Veterinary work is an emotionally charged field. Rarely are people in an ambivalent, steady state sort of mind the way they are, say, at the gas station, or buying bananas at the grocery store. They are either happy because they have a cute young pet getting routine care, or stressed because their pet is ill/expensive/having surgery/waiting too long in the exam room. You get the picture.
So I’m used to dealing with stressed and angry people. You have to be. There are ways to defuse situations, and ways to escalate them.
Now I know that I am, personally, sometimes but not always, a bit of a hothead. Shocking, I know. I’ve never yelled at clients, never gotten loud, never thrown things or berated coworkers or any of that. Not because I’ve never felt the urge, but because that’s not what you do. Being pleasant and polite in the face of stress is what professionals are paid to do, so you do it. That aside, getting into it with clients or customers never serves any purpose, right? Help them solve their problem and move on.
Now on the flip side, when I’m out and about living life, I get irked not uncommonly. I try really hard not to, but it happens. And when it’s accompanied by jet lag, lack of sleep, and dehydration it only gets worse.
It was in this state that I arrived back home on Wednesday. I was already mad because I had to gate check my bag, which I HATE doing, and despite my attempts to make the bag handler-proof as it was being whisked away I realized my car keys were still in it. Greeeeeeat.
And because I am lucky when I travel and we had the extra pleasure of a TSA agent at the gate doing a triple level of screening, he took my nervous fidgeting as I watched my car keys being handed off to some stranger on the tarmac as signs of impending terrorism. He pulled me out of line for additional harassment, which consisted of him looking at my drivers license, up at me, back at my license, back at me for a good three minutes while asking me my name and my destination about three times. But he wanted to be thorough, so then he asked my middle name just for funsies, I guess, and, convinced of my benevolent intents, finally let me on the plane.
The flight attendant tried to take my one remaining bag away, you know, the one with my laptop and iphone and wallet and all of the photography equipment. And because I was feeling very New York by this time, I said
bite me “No thanks” and just walked by to my little breadbox of a seat and stuffed it under.
At Chicago, I was bounced around between the B and C terminals a few times until they decided where my connection was going to take off from, meaning I never got time to get coffee. Then on the second leg home I had someone sitting in my seat. He nonchalantly said, “Oh, I thought you’d just want the window instead,” and I said, “I’m sorry, you thought wrong,” and stared at him until he got back in his window seat and glared at me for three hours. See? Crabby. Do not be around me if I haven’t had my coffee.
(This is also why my husband told me we wouldn’t be going to Africa if I didn’t get a Xanax prescription, but he wasn’t there to be embarrassed by me so I could be as snitty as I wanted.)
ANYWAY, I got back to San Diego, where I had to wait the usual 45 minutes for Lindbergh’s baggage handler (I assume there is just one, who I conclude is also elderly, arthritic, and partially blind) to get around to getting the bags off the plane. To everyone’s credit at least no one stole my car keys, though they did rough up my bag a little just to make the experience authentic. But here’s where it got ugly.
The San Diego airport is under construction, so I had to park two counties away in a remote lot and take a bus in to the terminal. I checked with the information booth, who confirmed where to go to get to the bus back to my car. So I took my bag and my keys, walked through the terminal, over a bridge to the shuttle area, which is about a mile long and has two lanes of taxis and shuttles, looked around in vain for signs for the parking bus, looked up at the sky as it started to rain, and asked the guy standing there where to wait for the bus. There was nowhere to escape the rain, by the by.
“Did they tell you that at the information booth?” he said, shaking his head underneath his rain parka. “You have to go back inside and catch the bus back inside the terminal. I don’t know why they keep telling people to come here.”
“You’re going to Terminal 2 Parking, right?” I asked.
“No,” he said, like it was a strange question.
“But it’s part of the airport parking,” I said, pointing at his bus.
“No, I don’t go there,” he said. “You have to go across the bridge and catch a parking bus there. It’s orange. You can’t miss it.”
“But I already went over there,” I said, wondering if I was still on the plane, having a surreal dream. “They said to come here.”
“They were wrong,” he said. “You have to go over there and find it.”
“But they don’t even know where the bus is!” I said. “I’ve asked three people and gotten three answers and no one knows where this magic bus actually materializes.” As you can see, by now the stress of the day has filled my Bucket of Rationality beyond capacity by this point. It was overflowing. “Do you know where it pulls up?”
And then I started to sniffle, because as awful and stereotypical as it is, that is what I do when I am overtired and stressed and frustrated. Some people yell, some punch, and others, like me, lose it like a three year old.
Now, if the situation was turned and I was the one dealing with a freaked out traveler, I can think of many things I could do or say at this point that might be helpful, ways to solve the problem. Instead, he did the following: “Now miss, calm down.”
Which is of course the exact wrong thing to say to anyone teetering on the precipice. This pretty much guarantees they will never calm down. That was all he had to offer. Admonishment, and a vague insistence that I could just figure it out if I just walked around a wee bit more.
Now by this point I had already been wandering around the stupid terminal for half an hour, so I said, “Forget it. I’ll just walk.” Problem solved.
And he started to argue with me: “It’s a long walk, miss.” Now, suddenly, concern. That, or more likely I was ruining his fun since he was looking forward to calling the guy on the other side of the bridge to let him know I was coming back for him to mess with some more.
“Are you going to drive me to my car then?”
“Well, no, but it will take a long time-”
“It’s already taken forever and I’m still at the terminal,” I said. “At least I know I’ll get there.” And I walked away. And I did walk to my car, and it took a long time and I was in terrible shoes so each step towards the end was agony and I was a sopping wet mess in my soggy wool coat, but it was still better than bouncing around from idiot to idiot like a ping pong ball across the terminal one bridge.
This was not a travel horror story, I realize this. I think it’s actually pretty much the norm these days. This is why I could never be a frequent traveler. I don’t like deviations from clockwork-like precision. You should see me when a flight gets cancelled- ugly. But on the flipside, it’s made me more sympathetic to the rantings and ravings of people when they are under stress because I do the exact same thing. And when I’m the bus driver, I figure it out, know what I mean?
I’d love to hear your stories of clueless and unhelpful travel employees to make me feel less alone in this. Or, on the flip side, has someone ever, you know, actually gone out of their way to help you on the road? I hear it happens once or twice in a lifetime.