Existential Closure in the Denver Airport

“How am I not myself?” — I Heart Huckabees, 2004

Randy: “Oh, man, is that the IT?”
Craig’s Father: “Yeah.”
Stuart: “How is it?”
Craig’s Father: “Well.. ugh. It beats dealing with the airline companies, that’s for sure.”

–South Park, “The Entity,” November 21, 2001

Editorial note: This post was originally penned in January, but left unfinished/unedited for 7 months because I’m a lazy bastard.


As the most interesting man would say: “I don’t always miss flights, but when I do it’s in Denver.”

In fact, this is the first flight I’ve ever missed, but I’ve cut it close before.

I was told by a checkpoint gremlin in MIA to “run fast” after I arrived by taxi, still wet from the catamaran I’d been on just 30 minutes earlier. I’ve been the straggler in ATL more times than I care to count, and I’ve made a BMI plane a few minutes before the doors closed. I’d enjoyed stellar alignment in my young, irresponsible years, and it appeared I was destined to die with a perfect fight-making record.


The only flight I was able to enjoy today is the one sitting in front of me now, in Boulder Beer Tap House at DIA. According to the wall, they were established in 1979, the same year President Carter was attacked by a swamp rabbit and McDonald’s introduced the happy meal.

I’m sitting here, writing this, because life is a decision tree with a trunk in the womb. Out there, somewhere in infinite existence, are a versions of me on that plane, and maybe one of them will die in the fiery crash that happens an hour outside of DFW.

Down for whatever? No, silly. Dallas-Fort Worth. That’s where I’ll die in that plane crash on 1/5/2016. My god, it’s 2016 already. I guess I was Y2K+16 compliant after all.

Then again, countless versions of me could be on countless planes right now, enjoying a window seat, because why fly over stuff and not look at it? He’ll get into his real bed around midnight, and be able to wake up for work the next day, tired but functional.

The version of me writing this isn’t so lucky, albeit luckier than the one who dies in a plane crash. This version of me is trapped at the airport for another eight hours, hoping that he’s lucky to get a seat on the red eye, much less an aisle or window.

Then again, what is luck? If I’m lucky enough to find $20 on the ground, it’s because someone else was unlucky enough to lose it. If by some stroke of luck we manage to get seats on this high-demand flight, it’s by some other stroke of lucklessness elsewhere. There needs to be a Law of Conservation of Luck, which states that luck can be neither created nor destroyed, only transferred, in an isolated system.

…but I digress, as usual.


Why Am I Here?

I find myself asking this a lot, actually.

This particular circumstance is rooted in events starting a few days ago. A group of my friends and I were up here to ski. My girlfriend came along, and she wanted to buy postcards and send them to her friends. In typical male fashion, I told her that we’d have plenty of time the last day in town to do that, because our AirBNB check out was 10am and our flight wasn’t until 4pm.

That gave us four hours to kill.

So, the last day finally rolls around and we check out at eleven instead of ten. We’d been up late the night before, but that’s what happens on vacations in Denver.

Three hours to kill.

We head to Capitol Hill. We walk around, take a bunch of pictures, talk about the number of bums in the area, use the library’s restroom like a bum, etc.

Two hours to kill.

Head over to Ballpark area, see even more bums, drink beer at Ignite while waiting for lunch table at Snooze. Crazy that this is the only place serving beer on that part of Larimer at noon.

Half an hour to kill.

Decide to go to airport early and find/mail postcards there.

At this point, things start happening quickly and slowly at the same time. Me, my girlfriend, and my best friend get to the airport and drop off the rental. I even remembered to grab the fuzzy dice we bought in a Kansas Walmart off the rearview mirror.

We hopped onto separate shuttles, which were apparently heading to different sides of a fairly thin airport…not sure why they designed it that way, but there are certainly theories. My friend headed east to Delta, we went west to American. It all falls apart after this.

My girlfriend and I still had some edibles from one of the friendliest dispensaries in Denver, The Giving Tree. However, since our final destination (i.e. South Florida) possesses some of the most drug trafficked airports in the world, we decided it was best to eat what we wanted and throw the rest away.

We’d eagerly give it to someone entering Denver from the outside world, but that would be illegal. I’d done the math – for what we paid, we were only going to throw away about $6 worth of edibles, which was nowhere close to the risk assumed by carrying it through federal security or handing it to a stranger.

Consuming the edibles was a dubious maneuver at that point. We’d established their onset time at about 30 minutes to an hour, which should give us plenty of time to get through security. We agreed that this was the time to eat them. We did so, and proceeded to check our big bag.

Unfortunately, I was under the impression she was only buying postcards, not also writing them, looking for addresses in her phone, and mailing them from the airport. Meanwhile, I’m left to my devices, which consisted of a bar and the bathroom. While washing my hands after the latter, I got a call from my girlfriend. Instead of answering it with wet hands in there, I silenced it, dried my hands, and called her back outside.

I found her around the corner, writing postcards on the counter top in the DIA post office. I told her our plane was boarding in 10 minutes. She got mad because of our procrastination days before (ok, my procrastination), proving to me that assumption truly is the mother of all fuckups.

That, my friends, is the second time I’ve referenced Under Siege 2 in a week.

Anyway, we ran to the security line. As we arrived, I was still searching my pockets for my ticket…shit, I’d left it in the bathroom, right on the metallic counter below the mirror. Life Pro Tip: Always keep tickets for entry (flight, festival, movie, concert, etc) on your person.

I sprinted back up to the bathroom, only to realize that someone had taken it. Surely nobody would be so stupid as to think they could take and use someone else’s boarding pass, so it was likely some good Samaritan who thought he was doing someone a favor.

It was at this point that I realized I was quite stoned. My mind had been so busy to this point that I didn’t realize I was high, but when I began daydreaming about a terrorist taking my ticket, blowing something up, and then me getting interrogated in a windowless airport hangar because charred remains of my ticket were found on the corpse of the terrorist…well, I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I ran to the front desk to ask where lost and found was. They directed me downstairs, so I ran there. By this point I had run a couple hundred yards. I approached the L&F counter breathlessly, and momentarily forgot why I was there…oh yeah, “Has anyone returned a boarding pass?” They looked and found nothing, so I ran back upstairs to get another ticket printed off.

This is where it would’ve helped to be sober. I should have gone ahead and printed off a new ticket when I ran to the front desk after realizing the ticket was lost, because the lost and found trip was precious time wasted. And now, when I attempted to print off a new pass, the kiosk wouldn’t let me. I asked the check-in guy to come do it, and he came over clearly wondering how I wasn’t able to do something so simple.

When he was also unable to print it off, he went back behind his counter and tried from there. Fail. He then informed me that there was no way to print off a new boarding pass.

“Why?” I asked him.

He replied, “It’s past check-in time.”

I looked at him with skeptical contempt: “I checked in over an hour ago, why can’t you just print off the same ticket I printed off then?”

He looked back at me apathetically: “I’m sorry, sir. The system just won’t allow that.”

It was clear to me he had never encountered this situation, but also that this situation should never arise. This “system error” is actually one of two things. It’s either: 1) a bug in the system that needs to be fixed, or 2) an intentional trigger in the system designed to prevent laggards from getting their seat and, thereby, allowing the airline to A) give their seat to someone on standby, or B) to upcharge them on a new flight.

But I was high, so I didn’t have the bandwidth to argue with him over the technological nuances of his “system.” I asked for a supervisor to help me book a new flight.

This is where things got even more complicated. Denver was still recovering from a crazy New Year’s snowstorm that brought air traffic in the midwest and northeast to a grinding halt the week before. This meant that people who were supposed to leave 2-3 days before us were leaving today…a Tuesday, a day we chose to leave specifically for the cheaper flights and fewer passengers.

The earliest we can leave is midnight tonight, and even that flight is technically booked solid, so we’re on standby hoping that two people don’t show up for one of the very high demand flights leaving the great state of Colorado. The next flight is early tomorrow morning, and it’s also full.

So, here we are, sitting in a Denver airport bar, the result of decisions, indecision, and weather. I’m most to blame for this. I should’ve taken my girlfriend to do postcards earlier in the week. I should’ve made everyone get up earlier. I should’ve waited to eat the edibles until right before security. I should’ve put the boarding pass in my pocket. I should’ve had a backup boarding pass electronically on my phone.

I should’ve done a lot of things, but then I wouldn’t have this story. Also, let’s not forget about the John who dies in the plane crash halfway to Dallas. I’m glad I’m my me, and not his me, because his me’s mother is going to be really upset when she gets that next-of-kin phone call from American Airlines.

I’m here because I’m supposed to be, and that’s comforting.


PS – We got seats on the red-eye, and I went straight to work from the airport.

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