The Importance of Planning a Good Panic

By now, you all know I have many…eccentricities. (That word sounds so much nicer than the phrase: “Jane is a whack”.)

This summer, I had to face one of my personal worst case scenarios.

I am unfazed when using a tile saw with no safety on the blade, hurtling around the arena on 1200 lbs of I don’t THINK so, or relocating the skunk family that chose our house to move into, and believed we were the hired help the estate agent threw in for free. I’ve stuck my bare arm into a pitbull fight, and more frighteningly, successfully navigated health insurance phone tree mazes, and resolved disputed claims in our favor.

What could possibly be worse that THAT?

Being lost.

But Jane, lots of people are afraid of being lost. That’s not so bad, we can get you help.

Right. Stay with me.

I am constitutionally incapable of having a normal neurosis. No fearful visions of being lost in the snow or in the mountains, or out in the wild surrounded by bears and rattlesnakes. Not me.

I am afraid of being lost in large cities where there are lights, signs, hotels, parking garages, people you can tip or hire, and usually, Starbucks.

I am relaxed when I find myself completely lost in the middle of Idaho, with no signs, surrounded by corn stubble and collapsed lava tubes. I’m afraid of being lost in areas of human habitation. If I got lost in Death Valley, I’d yawn and say rats, contemplate the water rationing, and reach for another donut. Missing the turn into the parking garage in Union Square in San Francisco? I’d feel the white light closing in. Where am I? Is that a one way street?? I’m going to die a terrible death all alone out here!

This is unbelievable even to me: TIFFANY’S is in Union Square. The thought of window shopping at Tiffany’s is enough incentive to stay conscious and functioning for any terrified female.

This is my big confession: I am powerless to negotiate the terminal of SFO international airport. Hysteria is too mild a word. I go completely and utterly blank. The signs make no sense to me. (Um, I’m talking ‘Stop’ signs here, as well as ‘International Departures Lower Level 236B’.) It helps no one for me to pick them up, since I would never find them. If by some act of God I did, I would be a regresesed, incoherent mess, probably asking for my mommy. Nice.

Hi. Welcome home.

Okay, the crisis? Shaun was coming into SFO, late. The timing was tight, the flight was late, I was afraid she’d miss her bus. After all the emotional trauma she’d been through , I sure as heck couldn’t leave her there over night…so what is the next best thing?

Bing bing bing bing bing! You got it. A complete and utter breakdown. Massive guilt. Sobbing. Beating the crap out of my sorry incompetent butt. Yup. That really helped me get it together to formulate a plan. All I could see in front of me was being an emotional disaster…make that a LOST emotional disaster – with two happy bouncy kids and a dog in the car – in the middle of the night trying to read signs that might as well be in written in Sanskrit.

I’m the sort of person who has to have everything finished before the deadline. Therefore I find it logical to panic well in advance of the time panic would actually be necessary. I know a week ahead of time how tight the timing of the flight will be in relation to when the last bus leaves for the night.

I give up my ego. I have time to figure this out, right? I call Daisy. I’m going to come clean. I take a deep breath, steady my nerves, remind myself that this event is a week away. I say quite calmly and clearly:

Jane: I can’t do it oh God what am I gonna do I can’t leave her there I’m so scared I want to but I can’t and I don’t know what to do she’s gonna hate me the kids hate me I hate me everyone hates me but if I go I’m gonna totally freak like hospital crazy person come and get me freak i dont…

Daisy: Who is this?

Jane: Me! But what am I gonna do what if I can’t she’ll think i don’t love her I can’t read the SIGNS…

Daisy: Um. Me, who?

Jane: You know, me. (I’m convinced Daisy can see me through the phone. Since I’m the only person in her life who would respond ‘me’ three times while ranting, she figures it out.)

Daisy: Jane? What’s wrong?

Jane: (wailing) The airport!

Daisy knows Shaun has been gone. There’s a long pause while I realize she’s trying to quickly look on the internet to see if a flight has gone down, or terrorists have blown something up while she wasn’t looking. I interupt.

Jane: The airport is fine. I’m the problem! I can’t do it. I can do Oakland (airport) at 2 am half asleep and blindfolded. But this is SFO!! (more wailing)

For most people, SFO is the easier airport. I make no sense to anyone or myself. Speaking of making no sense, Daisy has no idea what I’m talking about. But her ears have caught crisis.

Daisy: Is this about Shaun?

Jane: (sobbing) Yeeeessssss!!!

Daisy: She’s coming in tonight?

I can feel her switch gears into crisis/solution mode, she’s in high gear. Oh lord. It’s true. I AM a drama queen.

Jane: (hiccup) Nooo…next week. She’s not coming home until next (sniffle) Wednesday.

Daisy: Okaaaay. (Pause while her gears downshift, and Daisy tries hard not to hate me now that her system is flooded with adrenaline.) Sooo…we have some time to come up with a plan, right? We might be snowballing a little here?

Jane: (small voice) Uh-huh.

Daisy: Shaun is flying into San Francisco?

Jane: (hysteria starting back up again) Yes and I can’t…I don’t…I want…

Daisy: Next Wednesday?

Jane: Uh-huh. I’m afraid she’ll miss her bus. I can’t leave her there. I can’t go. She’ll hate me!

Daisy: Okay. Here’s where we are, we have a Plan A, right? Plan A is Shaun arrives on time, catches the bus, and you pick her up.

Jane: But what if…?

(Daisy interrupts, she knows better than to let me continue.)

Daisy : …now we need Plan B. Why can’t she take the bus that leaves every half hour? The Marin bus? The one that stops in Mill Valley?

There’s another bus? It stops in Mill Valley? There are other methods of transportation? I am a moron. I don’t need her to get home by herself, I need her to get to a place I can reach her without putting us both through my complete mental breakdown.

Jane: I can do that.

Daisy: Okay. Plan A, she gets on the direct bus. Plan B, she takes indirect bus 30 minutes later and you pick her up. I know the stop, it’s right off the freeway. Now we need Plan C. In the unlikely event she manages to miss (pause while Daisy calculates how many buses there will be between the time Shaun arrives and the time the bus service stops) FIVE buses, we have to have Plan C. I need to know why you can’t pick her up. Is it 19th or the freeways?

19th street is the local favorite route to SFO, but it does take you winding through Golden Gate Park, surface streets, and sort of through the UCSF campus before dumping you on Highway 1, which is overwhelming to a lot of people. Then you have to make 3 freeway changes in quick succession over 6 lanes to get to the airport. And there is usually lots of fog, it’s San Francisco at night.)

Jane: 19th is easy. Freeway isn’t scary. I can do all that. I’m afraid of the stupid terminal. The actual airport. The whole upper and lower maze thingy? With the wierd middle billion-car parking garage? (My voice is rising. The last sentence is squeaky.)

Daisy: (Calmly, slowly) So you can get nearby…just not to the actual airport?

Jane: (Light dawning) Yes!

Daisy: So Plan C could be Shaun takes a cab to one of the fancy hotels with a lobby she can wait in?

Could it really be that simple?


Daisy: Pls hold. Calling the travel department. I’ll ask them for the names of 3 hotels near SFO.

60 seconds later I get a text with three hotels and corresponding phone numbers. I call, find one fancy enough to have a lobby open all night, and that won’t care if Shaun waits. I get all the details. Cab fare: less than ten bucks. I mapquest it, figure out the timing with her flight. Bingo. I have a timeline. I have directions, I have back up directions.

Fail proof plans. But this is me. I write them up, and put them in their own super special agent folder, so that when, a week later, if something goes wrong, all I have to do is toss the print out labeled Plan A, and pick up the print out labeled Plan B. I can carry Plan C with me, should Plan B explode. I’m a nutcase, but I’m an organized nutcase: each plan has maps, directions, phone numbers and time estimates, and locations are pre-programmed into the navigator on my cell phone.

I text Daisy the next day.

Jane: i no im an idiot…ur a great friend. thanks. i feel stupid. you had it figured in 5 seconds. i blanked and snowballed. did you no i was this big a fruitcake?

Daisy: ur not a fruitcake. this is why we panic ahead of time. so we can get organized. fruitcakes don’t panic on time. we planned ours.

Jane: whatever. i’m still a fruitcake. but thanks.

Daisy: we feel comfortable with our plans?

Jane: we feel great with our plans, tx I owe you

Daisy: do not

Jane: too, i’m a crackpot

Daisy: no. we’re prepared. no panic, right? plans set. it’s only a problem for people who plan their panics badly.

Daisy: btw, plan D: if the apocalypse comes, and plans A thru C fail, call me BEFORE we panic, when we can still think.

Jane: Really?

Daisy: Really. U no none of this is gonna happen now that we have a solution to every possibility

Jane: U think?

Daisy: watch. but hold onto the papers.

Daisy was right. Everything went wrong according to schedule: Shaun’s flight was late, then it couldn’t land, then there was some sort of airplane traffic jam on the tarmac. Finally she gets to de-plane and slogs to the luggage carousel certain it will be an hour till the bags are off loaded.

But because this panic was planned out so well, Murphy’s law kicks in in reverse. Know that nothing can go right? Murphy’s law is right there to mess with you. Not only is the carousel already turned on (HA. Seen that before. Doesn’t meant he bags are coming out before Thursday), Shaun watches in disbelief as her bags are the first ones to clunk-slide out of the maw. This has never happened. Well she’s too late anyway. She rolls leisurely to the bus stop, figuring she’ll look at the next bus timetable there where she can sit down.

That’s when Plan A, the first bus, rolls up, sighs open it’s doors, and she gets to come home the fastest and easiest possible way.

It’s all in the planning.


11 thoughts on “The Importance of Planning a Good Panic

  1. Andrew

    Jane: we live at the very top of the Bronx in NYC. Besides proximity to a great park for the dogs, the next best feature is that we are very close to a NYS Thruway on-ramp. The thought of heading south on that Thruway into the city makes me anxious. Folks ask why I drive north so often to train my dogs… to which the answer is ‘Because then I don’t have to drive south through the city, fight my way across the GW Bridge, and generally re-connect with my inner road-rage.’ There’s nothing irrational about what you describe.


    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      Happier words were never listened to: “there’s nothing irrational about what you describe…”

      You have made a normally rational woman irrationally happy. 😉

      I’d be driving north also. Who needs the grief?

  2. Marissa

    First of all, I read the entry of this post too quickly and thought you were planning a “picnic” so I got to the end of your story and was still wondering where the cute little basket and checkered blanket were. . . .

    Second, I am very glad that you have a Daisy to help you deal with these mini-crises. I have a friend who has known me since we were 4, and she takes this very matter-of-fact “Right, okay, we can handle this,” approach to my mini-crises to which most people would respond “oh get a grip already.” Everyone needs a Daisy, I’d say.

    And third, Plan A almost never happens! That’s pretty cool! Perhaps the universe has taken note that your plate is more than full at the moment?

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      Oh that has me laughing! I can just see your face thinking, “but where is the bread, wine, and cheese?” and “Who panics over a picnic?”

      Thank God it’s just a few things that panic me. And I have to do them early.

      I feel like I’ve known Daisy since I was four, and thank God I’ve got Daisy and she doesn’t hang up on me, no matter what she really feels. 😉

  3. Wendy

    Planned panics…there’s a business venture in that phrase, I think.

    “Planned Panic Incorporated, how may I direct your call?”

    “Well, everything’s going well, so I’m afraid something bad will happen…can you help me?”

    “Undifferentiated Concerns Department will be glad to take your call and provide you with a Generalized Disaster Planning Notebook Kit with bandages, tissues, and gourmet chocolates for only $14.99 plus tax and shipping. Hold please…”

    Glad Shaun made it home safely, and that you only had to use Plan A. 🙂

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I think you have found a second calling! (So made me laugh.)
      Okay…I’d like to order the $14.99 package, and the $99 super special 3 month incidental coverage plan. Does that include gym membership to offset the 100 lb box of chocolates?

      1. Wendy

        Gym membership only comes with the Deluxe Inverted Pyramid Crisis Package, but also includes unlimited massages, spontaneous crisis support group (so no one panics about meeting), and a soft blanket with pre-wired soothing music or nature sounds in a color of your choice. Call for pricing options… 😉

  4. cara

    SFO and Hwy 1 are hairy deals! I can’t blame you. It’s good you have someone to difuse you. I married a panicky person and I have to be the lead underpants all the time.

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      Thanks Cara,
      That would be difficult, to be the un-panicked person all the time.

      Luckily I have only a few deep panic spots, so my friends can call me too if they hit unexpected quicksand.

      SFO, geeze, what can I say? Most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen, what a view. (Sort of like San Quentin…really? They used THAT spot for a prison?) I just wish they had made SFO a little more user friendly.

      Oakland: you drive through some hairy areas (but on the freeway!) and it’s a straightforward shot to the actual airport, where you can easily visually orient yourself. I’ve sat in the day parking, looked up, and said “oh there’s Shaun’s plane, time to go in” while watching it land. How relaxing is that?


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