Monday, August 22, 2011

The Intrepid Traveler, or, How to Amuse Yourself for Sixteen Hours.

I know I write an awful lot about airports, but they are places of such high drama.  Everywhere you look, there is a story happening.  Jon always meets fascinating people in airport bars, so many that I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about interesting encounters in airport bars, like actually going to airports specifically to talk to people.  Jon is one of those people who can talk to anybody and become best friends in under three minutes.  Me, not so much. Not to mention that that would be an awfully expensive way to write a book.

It took sixteen hours to get home last Saturday. I have spent so much time sitting at gate L2 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I feel like I have become personal friends with the gate agents. In Madison, a colleague and I arrived at the airport at 8:00am for our 9:00 flight, which boarded more or less on time.  We were at the start of the runway, on the very point of taking off when the pilot said he had "bad news."  The storms in Chicago were so bad that they were directing us to take a "more northerly" route, which was so far out of the way that we didn't have enough fuel to attempt it and that we would have to go back to the gate to refuel, but since refueling takes time and there was already a two-hour ground delay at ORD, it probably made more sense to sit out the storm rather than reroute ourselves through Saskatchewan or the North Pole or whatever it is that is north of Wisconsin.

Back to the gate we went and we all had to get off the plane.  My colleague and I conferred.  We had a three-hour layover at ORD, it's only a twenty minute flight, and since everything there was delayed, our connecting flight would most likely still be waiting for us when we got there.  We decided not to be concerned and the colleague went off to buy some breakfast, but I am constitutionally incapable of being unconcerned so I got in line and got myself booked on a later flight to Charlottesville, just in case.

We waited and rumors somehow flew through our group of stranded passengers--there were tornado watch boxes stacked all on and around Chicago.  A 737 jet was being diverted to Madison because no one could land in Chicago--which was true.  Our flight was delayed some more and when my colleague tried to get herself on the later flight to C'ville, she was told there were no seats, and nothing for the next day either.

We got to ORD eventually--our connecting flight either long gone or cancelled.  I now had a six hour wait for my flight and the colleague departed to find a hotel.  Six hours is a long time but I am not without resources.  I bought a salad and a latte and used the twenty minutes of free wifi to announce to  facebook that friends don't let friends fly through Chicago.  I had finished Women in Love and started Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh, a book that is as philosophical as WiL, discussing the nature of faith, but far more readable.  So readable that I realized with alarm that I was in danger of finishing it long before getting home.  

I took a break and studied the people around me, trying to pick out people from Charlottesville, although there were still several hours to wait.  The gate area was very crowded with a huge group standing in front of the gate agents' desk, which the agents were unable to disperse.  They all had murderous expressions.  Near me was a neat, middle-aged couple.  The woman had a metal water bottle that announced "I'm Eco Friendly" and she was reading The Tiger's Wife.  Charlottesville, I decided.  A woman strode past wearing an Argentinian gaucho's hat and carrying what appeared to be a tuba wrapped in a yoga mat.  She sat on the floor.  Definitely from Charlottesville.  Two women, sisters, presumably, sat next to me, speaking a language I didn't recognize.  I peeked at the screen of the one woman's kindle and saw what I guessed to be Swedish.  There were those A's with o's perched over them.  A flight to Oklahoma City boarded, then one to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with the woman with the tuba.  A gate change was announced for a flight to Denver, and the "I am eco-friendly" couple got up and walked away.

I went for a walk, wandering into a posher part of the airport that was less crowded and had a smart sushi restaurant and a children's museum.  I bought the last copy of the September issue of Vogue, and for some trashier fashion, Marie Claire.  I walked some more, began to feel like a homeless person, and bought dinner even though I wasn't very hungry.  I bought something called a "teappuchino" for dessert and returned to the gate where the Swedish sisters still sat, along with a group of Russians and a man who I could tell was foreign but couldn't identify with any country.  They all boarded a flight to Cleveland, their seats refilled by people awaiting a flight to "Northwest Arkansas" and who discussed the merits of the kindle versus the nook in twangy accents.  Their flight left and the gate area was decidedly less crowded.

I turned my attention to Vogue.  I used to never miss the September issue and it was like greeting old friends to see the ads for Fendi and Salvatore Ferragamo and new (to me) designers like Christian Louboutin.  I would like to own a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes simply because Christian Louboutin is so much fun to say.  Of course, nothing in my wardrobe is good enough to pair with shoes like that.

It was time to think about a pre-boarding bathroom visit when a gate change was announced for Charlottesville.  We all had to descend to the underlevel of G concourse, where, it turns out, there are no toilets.  And with amazing rapidity, considering the long delays earlier, we boarded, me with my "teappuchino" straining my bladder.  Was there someone I knew on the flight?  Of course there was!  A former co-worker from my old unit, plus a man I recognized vaguely as the father of one of my children's classmates.  Our flight attendant was hilariously unprofessional--he had a hole in the ass of his pants. "Welcome aboard our flight to Charlotte...somewhere," he announced, then confessed,  "Actually, I have no idea where we're going. "  And so we took off, to get tossed around like a paper airplane, drink service had to be cancelled and I alternately read Marie Claire and said Hail Mary's.  We landed at midnight and then there was a snafu with my luggage, so I didn't actually get home until 1:00am.

I have no idea when (or if) my colleague got home.  I called in sick today, rightfully, I believe because not only did I have that sixteen hour ordeal, but crossing a time zone four times in  two weeks is pretty tiring.  If you think it isn't, imagine going to daylight savings time and back again four freaking times.

1 comment:

  1. Good grief. You do make the most of your suffering, but how wretched!
    I always can ID the Green Bay passengers--we're the fattest in the airport, generally.