To Commute or Not to Commute? {A Flight Attendant’s Question}

Sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near.”—Uri Shulevitz

I remember the first time I was in Charlotte, NC. It was in December 2010, and I was on my way to visit my friends Andy and Jonathan up in New York along with my good friend Alanna. Incidentally, it was also a flight on the airline I currently work for. Coincidence?!
We were in Charlotte for about another hour as we waited to catch the flight to LaGuardia airport. Charlotte is a major hub (the 2nd largest hub in the South. Atlanta being first) so smaller cities like Chattanooga often have to go through Charlotte to get to the mainline flights.

It was one of the first times (since I was really little, which shouldn’t count) that I was on a big jet (I had only flown in little Cessnas before) and all the sights and sounds were foreign to me. Fast forward to now and I could tell you absolutely everything about that aircraft. It was an Airbus A320, and I know every button, every knob, every door, every window, every seat and precisely what every chime, whirr and beep means.
While on the flight, I passed the time by reading and snapping this priceless photo of Alanna, who had fallen asleep in the row behind me. She later threatened to kill me when she saw I had posted it on Facebook. Bless her heart. ;)

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Me, utterly bored. Waiting to deplane in Charlotte for the first time

lerp derp
lerp derp.

Looking back at my first time in Charlotte, I can remember its significance. Before I became a flight attendant, I almost never traveled out of Tennessee. So when I finally did successfully maneuver myself around Charlotte Airport, I felt this huge sense of accomplishment. That isn’t to say I didn’t  also feel completely overwhelmed. Poor Alanna diligently strode behind me as I Lewis n’ Clark’d it through the terminal, pretending not to be hopelessly enraptured by the concept of a moving sidewalk. Everything was so big and busy and loud. Little did I know I would one day be working there, and consider Charlotte Douglas International Airport my “office.”

I use that word office very meaningfully. It is not my home. Charlotte is a beautiful city; I’m still discovering more and more that I like about it every day. It’s much bigger than Chattanooga and there’s so much to do and see. I’m so glad that I chose to move here, because I had lived in the same town for 25 years and was itching to see more of the world. Still, if I’d really wanted a drastic change, I would’ve picked Philly or DC. In the end, I couldn’t leave the South. It’s so hilarious how you realize who you really are and what you really want when you give yourself the option of drastic change. Some people embrace the 180 degree turns—and I have—but others still like to go back to what is familiar in the end.

I like Southern manners, and Southern food and the Southern leisurely but loyal way of getting things done. I don’t  (as much) like the brusque, dirty, industrial feel of the Northern cities I’ve visited. Everybody is always in a hurry and they think you’re being sarcastic when you say something genuine and polite. Now I realize this isn’t true across the board; it’s just been my experience so far. Everybody is different, and variety is a good thing.

When I come home to this (see below), my heart just finally exhales.

on the walking bridge at Chattanooga TN one beautiful summer morning last week
on the walking bridge at Chattanooga TN one beautiful summer morning last week

Chattanooga will always be my home. I realize that now. When I say “my home is in Charlotte” it doesn’t feel right. For one, I’m only at my apartment for probably about 5 or less days of the month—I’m always away on trips! On the days I have off, I pretty much have gone back to Chattanooga. I miss my friends, I miss my family, and I miss Darcy. So much.

The other day, he was weeding and trimming our garden while I was mowing the lawn (I had never done this before, so I was quite proud to learn). To him, it was a unromantic but necessary responsibility/duty to perform. To me, it was the crowning glory of couple hood—of working hard on the house and being active outside together. I looked over at him, with a little bit of leaf stuck to his face, intent on cleaning out the hedges, and I knew this was where I belonged. Forever. This was my home. With him, in this city, and the ability to come and go as I please, I am happier than I’ve ever known to be possible. I have the key on my keyring and an indelible keyhole in my heart that only Chattanooga can unlock.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to keep traveling. I love my job, and can foresee myself doing this indefinitely. The beauty of it is I can call anywhere my home. I only have to be on base when I’m on call. Once I get a line, I’ll know my entire schedule in advance, and I can choose to work a minimum of 40 hours per month.
Now, currently, that wouldn’t make sense to do. I have student loans to pay and places to go. But, I could see myself…say…5 years from now, being at home 5 days a week and going off for a weekend trip as a way to enjoy some “me” time. I’ve never been able to imagine giving up working and bringing something to the table financially once I get married and/or have kids. I’m just far too independent to rely on someone else wholly for my quality of life. But fortunately, even if I was making a great deal less money than I am now, Darcy has a really good stable job and it wouldn’t be a problem. So, suffice it to say from all my rambling here that this would be the ultimate ideal situation for me.

According to my fellow resserve flight attendant compadres, it is possible to commute while on reserve. It’s very difficult, but it can be done. As I mentioned earlier, I spend so little time at my apartment that it’s almost a joke in retrospect that I have a lease. Sure, it’s a place to keep my stuff and sleep and see my roommates. But, my friend the Politician (see picture below on far left) still commutes from his home in Harrisburg PA and basically stays either on peoples’ couches or gets super awesome discounts on hotels when he needs to be here in the Queen City. I honestly don’t mind living out of a suitcase when I’m not in Chattanooga. It’s kind of exciting, really. This seems to be the biggest disadvantage about commuting as a reserve (according to what I’ve heard). When I’m on call, I have to be in Charlotte, but as a commuter, I’ll get called for trips which start the next day—so I can just hop on a flight in Chattanooga and fly 40 minutes back to CLT.

The more Darcy and I talk about our future, the more clear it becomes to me that I’ll probably commute when my lease is up next year. It saves money, if not time, and allows us to be together more often. When I think about it, I really have the better end of the deal. I left for training, and he had to stay behind. It was hard for me to go somewhere completely new and put my nose to the grindstone, but he had to be willing to let me go and wait for me to come back. Commuting may be considered more “inconvenient” for me, but its a small price to pay to make a real life together. While I’m gone, Darcy has been spending quality time with my family on his own—an absolute first in a significant other for me. I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am in love!

Anyway, I guess this post has ended but being less “if” I should commute, but why I want to. I have friends who have told me I could stay on their couch or spare bedroom anytime, so there’s not many loose ends to tie up.

Commuting (especially while on reserve) is certainly not for everybody. I certainly envy those lucky few whose spouses or significant others live here in Charlotte! But I can tell, both logically and emotionally, that this is the right choice for me someday in the not-too-distant future. And I’m so excited to rise to the challenge.

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