READY: From Airportophobia to Graceland

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

I have no fear of actual flying. In fact, I love looking out airplane windows at the vast expanse of the sky and the fluffy white clouds while thinking of those beautiful lines from John Magee’s poem “High Flight” about slipping “the surly bonds of earth” and reaching out to “touch the face of God.” I also like to see the tiny cars, buildings, and people down below.

So, my problem isn’t aviophobia (fear of flying) but a fear of airports themselves. There’s no official phobia term for that. My coined word airportophobia will just have to do. I dread the check in process and the TSA inspection, which always makes me feel like an idiot when I put my purse in the wrong bin or my blouse with its sparkly beads sets off the metal detector. And I hate taking my shoes off and being barefoot in public, especially on floors where thousands of other feet have been.

But that’s not the worst part of my phobia. Big airports terrify me. I’m afraid of not finding the right gate in time to catch a connecting flight, made worse because I have no sense of direction, especially in huge, unfamiliar places. Once, in Amsterdam, I ran for miles in circles, dragging two heavy suitcases (no baggage transfer), trying to find the concourse which had my next departure gate. With only 30 minutes from the previous flight to get to the plane bound for Hungary, I arrived out of breath just as the door was closing. The agent let me in but gave me a scolding for being tardy.

I can relate to the Tom Hanks character in the movie The Terminal about a man who becomes trapped in JFK International Airport where he’s forced to live and wander aimlessly. The film is partially inspired by the true story of Mehran Nasseri who lived in Charles de Gaulle International Airport from 1988 to 2006.

I thought I might take up permanent residence in Houston’s airport a few weeks ago when my flight to Memphis was over-booked, delayed, and had two gate changes.

But I really wanted to see Elvis, and I wasn’t about to repeat my 14 hour bus odyssey that I took to Mississippi last year, nor was I going to drive the 489.6 miles to Graceland. So, an airplane trip was the only way. Unfortunately, to get to Tennessee, one must first go to Houston or Atlanta or some other scary airport in the opposite direction.

On a friend’s suggestion, I asked for gate assistance. Now, I thought that meant I’d have a guide meet the plane and direct me to the next gate. I was stunned when someone met me with a wheelchair. Embarrassed, I decided it best to limp a little and emit a few heavy groans as I got in the chair so the escort would think I was handicapped. Sure enough, the wheelchair pusher took me through all the twists and turns of both the Houston and Charlotte airports and got me to the right gate. Grateful, but feeling foolish, I tipped my escorts generously and limped melodramatically to the boarding area.

In spite of my airportophobia and my almost getting on a plane to Harrisburg, Penn., the trip was worth it. Visiting Elvis’ home has long been on my bucket list, so I can check that box.

I was one of those 600,000 who make the trip to Graceland every year. Bought by 22-year-old Elvis in 1957 for $102,500, the mansion sits on 13.8 acres of land. It has several buildings which house museums of his personal artifacts and his totally awesome car collection. Unfortunately, I didn’t see his signature pink Cadillac convertible.

Quite touching was the private graveyard where he and several family members are buried. And the landscaped grounds are simply beautiful.

Best of all, his delightfully tacky home. So 1970’s, so ostentatious, so flamboyant, so ELVIS.

My friend, whom I met in Memphis, arranged for a tour bus from our hotel to Graceland. I’m glad she did. It’s not just an in and out look at the house. The place is more like Disney World, with 1950’s era cafes, museums, photo stands, gift shops, archives, a theatre, his private planes, etc. So there are que lines to each of the different areas. It took us five hours to see everything. Well, everything except the airplanes. We didn’t know one had to have a separate ticket for that.

 I had a great time at Elvis’ house as well as with my old friend of 50 years.

And it was all worth enduring my airportophobia.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.