When I was teaching full time, I had a student who had been a flight attendant for TWA in that company’s heyday in the seventies. I don’t recall how long she had flown the line, but when she spoke of her time there, she did so reverentially. She had loved the people, the travel, the exotic locales as well as the Fort Waynes of the world.
One day, I asked her why she had quit something she had so clearly enjoyed. After all, she wasn’t married at the time, and she didn’t have kids. Her answer rather surprised me. She told me that she woke up one morning in Africa (Johannesburg, I believe, but it’s such a big continent that it doesn’t really matter), and she had no idea where she was. It scared her half out of her mind, and she spent a moment or two trying to remember until she gave up and found another way to recall her recall. Once she got her wits about her (some who knew her say she never had any wits, but I digress), she decided she would quit as soon as she was back on U.S. soil. And quit she did.
Being in my early twenties at the time, I could not imagine what it was like to wake up somewhere and literally have no clue where I was. I found the notion absurd, and just chalked it up as another one of her (many, but loveable) eccentricities. It wasn’t long after that I began my own airline career. And it wasn’t too long after I began said career that I was in a hotel room one night, having gotten in so late even the devil was asleep, that I barely got my clothes off and got into bed before my eyes were sand-bagged shut. When I woke up the next morning, I looked around…and realized that I had no idea where in the world I was. I do remember thinking, “This…is…weird.”
I had since heard of others who were afflicted by this syndrome, and so I did what crewmembers have been doing since, well, nineteen hundred and twenty-something: I looked at the phone for the name of the hotel and, specifically, the city in which it was located. Problem solved. I literally had no clue where I had wound up, and my first four or five guesses would have been wrong.
It’s happened to me since, more times than I’d care to admit. Once, I woke up at home, next to my wife, and panicked, not recognizing her and wondering how I was going to explain my way out of this mess. Then I recognized my own room, and calmed down. But on another occasion, I was the only one in my own bed when I woke up, saw my own room, and again didn’t know what I was doing there or why I was there. I thought I was in trouble for not being at work, until I realized that I’d just finished late the night before.
In the years since, I’ve picked up a couple of ideas for dealing with this. Choice one is to look at the phone. It almost never lies. Choice two is to call the front desk and ask them where you are, but that usually elicits some pretty snide comments and offers to take you to the hospital for a psych eval. Choice three is to look at the local phonebook, which is great if it is written in English, and not so great if it isn’t. Last but not least, you can get out of bed and look at your schedule.
Some people do not handle this kind of shock well at all. Even members of my own family tell me that they could never put up with this on a regular basis. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but it has happened enough to me now that I don’t mind so much anymore. People who really get disturbed by where-am-I-itis don’t last long in this business, because the first couple of times it does happen, it really can shake you up. I guess that’s especially true if you happen to be in Africa when you are stricken. But now, I just go with the flow. In fact, it’s kind of fun in a weird, pilot sort of way; in fact, it happened to me the day after I wrote the draft of this blog. Go figure. Plus, I don’t have to try to use VOR radials to determine my location. In this day and age, I can just turn on my phone, tap the “Map” icon, and just wait for it to show me exactly where I am. Now, the day I have to do that only to find out I’m at home, I may have get that psych eval. Maybe. –Chip Wright