Holiday travel is rife with ghosts. They trail us through the echoing concourses and queue up patiently at the gate. Finally in midair a reprieve: you can sense them heavy and silent and dodging the sporadic glow of overhead bulbs. Then they are like us: too tired to sleep but too alert to slip into the memories. The bulbs go out one by one; resurrected in the orange glows of towns far below as the flight describes a slow arc across this country.
Because the ghosts are not sinister spirits or beloved dead. They are our own expired dreams and hopes, roiled up by the emotions of the late December weeks and trailing us like thin skeins of dust that will eventually disappear once we are fully at ease in our destination.
I have been to many bowls. Shreveport, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas. Most recently Atlanta. These last two were the only journeys that necessitated the full on ordeal of air travel. To be lost within that giant stream of humanity: one small pebble in a wide riverbed being constantly funneled to a very specific destination is lonely. Because surely none of the others surrounding you can be going to the exact same place for the exact same reason, can they? The odds seem impossible.
And yet they arrive, as I did, in all manners and at all times. At 2 a.m. in the baggage claim area of Charlotte airport there is not much buzz surrounding the Belk Bowl. Clicking over the deserted streets in a taxi through small industrial parks and descending into downtown offered little fanfare as well. Just another sleeping city with other things to do.
But when you finally reach the hotel and get checked in, the ghosts are back with you, settled in for a few more hours, ready to be chased away by the dawn. So why do we do it? Because we are optimistic creatures. We know that we’ve got the ability to create new and better ones, but only if we try.
This year we will make Bowl Bowl memories. The pregnant hopes of a massive new era hinge (in some small way) on how this team plays against a scrappy ACC team in an NFL stadium on a cold Friday afternoon.
The days and hours leading up to this are still yours. You may hang onto those old ghosts for a last few shreds of comfort. As for us, we’re finding the nearest Waffle House.