Thursday, June 13, 2019

Adventures in Leaving the House: Come Fly With Me

I work from home. I’ll never complain because there are more advantages to that arrangement than I can even count, but there is one down-side: I don’t get out much. So on those occasions where I do leave the house to visit people or get away for the weekend or pick up a loaf of bread, it opens the door for 

My better half is a real-life superhero. No, she can’t leap over tall buildings or control the weather (at least, not that I’m aware of), but she does work for the Red Cross where she regularly helps improve the lives of people in crisis. In comparison, all I regularly do is eat curry and watch Godzilla movies.

Anyway, she just flew off to the Midwest to aide in the flooding relief efforts. As I was helping her pack for her flight, I was reminded of a piece I wrote years ago during a trip where I was forced to hang out in an airport terminal with lots and lots and lots of time on my hands.

I present to you:

Scenes From An Airport

Part I: LAX

My flight back from L.A. was scheduled to leave at 10:20 pm, arrive in Washington, D.C.'s Dulles at 6:15 am for a leisurely breakfast and then puddle-jump me to Albany, NY at 8:15 am.

That was the plan. But like all good plans, this all quickly went to pot. I dutifully arrived at LAX two hours early to discover that not only was my flight to D.C. two and a half hours late, but that the delay would cause me to miss my connection to Albany.

So what am I supposed to do with two four-hour blocks of time at an airport? Record the experience for your reading pleasure, of course.

9:00 pm PT.  Through security, where people still haven’t figured out the whole “remove shoes and all metal” bit. It's frustrating, but at least I don't have to sweat making my flight.

Because I’ve seen enough seasons of The Amazing Race, I begin working the gates, hitting up anyone working a gate heading to the east coast earlier than 12:30 am for available seats. I learn some alarming things:

None of United’s employees can use their computer system without experiencing difficulties and calling in other employees for help. None. Of. Them. This doesn’t bode well for either United’s computer system or its training program.

Due to delays in D.C., Chicago and Philly, all flights are overbooked by nearly 20 people. “Someone at reservations can’t count,” one exhausted employee tells me. Indeed.

*   *   *

“I don’t want to be an aspiring actor. I don’t want to be divorced and remarried. Over and over. I don’t want to have plastic surgery. Over and over and over.” 

Also: “My dream is to avoid becoming a Hollywood cliché. Before doing that becomes a cliché.”

– Ad copy for giant ass Lincoln display in the United terminal

Someone spent a lot of money on this thing. Amazingly, it makes me neither want to buy a Lincoln nor stay one more minute than necessary in Los Angeles.

*   *   *

Despite the fact that there’s a deli, Mexican grill, sports bar, snack shop, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant and Starbucks in this terminal, it’s f’n McDonalds that has the dozen-person line at any given time.

*   *   *

Because this is L.A., there’s a LEGO exhibit in this terminal with a giant LEGO statue of… the Statue of Liberty.

What better way to say "Welcome to L.A.?"

*   *   *

Johnny Walker, the preferred scotch of yours truly, is not only available in Red Label and Black Label, but also Blue Label, Gold Label and Green Label. For those of you who like to purchase their scotch three bottles at a time, Johnny Walker offers a free travel bag with the purchase of three one-liter bottles.

*   *   *

After writing out my next Bargain Basement Review (Yes, there was originally a Bargain Basement Review) by hand, I walk back and forth down the full length of the terminal, just to make sure I’m extra tired for the flight. There’s a woman my age playing with her young daughter. I miss my girls.

*   *   *

Here are some choice excerpts from Spider-Man 3: The Movie Storybook, the official picture book to the PG-13 film, geared towards ages 4-8 (Spoiler Free):

“After a speech by the major, the police chief’s daughter, Gwen, introduced Spider-Man to the crowd. He swung in dramatically and accepted his award. He felt very proud.”

“…Peter’s landlord asked him for the rent. It was a simple question, but Peter yelled at him. He couldn’t control his rage.”

And my favorite: “While Peter was sleeping, it oozed all over him and gave him a nightmare!”

*   *   *

10:45 pm. One snippy gate clerk sends me over to Customer Service. The line is over 40 people long. I counted.

*   *   *

Fashion Watch: I see a guy in a variation of the tuxedo t-shirt — white t-shirt with an undone “collar” and “necktie,” revealing a Superman costume “underneath.” It makes my brain roll around inside my skull. Or maybe that’s just the exhaustion.

*   *   *

11:30 pm. The line over at Customer Service is still about 40 people long. No telling whether or not it’s the same 40 people.

11:45 pm. My anticipated departure time has changed from 12:30 am to 12:20 am. Yay?

11:55 pm. After a largely needless trip to the restroom, I discover that my flight’s departure time has been moved back to 12:30am. 

The lesson, of course, is not to make unnecessary trips to the bathroom.

Part II: Dulles

Is this Dulles Airport? Your guess is as good as mine.

7:55 am ET. We’ve begun our final descent, which is feeling more like the slow spiral down the drain than landing a plane. My original connection is scheduled to leave at 8:15 am, and unlike all the other connections everyone else will miss, mine is only a half dozen gates away from where we’ll deplane. And even though I’m in the 40th row, I’m a little optimistic. Perhaps because I’m feeling strangely rested? Your guess is as good as mine.

A flight attendant asks that anyone not about to make a mad dash for a connection stay in their seats until those on connections have disembarked. Fat chance of that.

Touchdown just before 8:10 am. Taxi, taxi, taxi, taxi, taxi. Full stop.

Amazingly, people are actually listening to that flight attendant, and I get off the plane much faster than anyone in the 40th row of a 767 should have. Off the plane and BAM! — everyone’s dragging ass down that narrow hallway out of the gate.

“The hell!” I hear behind me. I glance back to a couple about my age, shouting past me to the group ahead of us. “You’re on the East Coast now, so move your asses!” And just like that, I want to move in with them and for the three of us to have sitcom-like adventures.

Sir John Riggins, a real-life Juggernaut
It takes us fifteen seconds to determine that the three of us are trying to get that Albany connection. I scoop up my suitcase and make like John Riggins, the three of us juking, jiving and generally hauling ass to the gate.

We get there at 8:20 am, and wouldn’t you know it? This is the only flight I see during my entire trip home that actually departs on time. Nice work, United.

*   *   *

“You guys booked on the 12:30 pm?” I ask the Albany couple, quietly thankful for that morsel of forethought by the check-in agent in LAX.

“Nah. We’re on Priority Stand-By.”

“Priority Stand-By”? Good luck with that, I think. They might as well have called it “Double Secret Preferred Stand-By” for all the good that will probably do them.

*   *   *

Finally, I call in to the fam with an update on what has been going on (when I was finally sorted out at LAX and through security, it was past midnight on the East Coast). Our brief call is peppered with announcements from THE LOUDEST FUCKING P.A. SYSTEM EVER! That guy had better have gotten his damn courtesy call.

*   *   *

9:00 am., three and a half hours before my next flight. I get a paper and settle into a British pub for the world’s most leisurely breakfast. I go for a proper English fry-up: two fried eggs, bangers, fried potatoes, toast and what appears to be an entire can of baked beans. Okay, not remotely healthy, but neither is the number of beers being served at this hour.


A seat at the hook of the bar, fry-up, paper and $2.75 coffee, which better include some free refills, dammit. I’m trying to sort out the accent of the two women sitting next to me. I used to be pretty good at this. Let’s see: It’s not Crocodile Dundee, but definitely Australian. Melbourne, maybe? 

*   *   *

10:15 am. Hit the head, brush teeth, clean up a bit, change t-shirt. Head towards my gate, but need to hit the head again. Maybe that fry-up wasn’t such a good idea.

*   *   *

10:45 am. On my way to gate D20, I abruptly stop at D14. I’ve been here before. In March, on the way back from our family vacation in Florida, I took my daughters to that toy store across the way and picked up a Cinderella coloring pad. Now I really miss my girls.

*   *   *

I stumble across a Borders (Remember those? So quaint!), and a surprisingly large one for an airport terminal. Hardcover market is flooded with books about how everyone in the country is stupid/screwing things up except the author — no wonder meaningful conversations are going the way of the dodo. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that there’s something about the look on Bernard Goldberg’s face on the cover of Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right that makes me want to beat him with a shovel.

Ah, an entire section of graphic novels – in the airport’s book store! Dulles just got a lot cooler. Comics for adults, though I always feel like I’m 12-years-old when I read through one. At least I now know how I’ll be killing the rest of my time.

*   *   *

12:15 pm. The monitor says we should be boarding. We are not.

The gate agent shouts out to us that we’re all waiting for just one flight attendant to arrive. He’d make a general announcement — or simply not shout to us — if his microphone was working. With that final piece of information, my disgust with United is utterly complete.

A comely middle-aged woman in a smart black business suit wheels her all-pro luggage into our gate and takes a seat. A few passengers cheer. “Yay! She’s here!” She looks confused and a bit embarrassed, and let’s everyone down by revealing that she is in fact not a flight attendant.
*   *   *

12:30 pm. Now seated in my final tin can of the trip. And hey, the Albany couple made it — looks like that “Priority Stand-By” worked out after all.

An overly chirpy flight attendant makes this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, I do apologize for any confusion caused by our gate staff. While you were led to believe I was running around in the wrong terminal, I was right here on the plane the whole time!” She simultaneously squints her eyes, shrugs her shoulders and flashes a Great White smile. “I guess I have to gain some more weight, because they checked the plane twice and didn’t see me!”

Hilarious. She does her squint/shrug/smile thing again, and the tone of her voice suggests that she wants to offer us some Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers or Extreme Fajitas. I’d throw something at her, but all I have on hand is the small notepad I’m writing in.

*   *   *

12:55 pm, 16 1/2 hours into my trip. After taxiing through downtown D.C., we’re ready to take off. Now it’s just an hour plus flight to Albany, then a shuttle to the car and an hour plus drive home.

*   *   *

3:00 pm, The Final Insult: I get in my car, need gas. I finally find a gas station (no one thought to put one in sight of the airport) and find it absolutely packed. Turns out the whole area was thrashed by a lightning storm the night before, and all of the gas pump were on the fritz. Only took me 30 minutes to get gas.

Good times.

Okay, so that flight home was a disaster, but only a small-d disaster. For a capital-d Disaster, did you know that large swaths of the middle of the country are under water? That's a whole lotta people who have been displaced or lost everything. I've even heard of towns wiped completely off the map. If you can spare it, please consider donating to the Red Cross's flood relief efforts.

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