventually the plane would land and we would meet for the first time.
“And for you, would you like something to drink?” The flight attendant smiled at me waiting for my answer.
“No. No thank you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Mmhmm,” I nodded nervously. Was it free? Do they always offer you a drink? How much were they? The guy next to me got a drink, but if I got a drink then I might need to pee and everyone says the bathrooms are tiny.
I ate my little bag of pretzels (which, I was almost positive were free) and decided I would just have to wait to quench my thirst after I landed.
My eyes stayed glued to the window and the butterflies came back when we started descending. This time, I watched the people, the cars, and the houses get bigger as we approached the ground.
A little over an hour ago, I had been in California, my home. The only place I had ever known. And now, I was in a brand new state with brand new people and brand new places to see. I had walked into an airport for the first and had looked out the window of a plane for the first time.
So far, the experience hadn’t been quite what I had seen many times in TV shows or movies, but as I walked off the plane, I immediately found my brother because he was right there waiting for me.