When Travel Plans Go Awry

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The weekend trip is, in theory, the perfect break. Two nights someplace else, just a small duffel bag and limited logistics standing between you and a reset. Leave on Friday, come back Sunday, fill the hours in between with enough that’s novel and return refreshed, or at least with a slightly altered perspective. You might take a weekend trip for vacation or work or to see family, but the effect is the same. You’re a little changed on return. You see your regular life a little bit differently.

I took what was meant to be a quick trip last weekend to attend a college graduation, and it was, strictly speaking, quick: I was scarcely away for 48 hours, but extreme weather marooned me for most of those hours in the liminal spaces of transit — airports, grounded planes, traffic jams — where time loses legibility. An old friend used to call these neither-here-nor-there realms the “zero world” for the way they feel unfastened from reality, parallel to daily life but separate. The flight cabin after an announcement of a fourth lightning delay is a world detached from the one you know, a temporary society populated by temporary citizens with perhaps not much in common save one deeply held belief: We need to get out of here.

I was as cranky and impatient as the rest of my fellow travelers at each complication in our journeys, but also fascinated by the communities and customs and Cibo Express markets of the zero world. Each of us was, at any given time, one captain’s announcement away from a temper tantrum, but we were also competitively careful to be polite to one another and to the airline staff, as if determined to demonstrate that those wild videos of short-tempered passengers being duct-taped to their seats did not represent us, the makeshift civilization of this departure lounge.

Graduation, when I finally arrived, was a joyous affair despite the glitches. The speaker, an astronaut, showed a photo of the farm where she grew up, the place she thought of as home for much of her life. Then she showed a photo of the limb of the Earth, the glowing edge of the atmosphere, and described how, when she went to space, home was no longer a town on a map but this planet, a shift in perspective so massive I felt a little queasy contemplating it.

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