The year after college I did what normal, responsible twenty-somethings do. I went to grad school. Apparantly my insatiable need to acquire more student debt wasn't quite quenched in my first four years, so there I was, back for more.

After my first semester in the Psychology program (my undergrad was Photography so I’m still confused by this choice) I remember sitting in class desperately wishing to be anywhere else. And not in the normal college-student-don’t-want-to-be-in-class-rather-be-hacky-sacking-in-the-quad-kind-of-way. It was in a numbing feeling. Cold and deep. The kind where I saw my whole, ordinary life play out before me. A life on autopilot. Living for the weekend. The kind of person who starts a countdown to retirement on the first day of the job. 

Around this same time, my friend was working at the local airport and had a buddy pass that was up for grabs. For those who aren’t familiar, buddy passes are basically Wonka’s Golden Ticket in the airline world. The holder of the pass can travel anywhere for free. In other words, an absolute goldmine. So he posted the offer on twitter and tagged the people he thought would be interested. After a brief exchange in which I may or may not have offered my firstborn child as a bribe, I won the pass.    

The only caveat with the ticket was this: the powers of the pass only worked while he was employed at the airport. With my Cinderella curfew in place, he told me he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be with the airline but he gave me an estimate of about a month. Thus, my 30 day window of opportunity was created.

Back to the classroom in which I’m questioning the entirety of my future:

If studying in a program I wasn’t passionate about was painful before, now imagine me with a metaphorical neon timer floating over my head, counting down my 30 days, a deafening CLANG, CLANG with every wasted second.

So after the first semester, I decided to stop wasting time and money on a career path that held no passion for me. I dropped out. Packed a bag. Twirled a globe and put my finger down.   

This may seem like we’ve reached the point of this story- the moral being to break conformity and travel the wild world while you’re young, single, and completely unshackled from responsibility. And while I could fill pages with the misadventures I had during those 27 days… that’s not the point.   

It’s about the next part. When the glorious free ride was up and I realized I hadn’t had near enough of the world as I needed. So I walked into the airport on the last day of my pass and walked out with a job, towing along all the flight benefits that came with it like a string of toy ducks.

During this time, I would work every day for three weeks straight. No days off, picking up shifts, trading with coworkers. Then I would take that paycheck and 10 days and sign up for whatever standby list I had the best chances of getting on.

For the majority of my time at the airport, I lived a good fifty minutes away. It made for a rough commute (shoutout Western NY winters) and being broke and cheap as I was, I wasn't stoked at the thought of paying for 10 days of parking. So when my plane would land, be it 2am on a Saturday or 3pm on a Wednesday, my dad’s phone would light up with a call from his youngest child and he’d get in the car and make the 2 hour round trip to come get me.

Every. single. time.

And when I’d plop down in the front seat- a poof of messy hair and McDonald’s receipts- my dad would start off the conversation. But never in the way I expected.

He never started by asking about my trip. He didn’t complain at the hour at which I called or reprimand me on the dangers of traveling alone. He never asked me when I was going to start a “real” career or how much money, or lack thereof, was currently in my bank account. He didn’t ask when I’d be done with this Peter Pan phase or if I had any solid plans for the betterment of my future. He didn’t ask if my school bills were up to date, why I didn’t have a boyfriend, or compare my life to my successful friends of the same age.

He didn’t do any of these things.

Instead, he’d pull up to the deserted airport at 2am, put my tattered carry-on in the trunk and start the long drive home.

And then, before anything else, he’d turn to me and ask one simple thing:

Where to next?