A comfort zone is described as a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. I don’t get out much. As a result, it is fair to say that my personal comfort zone has shrunk to the point where it is achieved primarily by lying in bed with the covers over my head. With this fact in mind, I decided to visit my son, Ben, in Georgia. It was quite a trip.

My first challenge was to step into an 18-ton mass of riveted sheet metal, climb 29,000 feet into the air and speed 500 miles per hour towards my destination. For the record, I am not afraid of flying. I am afraid of a newsworthy, mid-flight, unscheduled landing of an abrupt nature.

When I arrived at the airport, there was a strong and steady wind. I obtained my boarding pass and joined 40 other passengers in the waiting area to watch the flags whip violently on the runway. I was as relaxed as a guitar string when an announcement came over the PA system: Due to the extreme weather, our flight was delayed by an hour. I welcomed the extra time to think about all of the possible things that could go wrong.

We boarded the plane, and I had an opportunity to wait and worry some more in case I missed a horrifying scenario. Takeoff was uneventful; however, as soon as the crew started to wheel the beverage cart down the aisle, the plane began shaking. We were lifted up and dropped on our seats repeatedly. The pilot came on the intercom to allay our fears. In a completely indecipherable mumble, he said something that sounded like, “Donkeys eat nickels on Tuesdays. Fight my sister. Seven phones macaroni.”

I looked to the stewardess for a translation and she informed me the captain said we were experiencing a little turbulence, and that we should be through it shortly. The captain’s idea of “shortly” turned out to be the endurance of the flight and for the next hour, I was tossed around like a sock in the dryer.

When we finally arrived in Atlanta, I was ready to relax. I asked an airport employee where I pick up my rental car. I was about to learn that the Atlanta airport consists of a complex larger than the state of Georgia.

“You see that red sign way down there?” he asked.

I looked in the direction he was pointing and squinted.

“Well, you walk about two miles past that point, and you will start to see signs for the train.”

“I don’t want a train, I have a rental car.”

“You have to take the train to the baggage area.”

“But I didn’t check any baggage.”

“Doesn’t matter, that’s where you’ll find signs for the Sky Train.”

“The Sky Train?”

“That will take you to the car rental center.”

“I have to ride two trains to get to my rental car?”

“Well, you can walk on the tracks, but it’s much more dangerous.”

Forty minutes, two missed stops and an inadvertent trip to South Carolina later, I arrived at the car rental center. I was assigned a vehicle that was smaller than a hockey bag, and not nearly as comfortable.

Once I filled out the paperwork, I pulled up to the parking lot booth, handed it to the attendant and tried to drive away. For some reason, the car wouldn’t move.

“I think there is a problem with the transmission,” I told the woman. “Or it could be the drive train, or maybe the planetary gearshift ratio is off.”

“Have you released the parking brake?” she asked.

“Really?” I asked incredulously. I couldn’t believe this car rental employee would think that I, a college graduate and occasional almost finisher of the New York Times crossword puzzle, could be so stupid. I was so indignant I released the parking brake and pulled away.

Once on the road, I realized I couldn’t adjust the car mirrors properly, there was no lumbar support in the seat, the rear defroster wasn’t very effective, the radio reception was terrible and of greatest concern, I could hear a loud whining sound. I was about to return the car when I realized the whining noise was caused by the large nut behind the wheel.

Eventually, with a great deal of effort, anxiety and luck, I arrived at my hotel.

As soon as I checked in, I knew what I had to do. I went to my room, kicked off my shoes, jumped on the bed and pulled the blanket over my head. Tomorrow was another day. Tonight, I was going back to my comfort zone.

Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.

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