I don’t do airplanes. For the last decade, every time I’ve needed to travel somewhere in America I’ve gone by bus or by train. I took the train from NYC to LA, mostly because I thought it would be cool to do but really because nobody could do anything to get me in an airplane. The trip wasn’t so bad—not that I would ever do it again—and when I actually made it out to Los Angeles, spending a week looking at some fashion archives at UCLA, I was thisclose to hopping on a plane back to the East Coast. Anything to avoid a multi-day journey across the country for a trip that usually takes five hours.
But no. When you’re terrified of something, you’ll painfully go out of your way to avoid it. In the last 10 years I’ve gone to Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Louisiana, Canada, Michigan, Virginia, all via bus. Multiple times, even. Most people scoff at the idea of an 18-hour bus ride, but that’s nothing. Just bring your favorite tunes or put a couple movies on your computer and you’ll be straight. But every time I took the bus, I promised myself I’d never do it again.
It all started back in 2007 when I took a flight to Los Angeles for an academic conference. I’d never been to LA before, so this was going to be something. The flight there was magical. We arrived early, my weave was still fresh and I was ready for business. On the flight back, though, we hit a bout of extreme turbulence and it scared the shit out of me. So scary, thought I was going to die. Once we landed at JFK I vowed never to set foot on another airplane ever again.
That was the catalyst but really I’ve been afraid of airplanes all along. My best friends know that “Madison doesn’t fly,” and one of my relationships ended mostly because I was too afraid to get on the plane to visit. “Madison, you can’t be fabulous if you don’t fly places,” one friend said. “You’re going to start getting invited to places and you’re going to need to travel. You can’t be glamorous rolling up in a Greyhound bus, no tea no shade.”
He was right. Bus travel in America is associated with poor people, people who don’t have the means or the luxury to pop in an airplane. Taking the bus is seen by most as a last, lower class resort, a thing you do because you have to, not because you want to. Eventually I was going to have to get over my incapacitating fear. I went nearly six years without setting foot on an airplane. But I got invited to give a guest lecture at a university in the Midwest, and the timing was so tight that it would have been impossible to go using any other mode of travel. I reluctantly boarded that plane, nervous about every jerk, pop, hiss, and bump the plane made. But I made it safely, and proving to yourself that you’ll be okay is the first step in overcoming your fears.
This past summer I went to Europe and don’t even recall being that nervous about the flight. I think the fact that I would be landing in London made me a little bit more comfy. But I really knew I kicked my fear of flying on the way back to the States from Europe. I’d just spent several days in Berlin, getting there via bus from Paris. I flew to Europe via London to NYC, so I had to get all the way back to London from Berlin. By ground. Bus from Berlin to Paris, 14 hours. Two hour train ride from Paris to London. I was running late, so I scrambled just to make it to my flight. If I missed one thing—the bus to Paris or the train to London—it would’ve been a disaster.
I roll in to the airport in London to check in but I’m so late that there are no seats left on the plane. I’m freaking out. I’m told not to worry, don’t panic. Get bumped up to first class, which, of course, comes with complimentary cocktails. I’m just over my two-day traveling expedition and ready to be back in New York. I’m offered wine. I take it. Later when we get in the air I’m offered more wine and I take that also. Later on I’m offered some Bailey’s and I take that too. At this point I’m so loopy and exhausted from this day that I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. The plane does its thing, takes off and I don’t even notice.