Deep into a 15-hour flight, the airplane bathroom resembles a fraternity house the morning after a party. There’s an overflowing trash bin, sheets of toilet paper on the floor, and a bottle of eau de toilette that’s desperately trying to mask the stench. A puddle sits in front of the toilet and one can only hope it’s water.
The flight attendants are looking a little rough, too. Their makeup (once painting porcelain skin and red lips) has now mixed with facial oil, and the harsh lighting offers no favors. You get the sense that they may be shit-talking but you can’t be too sure; after all, their only expression is one of indifference.
Sadly, we’ve all abandoned civility in this recycled air.
I cared about looking fresh and having combed hair in the beginning, but now that it’s the 14th hour I could give a fuck. I figure if a family lets their child cry throughout an entire flight (and I do mean entire flight), then one smelly passenger won’t bother anyone.
There’s an Armenian couple that sits beside me. The husband reminds me of a circus ringmaster, his round face dwarfed by an enormous mustache; his wife wears heavy jewelry and babysits her purse for most of the flight.
Sometime during our second meal (and who knows what hour that was), the wife pulls out her iPhone and speaks to me in broken English. I feel her warm breath against my face as she narrates the contents of her photo gallery. Most of her photos are of her grandson in California.
The wife swipes through hundreds of images, zooming into the child’s face for each one. I witness pumpkin costumes, turkey onesies, and giggles with Santa that suggest this has been a very long visit to California, spanning most of the 2016 holidays. I wonder how her in-laws felt about that.
I don’t say any of this, of course, but simply nod and politely smile. She’s just a proud grandparent!
By the time we reach Qatar, I practically sprint toward the airport hotel. I have a 14-hour layover so I can take a shower and indulge in a glass (or two) of champagne. The welcoming sight of puffy pillows and white sheets delivers such joy that I immediately call Room Service. “One glass of champagne for Room 158, please!”
In the meantime, I inspect the shower, which is spectacular; it’s like a big, beautifully-tiled walk-in closet. I marvel at the ornamentation, including mirrors that cover the perimeter. That’s interesting, I think, and a little creepy. I’m not so sure I want to watch myself bathe naked. Still, there’s no better time to practice self-love and accept the parts of my body that I’d rather not view in three dimensions. I resolve to take the shower.
Squeezing a dollop of shampoo into my palm, I vigorously massage it into my scalp. It feels so good to get clean, I think, and as I tip my head back to rinse off, I notice a huge mirror affixed to the ceiling. Well there you are, Julia, in all your naked glory.
I begin to laugh.
Oh Travel—you glorious, sexy thing, you! This is why I love you: because one minute I’m befriending strangers and swiping through toddler photos, and the next minute I’m naked while waiting for a glass of champagne.
This is what it’s all about, I realize, and I haven’t even reached my destination yet.