'Life' has a way of getting our attention.

You are floating along getting things done, working, emails, housework, paying bills, keeping up with the weeds (who really does that?), and life throws you a curved ball that totally unbalances and challenges you. This is when you get tested. This happened to me this week.

I had been planning to spend a brief but productive couple of days with my daughter. She lives in Melbourne and is starting her own small business. Having gone through the same growing pains years earlier, we felt I could help her with some of the ‘do’s and don’ts that I learned along the way. And to add the icing to the cake, catch up on some rare and special mother/daughter time. The time went quickly and it was time to say our goodbyes and release my control onto the universe – or the aviation stratosphere. I’m not a fan of travelling. Everyone who knows me well, knows this about me. I have learned to be a little more patient and relinquish control to forces I have little faith in. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing new places; different cultures, sensing and feeling the vibrancy of new places and people. But getting there is, where my tolerance leaves me. Am I the only one who can’t wait until we can say ‘Beam me up, Scottie’?

The fear begins in the pit of my stomach when I join the other hapless souls in the ‘check-in’ queue. Here is where you begin the leap into the unsettling arms of the aviation stratosphere. ‘Where are you going?’ is the first question, then ‘ID please’. Now that you have grappled with your pieces of paper that prove you’ve paid for this privilege (?), handbag, cabin luggage (where did I put my sunglasses?) and on this occasion my laptop – which is as heavy as a brick. I really need to upgrade to the Mac Air. Imagine stuffing the Mac Air under my arm and still be able to rifle through my handbag then purse for that elusive driver’s licence! Now that would be heaven.

But I diverse … So I balance the brick – I mean my laptop – on the shelf at the check-in desk that is just a fraction too small to stay unfettered by my only available hand, and hand over my driver’s licence to the young woman dressed in virgin red with purple scarf around her flushed neck. The uniform is freshly familiar to me as my daughter works for the same airline. ‘Staff Travel?’ she asks me with an attitude that borders on scornful. ‘Yes,’ I say cheerfully, ready to go into a little spiel about how my daughter works for the airline and how once I was fortunate to ride in the cockpit – in the jump seat, no less, but she’s in no mood for small talk. She asks me if I have packed anything dangerous? I think for a moment, have I? I don’t think so but the question leaves me uneasy. If I had, would I own up? Wouldn’t someone with illegal motives, not own up anyway? Off goes my little grey suitcase with it’s pink and white stripes clearly indicating that it’s owner has paid nearly nothing for the privilege of flying - so don’t handle me with care … off it goes trundling slowly along the greasy black conveyor belt into the bowels of the airport matrix cum black-hole - to who-knows-where. That’s it. One hurdle over and done with. As I head uneasily towards the next one with my brick under my arm and boarding pass now safely tucked into my handbag. Actually it’s not a fully-blown, real, authentic boarding pass. It’s a pale comparison. It’s a standby pass that makes you feel like a second class citizen. But I’ll go into that in a minute.

The next hurdle is before me. The security scanning area. (Imagine scary booming music: boom, boom boom!) Now I should let you know that 98% of all the times I have travelled, I get pulled over by the security person who wants to swab me and my handbag for explosives and drugs. I stand on tip-toes and look down the line to see the man who I know will be engaging me in a conversation in a few minutes time. I join the people at the cold, morgue-like silver bench and grab a grubby plastic drawer and remove my brick – I mean – laptop. I place the protective sleeve the laptop travels in, into the drawer and place the laptop on top, as I’ve been instructed to in the past. I place my handbag behind it on the rollers and walk through the scanning doorway. But wait. The female behind the scanning box draped with leathery straps before me, scolds me. ‘You don’t need to take out your laptop. Put it back!’. As she speaks she upends the grubby plastic drawer and my laptop sleeve refuses to move – jammed tightly in and with an annoying squeak , she tries to extricate the laptop sleeve from the grubby plastic drawer with a thump of her solid fist. It falls out and I dutifully zip my laptop safely back into it’s sleeve and it rumbles through the scanning box, as I survey the scene before me.

Next hurdle. Before I step through the Devil’s portal, I hesitate. I wonder if my boots and necklace are going to have to come off. Maybe they’ll set off the alarm, making everyone look at me, thinking I might be a terrorist with a bomb in my necklace. I feel paralysing guilt about even thinking those taboo words in the airport temple. People have been hauled away for merely whispering those evil words. Can they hear my thoughts? Honestly my necklace looks impressive but I bought it last year at a sale and the only reason I’m wearing it now is because I thought it might get broken, crushed and mangled after my little grey case bearing the staff-travel beacon, would be man-handled by a disgruntled luggage handler who had a toothache or was constipated and was feeling slightly out-of-love with the world. I take my courage with a large intake of breath and boldly step through the scanning portal of doom. Great. No alarms. Next hurdle, collect my laptop and handbag and walk with confidence past the swabbing security guy with his black magic stick. I look everywhere but at him and there it is. ‘Excuse me ma’am’. Yep, 99% of the time I get hauled over to the side while other happy travellers are allowed to go and have a coffee, muffin or check-in to Facebook and tell everyone they’re at the airport so all their ‘friends’ can see and get jealous, but ‘like’ their post anyway, thinking ‘How come he’s off interstate again?’ And ‘how come I don’t get to go interstate like he does’? I ask the swabbing man, who is smiling and obviously enjoying his job, ‘How come I get pulled over all the time?’ He laughs and tells me ‘It must be your smiling face!’. Yeah, I thought, I’ve heard that before and was flattered the first couple of times, but now, it’s just plain annoying and actually discriminatory.

Okay where are you next hurdle? Ah yes, the gate. My gate of Hell. I look at all the peeps returning to Adelaide. You can tell them a mile off. Businessmen who’ve had a meeting in trendy Melbourne and several ordinary travellers like me. Adelaide people (for the most part) are beige. They dress to blend in, not stand out. Some wear 70’s clothes as if this was the 70’s. But they wear them like an apology. This isn’t trendy, hipster 70’s dressing. This is a closet full of clothes that are not worn out, are still serviceable and defines Adelaidians, no matter where they travel.

So here we are. No seats. People are fed-up, checking Facebook and avoiding eye-contact. I approach the next hurdle and greet the gatekeeper. ‘Hi, I’m on standby. Can I have a boarding pass (out of this Hell) please (please, please!!!)?’ She frowns and peers at a screen out of my view and says, ‘Sorry. You’ll have to wait. You’ll know 5 minutes after everyone has checked in. Give me your standby pass and I’ll call you when we need you.’ Great. I’ve been bumped before and I know it’s the risk I take when I take advantage of staff travel but every time it happens, I get a horrid feeling in the pit of my stomach. I find a seat and disappear into my book, shutting out this black cloud of disgruntled, detached souls waiting for the gatekeeper to tell them whether they can go home – or not.

I did get on the flight and I did get home that night and I looked back at the hurdles with a deep sigh of relief. I survived! Thinking twice before I step into the aviation vortex again.

Sleep came like a warm blanket and in the morning I shuffled downstairs to connect my faithful, beautiful –not a brick anymore - laptop to the web. Unzipping the protective sleeve I place the mac proudly on it’s pedestal and connect the power. I feel for the dongle in the mesh pocket of the sleeve. Where is it??? It can’t be??? Then I see it. The scenario flashes through my mind, the moment when the female security officer was patting (banging) my stubborn laptop sleeve out of the plastic drawer. The dongle must have popped out only to be lost somewhere in the Melbourne Airport aviation temple of doom. Maybe it fell on the floor. Maybe it got left behind – sitting in the plastic drawer, silently screaming at me ‘Don’t forget me! I’m here! Look! See me!!!’. But I didn’t. I was steeling myself for my next hurdle – the swabbing man with his black magic stick grinning eagerly in my direction – his next victim.

So, yes I was challenged today. I called Optus and hung up feeling completely exasperated and violated by ‘Flynn’ who told me ‘Yes ma’am, we can replace the dongle for you, no problem. That will be $39 or $100 over 2 years’. I flipped and flapped, went into a cold sweat, felt my blood pressure rise and fall (mostly rise) and finally shelled out $69 for the privilege of an upgraded dongle to 4G – whatever the hell that is.

I will better prepare next time I decide to enter the aviation temple of doom, and have a clever repartee for the swabbing security man who I know will pull me aside – I’m 100% sure of that!