“Ugh, what do you mean the flight is cancelled?” I exhaled.
I had been waiting in the Madison airport for four hours. I had been on and off the same airplane twice already without taking off, alternating between the freezing terminal with it’s blasting air conditioning and the sweaty plane with it’s scowling travelers.
“I’m sorry sir. There’s weather in Chicago and it’s not letting up,” the gate attendant replied.
“There’s always goddamn weather in Chicago. I think Chicago did something really bad to piss off God.”
The gate attendant forced herself not to smile at my quip, but her lip quivered slightly, betraying her stoic demeanor. “I can get you on a flight at 6 am back to Los Angeles.”
My phone read 11 p.m. Not worth getting a hotel when I had to be back at the airport in 6 hours. I just decided to sleep at the airport, which is not the first time that’s happened. It’s probably not even the 10th time.
Looking around the terminal, I actually felt pretty good about my decision. Many airports are stuffed with uncomfortable row seats with permanent armrests that prevent a weary traveler from sprawling out awkwardly. But Madison was full of actual couches with cushions and pleather and hope.
I pushed a couple of couches together to make a fortress, an airport sleep castle, and just as I was lying down, the gate attendant approached me.
“I’m sorry sir, but since this is such a small airport, people aren’t allowed to sleep in the terminal. We don’t have enough staff to monitor up here. You’ll have to exit through security and re-enter in the morning.”
I looked around and noticed we were literally the only two people there. I squinted my eyes to look intimidating. “I’m just gonna sleep here,” I said.
She responded quickly, “There’s actually police that do a sweep of the terminal and they’ll escort you out. I’m really sorry. I wish you could sleep up here.”
After I asked for some more clarification for a rule I didn’t want to understand, I frustratingly stated my final desperate plea, “But there are only chairs outside of security, not nice couches like this! I can’t sleep in a chair!”
She thought for a moment. “Actually, I think there’s one couch in the family lounge area. No one really checks there. You could probably get that.”
I sprung into action, gathering my things quickly, desperate to snag that couch before some other thankless traveler. I ran out of security and noticed about 20 other people already sleeping uncomfortably in chairs in the ticketing area. I raced to the family lounge in record time and eureka, the couch remained unoccupied. It was actually only a loveseat, but a chair it was not.
The lounge wasn’t a separate room from the airport. It looked more like a hospital inlet with walls on three sides but no door to block off from the rest of the people traffic, blank white walls with nothing hanging on them, and bright fluorescent lights. There were two large family bathrooms separated from the waiting lounge area by heavy doors.
I plopped down on the loveseat but quickly realized the blazing fluorescent lights would prevent any heavy sleep. I believe I did what any sane person would do in that situation – I pushed the couch into one of the family bathrooms. Large enough to hold a couch and, more importantly, pitch black with the lights off, the bathroom offered the perfect place to get a quality 5 hours of sleep. My phone read 11:30 p.m. I set my alarm for 4:45 am.
At about midnight, I woke to knocking on the bathroom door. “Do you have a couch in there?” came a deep bass voice.
“Yeah”, I responded. “Is that a problem?” No response. I heard feet shuffling away so I rolled over on the couch and tried to slip back into dreamland.
About 5 minutes later, a louder knock interrupted my quiet. “Dane County Sheriff’s Department! Open Up!” a female voice bellowed. I opened the bathroom door and a female sheriff in full uniform stood in front of a gruff looking male janitor.
Groggily I asked what was their problem. As you might expect, the sheriff explained that I wasn’t allowed to move a couch into the bathroom. I don’t do well with authority – that is evident from my many detentions in school and my multiple arrests for fireworks. Our exchange went as follows.
“You’re telling me there’s a specific rule against moving couches?”
“I’m telling you that you’re not allowed to move a couch.”
“I’ll move it back in the morning. I’m just trying to get some sleep for a few hours.”
“In the bathroom?”
“Yeah, it’s the only place that’s dark.”
“You can’t sleep in the bathroom.”
“Because I can’t move the couch? Or because there is also a rule about sleeping in bathrooms?”
“I need you to move the couch back.”
“Why does it matter?”
At this point the janitor piped in, “What if someone needs the bathroom?”
I responded, “Sir, I already told you that my flight is at 6 am. I showed the sheriff my boarding pass. It’s after midnight. There’s a second identical bathroom next door. So what you’re saying is that you expect there to be not one, but two families that need to use these bathrooms at the same time in the hours between midnight and 4:45 a.m.? Are these families on drugs?”
Nobody laughed. The sheriff simply said, “If you don’t move the couch out of the bathroom, I’ll have to arrest you.”
Defeated, I moved the couch out of the bathroom as the janitor-sheriff team sauntered away. I sat on the couch seething for a few minutes, fuming about the injustice of my predicament. Then I decided to take action. If it’s against airport rules to move furniture, I’ll make the sheriff go around to every other person in the airport who pushed two chairs together to cobble together some semblance of sleep, and I’ll force her to wake them up to move their chairs back to their starting positions. If the sheriff wanted to be a dick, I could be a bigger dick. I was going to make every person in that airport hate her.
I stomped around the airport searching for the sheriff for 10 minutes, but she had already slipped back into her dark cave somewhere, drunk on her own power. My plan foiled. Glancing at the time on my phone, now 12:30 a.m., I gave up and decided to get what little sleep I could on the couch under the bright lights. I was still pissed off, but exhaustion is a more powerful motivator than anger for me. I hugged the inside of the couch and tossed and turned for a few hours. Whether because of the bright lights, my underlying anger, or the noise of sleeping in an airport, I never fell deeply asleep.
When my alarm blasted me awake at 4:45 a.m., I grabbed my things quickly with the intention of heading to my gate. But then I noticed there were no video cameras monitoring the family lounge. Revenge danced around my mind. I’m not proud of this, but every impulse drove me to it. I pushed the couch back into the bathroom and wedged it behind the door. I can’t use the bathroom? Now no one can use the bathroom. There’s a fucking couch keeping the door from opening.
I know they probably found a way to get the couch out of its wedged position pretty quickly, but they were also probably pretty annoyed at having to do it. I’ve never smiled that much after four hours of sleep in my life.