Ah punctuality, you wily nymph, you. So close, yet so very far away.
Wait, let me back up. Not quite ready for this part of the story yet, we need a little preamblizing. (Not a word, you say? I bet it is in Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe. Ergo, it should be in ours. I will fight you on this.)
State of Conscientiousness
First, a mini-rant about Conscientiousness, one of the so-called Big Five Personality Traits.
People who are high in conscientiousness operate in overachieving, perfection mode. Conscientiousness sets ’em up and knocks ’em down. You do what you say you’re going to do, at the time you say you’re going to do it. Conscientiousness keeps you on-task, attentive to all the details, and makes it very, very hard for life to sneak up on you and take your train off the rails.
Great quality, right? Why shouldn’t we all want to be a conscientious personality type, like, every day, in every way?
Of course there’s a dark side. The more conscientious you are, the less you tend to be spontaneous and creative. It’s harder to live in the moment, and be fully open to what is right in front of you. You tunnel-vision toward your goal, and anything or anyone in your way is just roadkill. Not the best scenario for pleasant companionship or quality teamwork.
So follow me down the yellow brick road to the other side of the spectrum, to Low-Conscientiousness Land.
Main highlight? Damned helpful when facing adversity. Remember how conscientiousness makes it super hard for life to sneak up on you? In the great words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: Life finds a way. Like unemployment, or illness, or divorce. And it appears that They Who Do Not Have Their Life Planned Out may, in fact, be slightly better equipped to cope, benefiting from years of practice shifting course on a dime and giving five cents change.
And the dark side? You’re as flighty (not to mention, twitchy) as a winged squirrel. You are the quintessence of impulsive and impetuous decision making, and deadlines make you vomit. Meanwhile your creative, ADHD, divergent interpersonal style is driving all the conscientious people around you absolutely bonkers. Oh, they writhe and seethe about you in their journals at night, don’t you have any doubt about that.
As it turns out, I’m 100% all-in on both sides of the spectrum. Yes, I know, that isn’t the best math in the world, but bear with me for a minute.
How am I conscientious-deprived — oh let me count the ways! Goals, ambitions, drive … um, what’s that? I never had a good answer for “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a student, I would give up on a difficult math problem after five minutes, and wrote all my college papers the night before they were due. And as for punctuality, absent a cattle-prodder to get me moving, I would never, ever be on time for school, or any kind of family get-together for that matter. I mean, never.
But if we pull the curtain back a bit, I spy with my little eye … conscientiousness.
I’m always on time to rehearsal for my theatre projects. I get my jollies at work by crossing things off my to-do list. I constantly plan get-togethers with friends, and surprise parties, and reunions. I am obsessive about my favorite things (books, music, TV, film). And as for persistence — whoa nellie, don’t get in my way when I get it in my head to do a good will giveaway. Boy howdy, do I ever love a good purge.
Speaking of purging, this whole personality trait thing is starting to look like another water-damaged box to toss into the pile of unnecessary people packaging. Personality isn’t fixed, context (different environments and circumstances) and time (becoming different with age) bring out a whole spectrum of personality “stuff”. You don’t have to be one set of qualities all the time, and probably weren’t ever one set in the first place. But I digress.
My point is, I don’t always trend toward the “low side” of the conscientiousness continuum. I have been, and I am often, profoundly conscientious — in so many ways, and for so many things. Things that I felt I would get out of it what I put into it. People that I’ve treasured enough to give that extra dose of care, who I know will notice it and appreciate it. Areas of my life that I’ve felt deserved that superior level of attention, focus, tenacity, and yes, timeliness.
My scheduled flight home from NOLA, however, was not one of those things.
The Last Breakfast
It started like any other vacation departure day. The alarm went off, and I sat up, feeling the weight of having to say goodbye to New Orleans. Our arrival felt like a lifetime ago, and yet somehow this final day had arrived within a blink of an eye.
I started the task of packing my bags, a bittersweet affair. Looked at the clock — still a couple of hours before we needed to head to the airport. Enough time for a bit of reflection over breakfast, accompanied by my freshly retrieved notebook.
I wandered down to the corner diner, where the perfect people-watching window seat was waiting for me. I ordered a coffee, orange juice, an omelet. I opened up my notebook and began to write. The words flowed easily onto the page.
I stayed there for about an hour, trying to take every aspect of the morning and bottle it up for storage in my brain. I focused on tasting every bite of egg and breathing in the scents of toast, coffee, and pie. I imagined backstories for every person I saw walk by, and everyone else seated inside. I read and re-read my poem.
Eventually there was no more food left to devour, I’d pretty much memorized what I’d written on the page, and I had no reasonable justification to accept a third refill of my coffee. It was time to go home.
Goldilocks and the Three Pounds
I met my companion at the hotel, we quadruple-checked our room, then headed out to catch a Lyft. Our ride was uneventful. Quiet, reflective, as we watched New Orleans fade away through the back window of the car.
At the airport, we made our way to the baggage check-in, and danced the dance of keeping our checked baggage under the weight limit. The next 15 minutes or so were spent fussing around at the scale, striving to achieve the golden ratio of weight in carry-on vs. checked bags without breaking our backs with carry-on bulk.
Amazingly, our checked bags were three pounds over where we needed to be.
Moved a few books over, reweighed, not quite there yet. Threw in some shirts and dresses, weighed again. Still not enough. It took moving our toiletries to the carry-ons to get Goldilocks to say it was “just right”.
This minor obstacle overcome, we continued on our merry way through security and to our gate, with a little under an hour to spare.
Or so we thought.
As we approached, I noticed the familiar words that I’ve seen time and time again in my world travels: Flight Delayed. An alert popped up on my phone screen from the Spirit Airlines app, with the same message, plus an estimated revised departure time of an hour later than expected.
We surveyed the crowded lobby, filled with snippy adults and whining children, a few seats available here and there but no two seats together. Checked the time — almost two hours before we’d actually need to board the plane. We turned to one another, and shared a knowing glance.
Me: “I think I saw a restaurant / bar just past security. What if we –“
Him: “What if we pass the time with a final round to commemorate our amazing week together?”
What a brilliant idea.
And so we did.
Waiting for … Waiting
We were one of the only customers in the restaurant, but true to airport form, it took a good 20 minutes to be asked what we wanted to order, 10 more to receive said order, rinse, repeat. But that was alright with us, we were having an enchanting conversation, and we had an hour to kill before we needed to head back.
Or so we thought.
My companion took a restroom break. I used the time to check my phone. Another alert had come through: Flight Delayed Again. Another 30 minutes added to the expected wait time.
He returns, and I share the bad / good news. And we ordered another round, of course, because we had the extra half hour that it would take for them to actually bring it to our table.
The conversation expanded, to topics far and wide, story after story that we hadn’t gotten around to sharing during our week of wandering. Insert laughter, intrigue, righteous anger at one another’s trials and tribulations.
My turn for a restroom break. I brought my phone. Yet again, I read an alert – this time, another hour added to the delay.
I came back to the table, pointing to my phone with a wry smirk. No need for words, he could read my facial expressions now, after a week of non-stop togetherness. We flagged our server for a third round.
Now our chat was really getting going. We shared things with one another that we hadn’t said to another soul in decades. There were tears, and gasps, and reaching across the table to hold hands in comfort. No one else in the universe but one another, we willingly surrendered to our honest, open, kindred connection, and the earth paused its rotation to make room for us, and time stopped in its tracks.
Or so we thought.
Yeah, time didn’t really stop. If anything, it actually kind of, sped up. We’d been talking for an hour and a half since I last picked up my phone to check for messages, and there was an alert from 30 minutes prior, which read, in ALL CAPS:
“FLIGHT NOW BOARDING. PLEASE REPORT TO GATE IMMEDIATELY.”
We both instantly went into crisis mode. We threw money on the table, grabbed our stuff, and ran as quickly as we could muster back to the gate all the way at the other end of the long corridor. Weighted down, of course, by heavy carry-ons packed to their limit, hunched over from our burdens like a couple of 90 year-olds. Huffing and puffing and determined to beat the clock.
“We can do this!” I encouraged my fellow traveler, as he winced and adjusted his grip on his shoulder bag. “We can make it!”
We arrived at the gate, panting and sweating and in no small amount of back pain, just in time to watch the staff pull the barrier across the entrance, and see the plane slowly start to separate from the bridge.
We slammed into their desk and pled our case. “That’s our flight! We’re here! That’s, can we, will they stop? Can we get on?”
They looked back at us with tired, cynical eyes and grabbed our tickets, typed some keys on their computer.
I don’t even think they said no to our request. They just emoted it.
Our hearts sank. Our mental calculators started clicking away for how much new tickets would cost us.
“We can switch you to the next flight, no penalty charges,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I can’t get you both sitting together.”
Mental calculators swiftly put away. Sighs of relief. “OK, great. That’s totally fine. When’s the next flight?”
More typing, then: “Looks like I can get one of you on a flight late tonight, and the other one on a flight Tuesday afternoon. Or you can fly together on Tuesday.”
Did I mention, it was Sunday?
Well. Well, well, well.
My crisis-mode brain made room for my low-conscientiousness brain, which was formulating a plan. A wonderful, serendipitous, happy little plan.
Suffice to say, after a few clicks on Expedia to find a weekday deal on a hotel, and doing a quick inventory of all the clothes and toiletries we just happened to have moved over to our carry-on bags (which was now the only luggage in our possession, as our checked bags were already on their way to Detroit), it didn’t take long to get my partner on board.
“We’ll take the Tuesday option, please.”
There’s something about getting bonus time, days that you didn’t ask for, or probably really deserve, that makes that time particularly special.
We had two extra days in NOLA, and a short list of things that we had thought about doing during our official vacation week and never got around to. So of course, now we could get around to them.
I ate gumbo for the first time, and it was incredible.
We ventured out to catch a drag show at Oz, braving the crazy crowds, pushing our way up to the front so we could get the best view. We stuck it out for the whole show despite a few drunk patrons getting rowdy, overly touchy, and ultimately violent. (We were saved by a very skilled bouncer who deftly escorted them out of the building.)
We did a photo shoot at a second cemetery, where my skills behind the lens grew by leaps and bounds (and where several of my photos in my NOLA Photo Series on this blog were taken).
We found more neighborhoods to explore, smiling and saying hello to people we passed, who would usually smile and say hello in return. At one point we were doing just this on Sixth Street, and one of the residents came out of his home, struck up a conversation with us, and upon learning we were from Detroit, insisted that we come inside for an hour-long tour of his historical residence and gardens (with the added bonus of receiving heaps of adorable affection from his spaniel).
And of course, we had many amazing conversations, and built a connection between us that to this day is one of the strongest I’ve ever known.
Au Revoir, NOLA
For our second attempt to fly home, our conscientiousness was at an all-time high. We may have gotten a forgiving pass from our employers and families for the first foible, but now we absolutely had to get back without incident.
And we did.
I’m not going to say we refrained from having a beer while we waited for our flight (which coincidentally was also, ever so slightly delayed), but we stayed within view of our gate, and made it a point to keep our phone alerts on “loud” so we wouldn’t miss when they called us for boarding.
See? I can be very punctual, and responsible, and exceedingly conscientious. Sometimes.
But it’s quite possible that I’m much more fun, when I’m not.
Also Related: Read another NOLA story here.