I’ve spent the last four months on the East coast. In those four months, 99% of that time has been with Nordic skiers. During that extended ski camp, I’ve really committed to the whole cult/hermit thing cross-country skiers have going on. My constant gymnastic, spandexy routines almost convinced me that I led a normal life.
Enter the reality check/culture shock that is the airport. Last Friday, as I wandered through the corridors of several busy airports, I was reminded just how not-normal Nordic skiers are in this part of the world.
Let me walk you through my day, in excruciating detail, because, I know, you care.
I walk into the terminal to check in my bags and the Friday-evening-no-longer-perky gate assistant demanded that I unzip my ski bag.
“What’s in that bag?” She asked, pointing to my Fischer case like it was an alien intruder.
“My…ski…bag?” I responded, eyes narrowing.
“Yes?.” She was grumpy, the kind of grumpy that demands both a question mark and a period as punctuation.
“Skis?.” I responded. Two can play that game.
Moments later, as I dug through my jackets, boots, poles and, yes, skis, to excavate my rollerskis and avoid the 75 thousand dollar overweight fee, she returned my sass. Squinting, she stated, “those aren’t skis” and left the desk.
Had I not just avoided a 24 million dollar fee, I might have been annoyed. But, taking it from her perspective, she was right: those were not skis. In the end, I think we both left better people, I on my way home for a relaxing week before camp, and she home after a hard week of work condescending people for trying to avoid paying 65 billion dollars in overweight fees.
Fast forward to me working my way through the terminal with my not-skis, backpack and computer bag accompanied by my running shoes, water belt and helmet hanging off of various precipices thereof.
You know when people walk in public places with a puppy, how they gain immediate star status in said area? Well, in the terminal my rollerskis were kind of my puppy, only maybe more like a dirty, old seeing-eye dog with a limp, which made me like an ambiguous B or C-list celebrity.
Sure, some people recognized me. One of the TSA officers gave me a high five for my “land skis.” Classic ratchets proved particularly amusing to two older women at the gate. For the most part, though, the presence of my rolls invoked a confused response of fear entangled with interest.
At one point, I accidentally left my skis on that tiny shelf they put above the toilet in the bathroom. As soon as I got back outside and realized my sudden lack of celebrity, I rushed back in to the stalls to find a woman standing in front of my former stall, mouth agape, trying to decide whether or not to proceed.
“Those are mine,” I sang past her awkwardly before making the classic inappropriate airport joke: “Promise it’s not a bomb!”
She didn’t think it was funny.
Once I finally made it onto the plane and managed to stow my dozen carry-ons (including my “phanny pack” as referred to by at least three passengers), the spotlight faded. The seeing-eye dog was in its kennel, I could blend in for a moment.
Mid-blending in, despite my feeling of societal alienation for the past hour, I realized that there was nowhere in which to blend. Turns out, everyone else is a freak, too. Watching the masses of people pour on and off the plane, I recognized that everyone has their own awkward puppies, some people are just better at hiding theirs than others.
But, really, why hide it? Of all the people in that line of passengers, I best identified with the kid busting a move in the isle as he waited for a seat, or the woman rocking her best pair of neon parachute pants. The people who take the risk of being scary and interesting, I want to hear their stories.
It sounds like a middle school self-esteem lesson, but those exist for a reason. Next time you see me with my rollerskis/spandex/boots/phanywaterpackbelt, make no mistake, I won’t shy from those confused gazes. I’ll own it.