I arrived, out of breath, to find an abandoned gate. The airline agents had deserted their podium. The passengers—my fellow passengers—were gone. I crouched against the wall, winded and pissed off, while my girlfriend stood over me, confounded by my tense mood. It was her fault we had missed the flight. I favored the leisure of extra terminal time, but she preferred the rush of narrowly making it through the boarding doors. This time, she’d had her way, dawdling over the packing, and now those doors had closed. Looking up at her, it suddenly hit me: If love doesn’t work in the airport, it isn’t going to work at all.
Traveling is a crucible for relationships. How people travel is a peek at how they are, most noticeably in the moments that can’t be planned, i.e., real life. Notice: When there are flat tires, lost luggage, hotel rooms that smell like Gorgonzola even with no cheese in sight, does she react with laughter, acceptance, and creative problem-solving? Or do minor bumps in the road require hours of coddling and counseling? On the flip side, does she embrace serendipity? If music takes over a quiet room, will she get up and dance?
“How early do you want to get to JFK?” was something my now-wife actually said to me the first time we took a trip, in a tone that made it clear she prized extra magazine-browsing time, too. We were flying from New York to Los Angeles for some Old Hollywood glamour and time on Venice Beach to ward off the East Coast midwinter blues. During the next few days, it became clear I had found my travel soul mate. With her, slowness trumped speed. Twilight hours were always, and only, for laughing and wine. Being at the beach meant being at the beach, not stopping by for a quick selfie between a million other things. We ate perfect chili-spiked pizzas at Gjelina, held hands on the boardwalk, and marveled at skateboarders’ tricks. We stood there quietly, building our own momentum, while they sped through concrete bowls, soaring up over the rims.
Admittedly, in the years since, my wife and I did nearly miss a flight once. An airport bar was involved, and yes, a few Bloody Marys. But it wasn’t the drinks that stalled us. It’s just that we were fully engaged with each other, talking about nothing and everything in a world without a clock. As we hustled to board, I wasn’t angry. I didn’t even care about the possible blemish on my near perfect slate of on-time departures. I had something far better than that now: a travel partner who not only buys all the right reading materials for the plane, but also gracefully excels at putting me so squarely in the moment.