The past few weeks have been rather chaotic and have given me ample opportunity to contemplate. Contemplate the meaning of life on a lonely, late-night drive to the hospital to throw up a Hail-Mary in the hopes that somehow my work computer can uncorrupt the file holding the big presentation that was mostly finished and was due to be given in 12 hours. Contemplate the passing of time and how fast kids grow up while having been away from my children frequently and noting how much they have changed and grown in only a few days. Contemplate the worst places I have ever slept.
I had occasion to mull over that topic while I was occupying a small corner of O’Hare’s Terminal L the other night. Thankfully, my list was not particularly long and it was a stretch to get it up to five locations. This discussion does not include any mention of the various “interesting” call rooms I have slept in over the course of my career, since in the end none of them were particularly great. For some reason, it also doesn’t include any episodes from college, although there was probably some time that I had to sleep in some unfortunate circumstance as a part of fraternity life.
One of them has been mentioned awhile back in a tribute to my mom. My brothers, my mom and I spent one sweltering evening inside of a canvas tent one hot August night of my youth. The next two on the list come from various residency retreats where I ended up crashing on someone else’s floor. To make matters worse, neither of those incidents involve any salacious or sordid details. Just boring old doing the right thing.
As I lay in a crumpled heap at beautiful Gate L6B
I knew that there was only one night that could compare to the cramped and uncomfortable ridiculousness of this night. Of course, I am talking about Prom Night.
If there is one incident in the history of my life that goes straight to the heart and soul of who I am and how I make decisions, it would be the night of my senior prom. The dance was at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. From there, my then-girlfriend and I went with a handful of friends on a boat cruise of Lake Michigan. After that, it was time for the limousine to take everyone home. Since I was the one who arranged it (plus I lived the farthest away), I was dropped off last. The limo rolled town the street and and tried to soak in a few more memories of what is billed in teen comedies as the greatest night of your life. As the limo stopped and I opened the door to get out, I was struck one singular thought. “I don’t have any keys in my pocket!”
Since I wasn’t driving anywhere, I never grabbed them. So there, I was at 3 o’clock in the morning, standing in the driveway staring at my dark and silent house. Most normal human beings would either knock on the door, ring the doorbell or call the house to get someone to get up and unlock the door. But I am not a normal human being. I sat there thinking that I didn’t want to wake anyone up by pounding on the door or ringing the doorbell (I didn’t have a cell phone, so calling was out). But I didn’t know where else I could go. I wasn’t going to sleep outside on the ground in a rented tuxedo. It was at that moment that genius struck. I turned and looked at my car in the driveway, my heart full of hope.
The question racing through my brain was “Did I lock my car?” I ran up to the door to see if it was open and in one singular motion found the door to open immediately. Yes! Freedom! So I cleared out the backseat, changed in the lovely boxers that we had received as a favor for the dance and laid my weary head down. Problem solved. Was it comfortable? No, I was a bit too long for the back seat, but at least I was protected from the elements and that was enough for me. Problem solved.
Of course, I never considered that my parents would be extremely worried about me. A few hours later, my parents were up and about wondering where I was and what they were going to do to try and figure it out. My dad went out to get the newspaper and I think I heard him making some noise, because I bolted up and went for my chance at a real bed. My dad was rather dumbfounded when he saw me get out of my car and he wondered out loud what possessed me to decide to not knock on the door and get let in to the house like a normal person. I then explained to him my high-level decision making processes and my desire not to be a bother. He sort of shook his head and then we went into the house, where I proceeded to go straight up to my room to sleep in a real bed, cementing a true classic Mike story for all time.
As I was sitting by myself in the terminal eating a wonderful dinner (because in another genius move, I decided that I wasn’t hungry enough to eat any of the available options in the Boston airport),
I recounted my prom night sleeping arrangements as well as assessed all other sleep related memories and came to the easy conclusion that sleeping at O’Hare was easily the worst sleeping situation I had ever encountered, hands down.
Technically, I didn’t have to sleep in the terminal. American Airline was kindly going to get me a discount at a hotel. I could have called my parents to come get me or my brother for that matter. (Ironic that both of my worst sleeping situations ever came down to a decision whether or not to bother my family!) But whether it was the bitterness about missing my wife and kids, my fatigue or my general angst towards American Airlines, I decided not to take there most likely substandard offer and just sleep in the terminal.
My reasoning was 3 fold:
1) I wanted to stick it to American Airlines.
Because of course, being extremely unkempt, uncomfortable and getting an overall horrible night’s sleep is a great was to show up a large, unfeeling corporation.
2) I really didn’t want to have to go back through security again.
Normally, the security line doesn’t bother me all that much. However, Boston’s airport had a really cramped security line, I had multiple electronics I would need to unpack and I may have ticked off karma back in Boston. No matter the reason, I did not feel like trying to trudge all the way through security in the morning when I could just stay here in the terminal and not worry about it.
3) If this was going to suck, it was going to epically suck.
Only one other time in my life have I started to think this way. When I was an intern, one night I admitted 13 patients to the floor by myself and still managed to get 45 minutes of sleep. Multiple times that night, the senior on call and my co-intern both asked me if I needed help. I politely declined every time, because early on, I could tell that something historic was about to happen. (It was right about the time I went to admit a patient and I ended up also having to admit her sister after evaluating her too because her parents mentioned in passing that the sister also wasn’t feeling well.) I decided that this was going to be the war story I told to generations of future doctors and I wasn’t about to have this moment taken from me by asking for help.
The same thoughts came over me in the terminal. “This sucks and nothing is going to make it any better. Why not add to the narrative by just sleeping in the terminal.” This is how an adult with a real job, who has saved up a few bucks and could spring for a nearby hotel room, decided to sleep in an O’Hare terminal.
So, what was the cost of this hubris? Fortunately, I came away relatively unscathed and without any lingering injuries besides some stiff muscles. I didn’t sleep very well and spend the next day wandering around like a zombie because I was so sleep deprived. But the true question is “Was it worth it?” To which I answer, the pain and sleep deprivation were totally worth it. Maybe it wasn’t enough of an effort to truly stick it to American Airlines, but it was more than enough to add yet another memorable moment into grand story that is me. Plus, any time you can relive your prom is probably worth it, right?