27 February 2013

YGOD - An Airport Story

Author's note: I wrote this back in 2010. I made a few revisions, mostly grammatical stuff, today, so I figured I'd throw it up on the blog. It's not great, but it has its moments. I never did send it to U.S. Airways...

     The day started out so well. I woke up next to a beautiful girl on a pullout bed in a D.C. hotel room. It’s not what you think. It is six in the morning and she has to get ready for work. Another friend of mine and her mom, in the bed seven feet away from us, have to get ready to travel back to Chicago. I pull a pillow over my head and hope I can get back to sleep before all the lights start turning on and the hairdryers start whining.
       They wake me up an hour later. I stumble around trying to decide if I should eat breakfast and then take a shower or vice versa. This is a difficult decision when you’re trying to fight out of the hazy cocoon of drowsiness. I take my shower, decide that blue plaid best reflects my mood, and head downstairs to eat a waffle with E., H., and B. Small talk predominates; the moments leading up to goodbyes are always profoundly awkward: everyone wants to say something meaningful, but no one wants to acknowledge that the time they’ve spent together is coming to an end. We all tacitly agree not to make a big deal out of separating.
       H. and I spend a special moment together discussing the best strategy for procuring some delicious single-serve hazelnut creamers from the hotel, but then, in what seems like a terrible rush, we go back up to the room, pack our things, and head back downstairs to throw our luggage in the rental car. We hug goodbye. H. looks absolutely ridiculous dressed in nice work clothes, wearing an enormous, full backpack, and carrying an oversized purse loaded with salad, peanut butter, jelly, and everything else that was left in the hotel room that couldn’t be brought on a plane. I laugh out loud when we pass her walking down the street after we start driving. We wave to each other and it is amazing.
       After that, I guess you could say the problems start in the car. Riding while B. is driving is a lot like being on an extremely fast wooden roller coaster, but instead of people screaming there is only the sound of B.’s constant stream-of-consciousness inner monologue being spoken out loud. Now that I think about it though, there actually was some screaming as well. Additionally, the car looks and smells like someone dumped a bottle of new-car-smell air freshener on my seat. I develop an instant migraine that is actually, in all likelihood, a brain bleed. After several near-death experiences – taking a car ride with B. is a great way to take stock of your life because it is constantly in peril – we make it to the airport a little bit behind schedule.
       We take the luggage out of the car, and E. decides to turn carrying her luggage into a test of self-reliance. B. has no luggage and E. has two large pieces. To me, the logical way to proceed seems obvious, but instead, E. attempts to drag both of her bags around. She struggles trying to push one bag and pull the other. She strains lifting her bags up over the curb. She refuses help. I find this hilarious, B. finds it worrisome, and E. finds it to be rather difficult but soldiers on anyway. Life is wonderfully absurd sometimes.
       We part ways for a brief moment when we get to the ticket counters. My flight is operated by U.S. Airways - don’t forget that name – and E. and B. are flying United. I reach the counter and scan my card. My flight is not found. I try again. My flight is not found. I ask the lady behind the desk if she can help me, we’ll call her I-can’t-stand-working-here-any-longer-and-I-have-PMS-bitch [ICSWHALAIHPMSB for short (ICSWB for shorter)].
       “What is the problem,” she asks curtly.
       “Well, it seems that my ticket reservation can’t be located on the self-service machine,” I explain politely and deferentially. “Here is the e-mail that shows my flight information.” I then provide said document for her viewing pleasure.
       “You’re in the wrong line. Your flight is on United.” I can’t be sure, but I am 95% certain that she rolled her eyes at me.
       Well, lady, I’m terribly sorry that I have wasted YOUR time here for this ridiculously brief exchange. Next time I’ll try to make sure that when I buy my tickets from USAIRWAYS.COM I’ll go straight to the UNITED ticket counter! You fuc-
       “Well, thank you for your time.” I smile as I say this.
So I walk over and get in line at United.
       There is a queue of people waiting to get their tickets and check their baggage, and E. and B. are already at the counter. I wave to them, they look at me quizzically, I shrug, and then I start waiting. I exchange a few words with E. and B. as they leave the counter with their tickets.
       “What are you doing over here?” E. asks.
       “Well, it seems that my flight is with U.S. Airways, but it is operated by United, so I have to get my tickets over here. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll just put me on your flight,” I explain. At this point I am actually optimistic that I may, in fact, get transferred onto E. and B.’s flight since I was upgraded to a nonstop flight on my way to D.C. one week earlier with United.
       “Okay, well, we’ll just wait over at that little coffee shop over there until you get your tickets.”
       “Sound’s good. This shouldn’t take long,” I naively reply.
       I finally reach the ticket counter and scan my credit card. My flight is not found. I scan it again. My flight is not found. I feel my blood pressure gradually rising. I get the attention of one of the “customer service representatives.”
       “Yeah, I’m having some trouble getting my tickets.”
       “What is your name?”
       “David VandeWaa. That’s V-a-n-d-e-W-a-a.”
       “Are you sure your flight is for today?” the woman behind the counter asks.
       I’ve got a college education and I’m a TEACHER! I think I know when my flight is, you stu…
       “Yes. Here are the receipts from my e-mail.” I show her extensive documentation that proves that I am both scheduled to fly on that day and that I am also, apparently, in the wrong ticket line.
       “You see, you are flying with U.S. Airways. Their ticket counter is right over there.” She politely gestures in the direction I just came from.
       “It’s interesting that you should say that because I just came from the U.S. Airways ticket counter, and they said that my flight is operated by United and that I should come and get my tickets here.” I am smiling, but I am not happy. At this point, I am also nearly certain that a myocardiac infarction is imminent.
       “Well, you’re going to have to go over there and ask them about this issue.”
       “Okay. Well, thank you for your time,” I say genuinely.
       I am enlightened enough not to blame this misunderstanding on that person. I am enlightened enough not to blame this misunderstanding on that person. I am enlightened enough…
“Where are you going?” E. interrupts my anger management.
       “Well, it appears that I need to take up ‘this issue’ with U.S. Airways,” I say, adding in what my friends and I like to call “the air quotations of sarcasm” at the appropriate moment.
       “Okay, well, we need to actually catch our flight soon, so we’ll say goodbye once we get through security,” E. says.
       “Yeah, that sounds fine. Hopefully I can get this sorted out soon.” I am much less optimistic than when we first spoke.
       “Okay, see you in a bit.”
       E. and B. walk away, leaving me to once again confront ICSWB. I get in line at U.S. Airways, sigh heavily, and start waiting. I somehow manage to conjure enough on-a-sunny-beach thoughts to lower my blood pressure to a non-heart-attack inducing level.
       I reach the ticket counter only to encounter two new employees that, and I’ll be honest here and say that I definitely judge people as soon as I see them, don’t look any more helpful or polite than ICSWB. I make eye contact with ICSWB and she only stares at me with her cow eyes (think of how cows look at you when they are grazing…). One of the new ladies comes to help, and I use that word loosely, with my “issue.”
       “What is wrong?” she asks as soon as I walk up to the counter.
       That skinny bitch over there just fed me into a feedback loop of customer service and I’m trying to get out of it before I have an aneurysm!
“Well, I came here when I first got to the airport about forty-five minutes ago, and I was told that my flight was operated by United, so I waited in line over at their counter. They then told me that I should come talk to you about my flight situation, so here I am.” I smile. “Here is all of my ticket information.” I once again display my very organized set of documents for her expert analysis.
       “Okay. What is your name?”
       It’s on that page in front of your face in seven different places!
“David VandeWaa. V-a-n-d-e-W-a-a.”
       There is a long pause while she furiously types and stares at her computer screen. Two minutes after I lose all my patience she finally says something.
       “Okay. It says that your reservation was cancelled because you did not get on the plane to Washington D.C. Did you miss your flight in Pittsburgh?”
       Yes, that must be it, I missed my flight to Pittsburgh and never got to Washington D.C. which is why I am talking to you right now you moro-
“Well, I’m here.” I smile. “When I was in Chicago, where my flight originated, the people at United put me on a nonstop flight to D.C. so I could avoid my layover in Pittsburgh.”
       “Oh, well, that cancelled your reservation for your return flight,” she says, sounding proud that she solved the mystery and could now send me away to remain stranded in D.C.
       After a five or six second pause where neither of us spoke, I finally decide to get the ball rolling.
       “So, is there anything you can do to fix this?” I ask.
       Right after I say this, her phone rings. This is not the company phone, it is her personal cellular telephone.
       “I really need to take this,” she says out loud to herself. I can only assume it was to herself because she wasn’t looking at me and she said it too quietly to be heard by either of her coworkers who are chit-chatting together near the baggage conveyor belt. So, she answers the phone and just walks away from me. I stand there alone. I am stunned.
       I’m not sure if ICSWB ran out of things to complain about for more than three seconds or if the final employee in the triad of helpfulness felt obligated to finally come help me because her employee review is coming up soon. I don’t really care either way.
       “Can I help you?” she asks.
       “Well, I came here when I first got to the airport about forty-five minutes ago and I was told that my flight was operated by United, so I waited in line over at their counter. They then told me that I should come talk to you about my flight situation, so here I am.” I do not smile. “Here is all of my ticket information. It seems as though my reservation was cancelled because I was transferred onto a nonstop flight on my way here to D.C. and-”
       “What’s your name?”
       I’m going to kill someone today, I can just feel it.
“David VandeWaa. V-a-n-d-e-W-a-a.”
       There is more typing and silence.
       “Oh, it looks like you missed your flight in Pittsburgh and that’s why your reservation was cancelled.”
       “Yes, I understand that. I was put on a nonstop flight from Chicago to D.C., which is why I am here and still need to get back to Chicago.”
       “Okay, I’m going to have to make a call.”
       From this point until I finally got a ticket, I apparently ceased to exist to the three stooges behind the U.S. Airways counter.
       “Oh, I’m so tired. I just want to go home. I’m all bloated and crampy,” says ICSB, holding her sides. She makes a face like someone just made a distasteful joke.
       “So why did you change shifts with him?” says the obese woman in front of me while she is, apparently, on hold.
       “Oh, I di’int want to put up the line thingy in the morning. That was part of my shift. You have to do it every morning.”
       “Oh yeah. I always have to do it when he comes in though because he never puts it up. I mean, he knows he is uppost to do it but he never does.”
       “I knowwwww. It’s like, what else are you uppost to do?”
       “Have you took anything for your gas?” obese woman asked.
       “No, I get off in like one hour and I’m just gonna go to bed. I’m so tired.”
       “No, he got transferred onto a different flight… okay… okay… okay… okay…” obese woman says into the phone while she, apparently, repeatedly programs the flight path of an Apollo mission into the computer. ICSWB just keeps complaining about the guy who doesn’t put up the “line thingy” and her current physical state as if obese woman is still listening and I am not standing three feet away from her. All I can gather from phone lady’s sometimes mumbled sometimes rather loud cell phone conversation is that her relationship with her current boyfriend is on the rocks. It is hard to follow everything because three annoying women are talking at the same time, and I am constantly struggling to keep my inner monologue from becoming an outer monologue.
       “Okay, it’s all taken care of,” obese woman says to me smiling confidently.
       I still do not have tickets for any flight on my person.
       “Okay, well, where do I get my tickets?” I ask, thinking this is an important matter to settle before I leave the counter.
       “Did those tickets print out over there?” obese woman asks ICSB.
       “Did those tickets print?”
       Obese woman walks over to the printer area and inspects some things with ICSWB complaining about cramps some more. Phone lady is still heavily involved in her conversation.
       No one is in line behind me. In fact, it seems as if no one is in the airport behind me either.
       Obese woman finally comes over with two tickets.
       “Here you go. I put you on an earlier flight to Chicago. It arrives at 3:15. That is earlier right?”
       My original flight arrived at 3:30 p.m.
       “Yeah, I guess. Is there any way I can get on a nonstop flight to Chicago? I know there is a United flight leaving in about an hour.”
       “No. We don’t allow customers to change airlines unless we do not offer any flights to their destination.”
       “Okay. Well, thank you.” I mumble.
       I just walk away rolling my luggage behind me. Sad Charlie Brown music may have been playing in the soundtrack to my life.
       My gate is 35A. I have to go through a completely different security checkpoint than E. and B.
       At least I know there is good cell phone reception in the airport. I call E.
       “Hey E.”
       “Where are you?”
       “I just got my ticket.”
       “What? You’ve been here for almost two hours!”
       “Yes. I realize that.”
       “Well, our flight leaves soon, so are you at security?”
       “No. My gate is on the opposite end of the airport, so I won’t be able to say goodbye in person.”
       “Oh, well, okay. I guess goodbye then.”
       “Yeah, I’m sure I’ll see you before you leave for the Congo for the next two years.”
       “Yeah, I’ll be in the states for a couple more weeks. I think I’m going to try to come to Holland before I leave.”
       “Okay, well, I’m sure we’ll talk. Have a safe flight.”
       “You too.”
       “Okay, take care.”
       I proceed to walk what seems like a mile and a half to Security Checkpoint C. The line is mercifully short and moving quickly, but there are a lot of people behind me that I am holding up as I attempt to extract my driver’s license out of my wallet while carrying my luggage and drinking more of the coffee I had been taking drags off all morning. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and coffee is liquid Zen.
       I reach the first security officer. He looks like it is the end of his shift.
       “Is that coffee in that mug sir?” he asks in perfect security officer monotone.
       “You have to empty that before you go through security.”
       “I also bought this Sobe, it’s unopened, is that all right?”
       “No. You have to dispose of that as well.”
       So, I move out of line and stand next to a trash can drinking my coffee. I just leave the unopened Sobe on a table next to the security checkpoint. I hope that someone will grab it and see that it is unopened and enjoy it, but then I think of what I would do if I saw an unopened Sobe on my table and I become extremely frustrated with my life.
       I go through security mostly without incident, reach my gate, and wait for my plane, which is scheduled to arrive in two and a half hours. I spend the first hour and a half finishing The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008, which somehow managed to start cheering me up.
       At least I don’t have Plasmodium Falciparum infecting and reproducing in my red blood cells…


       “Attention all passengers of flight 2534 to Philadelphia. Your flight is going to be delayed.”
       Are you kidding me? E. and B. are in the air on the way to Chicago right now!
       Breathe; as the flight from D.C. to Philadelphia is very short, the plane can be up to forty-five minutes late before I will miss my connecting flight to Chicago. This is not a problem.
       I keep reading. A few minutes after discovering that a disease from bats, or any other animal for that matter, could, at any time, decide to try its hand at destroying the human race in hopes of expanding its horizons for progress (think moving to the new world and systematically killing off its inhabitants), I notice a woman trying to operate an airport pay phone. I have tried to use airport phones before, and I am confident in my assertion that they are one of very few pieces of technology that could really use a retrograding. A nationwide system of operators and switchboards just for airport telephones would be much simpler than trying to use any, single, existing pay phone at any of the airports from which I have had the displeasure of attempting to place a call. Anyway, this woman looks frustrated. I assume she’s trying to get ahold of someone to inform them that her flight is delayed. So, being the Midwesterner that I am, I offer her my cell phone to use even though my free minutes don’t start for another six hours.
       “Well thank you. Are you sure I can use your phone?”
       “Oh, yeah, it’s no problem. Just get it back to me when you’re done.” I smile.
       “I mean, I have a cell phone as well, but it is long-distance calling to Indiana.”
       “Yeah, no, it’s fine. I don’t have any long-distance charges, so go ahead.”
       “Thank you very much,” she says as she walks away with my cell phone.
       I just go back to reading about Hendra, a previously unknown and unique-to-other-species virus that killed a bunch of horses in Australia. I’m a neat freak, but I can almost always control the impulse to overthink the germ issue. Surrounded by strangers in a crowded airport terminal reading about viruses and bacteria, however, really amps up one’s general paranoia about the microscopic world. I start thinking about the pleather seat I’m sitting in, the headrest on the plane I might eventually board, a biology experiment we did in high school growing bacteria cultures from everyday surfaces, and the seven thousand five hundred twenty eight things I had touched throughout the day including the tickets I kept referring to in order to figure out if it was possible to catch my train in Chicago if this flight was more than forty-five minutes late. Ninety-five percent of people say they wash their hands after using a public restroom, but only sixty-seven percent actually do. I could barely focus on what I was reading when the woman using my cell phone returned.
       “Thank you. I couldn’t reach them,” she says as she hands my phone back to me.
       “Oh, well, if you want to try again later, just let me know,” I tell her.
       “Thank you.”
       “No problem.”
       As soon as she turns around to walk away I look at the numbers she called. There is face grease on the screen. Uuuuugh. I wipe it off on my pants and see that she called several different phone numbers. This is a fresh reminder that I am not the only person whose day is going to be ruined by an inexplicably delayed flight.
       “Attention passengers of flight 2534 to Philadelphia. The plane is just leaving from Dallas and will be here in about an hour.”
       No explanation is given, no apology for the inconvenience is offered, and I can’t think of a single surface in the airport that is safe to touch without latex gloves. I reorganize the items in my camera bag in order to maximize space for things I wouldn’t actually be putting in there before I muster up enough courage to confront yet another customer service representative. I walk up to the counter and I am the second person in line.
       “Hello,” the young woman behind the counter says. No smile.
       “Hello. I am on flight 2534 to Philadelphia, and-”
       “The flight will be here in about an hour,” she interrupts.
       “Yes, I am aware of that. The problem is that I have a connecting flight to Chicago there that I will quite possibly miss because of this delay, and I was wondering if I could just get a ticket on my original flight to Chicago that leaves a little bit later than the flight I was transferred to earlier this morning.” I pull out a pile of papers and lay them out on the counter in front of me as I say this. I point out my original flight information as I mention it.
       She surveys the information, or perhaps just stares at the space that my papers are taking up on her counter. She then types what can only be the entirety of Tolstoy’s War and Peace into the computer in front of her. “We have a flight that leaves from Philadelphia at 3:30. I will put you on that flight as well just in case you miss the other flight.” She keeps typing.
       “Ok, you see, the real problem is that I have a train to catch in Chicago that leaves at 5:20 p.m. today. The flight I will surely miss because of this delay would get me there on time, but the flight at 3:30 will, somewhat ironically, get me into Chicago at the exact same time that my train leaves. I would just like to be put on my original flight so that I can catch that train.”
       “It is our policy that we don’t allow passengers to change carriers if we have a flight to the same destination that is available. You can go talk to customer service if you have any other questions.”
       “Okay, yes, well, where can I find customer service?”
       “At the end of this terminal.”
       “Well, thank you for your help,” I say and I mean it even though she never smiled.
       I walk determinedly down to U.S. Airways customer service.
       Two women are on high chairs behind a counter. I am the only person in line and neither of them looks up or makes eye contact with me. After a few seconds of looking around to see if I am, in fact, in the right place (A giant “CUSTOMER SERVICE” sign affirms my belief), I just walk up to the woman on the right. She looks up from doing absolutely nothing.
       Did I just see my second eye-roll of the day? I think so.
“Hello,” I say, thinking that pleasantries should be exchanged between strangers under any and all circumstances.
       She just looks at me for a second or two, apparently exasperated that she has to actually do something during her workday, and finally says something.
       “How can I help you?” Completely flat affect.
       “Well, I’m on flight 2534 to Philadelphia, and I was originally scheduled to depart that airport at 2:01 on a United flight, but this morning I was put on a different flight that leaves Philadelphia at 1:15. Because my flight from here is delayed, I will not make that 1:15 flight in Philadelphia, and I was put on a later flight that leaves at 3:30. The problem is that I have a train to catch at 5:20 in Chicago, and I will definitely not be able to get on that train if I am on that later flight. That means that I will need to stay overnight in Chicago or I will have to find someone drive from Michigan to come pick me up. Is there anything you can do to get me on that earlier flight?”
       “We don’t allow passengers to change carriers if we have a later flight to the same destination.”
       “Yes, I understand that. The thing is that I was originally on that flight anyway, and your airline transferred me this morning when I arrived due to some sort of miscommunication.”
       “There is nothing I can do.”
       Then why the fuck do you call this CUSTOMER SERVICE!?!
“Okay, then are you going to pay for me to stay overnight in Chicago? Are you going to compensate me for the time and personal expense that your delay will cost me when I need to have someone come pick me up from Michigan?” I stayed calm for this bit of dialogue, but I’m pretty sure my blood was actually near boiling.
       “If you would like to file a complaint, I can provide you with an address for those type of issues. You can write a letter and send it to that address with your complaint.”
       “Yes, well, aside from writing my complaint letter, what exactly do you propose that I do while I am stuck in Chicago tonight due to an inexplicably delayed flight that causes me to miss my train?”
       “Here, I will print off the address for you and you can send your complaint there. There is nothing I can do to help you.”
       She is terrible at answering questions, but at least she is honest.
       “Okay. Great. Thank you.”
       She prints off the address on a piece of yellowed paper. In addition to the address, there is also a fax number, which I can use to send “a request or inquiry.” Nifty.
       I walk away from the customer service desk, back to my seat, which is taken by some fat kid playing Nintendo DS, and I just stand waiting for my delayed flight to Philadelphia.


       A while later, a voice comes over the PA system. “Passengers of flight 2534, please proceed downstairs to begin boarding your flight.”
       This voice comes as a surprise to me because it is about 12:24 p.m. My next flight leaves from Philadelphia at 1:45 p.m., and it is, supposedly, a twenty-five minute flight from D.C. to Philadelphia. You can do the math, but I’ll do it for you. If I subtract twenty-five minutes for the flight, that still gives me fifty-six extra minutes to board this flight in D.C., exit this flight in Philadelphia, and find the gate for my flight to Chicago before that flight leaves the airport. This would have been possible except for the fact that I did not sacrifice a virgin to the airport gods earlier that day. My bad.
       I walk down the stairs and am surprised to see that everyone seems to be moving quickly along in line. What I then realize is that we are not, in fact, boarding the plane, but are, instead, expediently packing ourselves into tiny airport busses. I follow an overweight man in front of me, and we both stoop to enter what smells like a hot, crowded, indoor sporting event, but is actually a hot, crowded, indoor waiting event. I walk down the narrow aisle and instantly feel like Forest Gump. I look at the faces of the three people with an empty seat next to them and decide the trim elderly gentleman is my best bet at not contracting a disease or getting shanked as soon as I sit down.
       “Hey,” I say, making a face that says “boy, this is absolutely ridiculous, but what can you do right?”
       “Hello,” he responds friendlily (yes, that is a word).
       We sit in silence waiting for, I assume, the other bus to fill up with passengers. We start moving at 12:34 p.m. and I stupidly start to get optimistic again.
       Hey, all we have to do is get everyone off of these busses and onto the plane in the same ten minutes it took earlier, and I’m golden. Why was I so frustrated earlier?
       The real comedy starts as soon as we get to the plane I think we are taking to Philadelphia. It is blindingly bright outside, and the plane is just sitting there waiting for us to board. We all sit, staring at the plane for a couple minutes when an airport worker in a flashy orange vest drives up towing a large folding ramp. He backs it up to the plane and starts to unfold it; this operation requires that two large pieces of metal be folded out in opposite directions. As soon as the ramp is unfolded, the door to the plane opens and people start walking out toward our bus, which is completely full. The good news is that someone noticed the slight logistical problem of loading a plane full of passengers onto two completely full busses. The bad news is that the person who noticed was the first passenger that disembarked from the plane and tried to board our bus.
       A slow-dance of activity began where flight attendants and bus drivers communicated via a complicated sign language that involved lots of waving arms and frustrated facial expressions – I’m sure this complicated communication technique is not just waving arms and frustrated facial expressions that any human, or animal for that matter, could produce in a similar situation and is, in fact, a unique form of airport sign language taught to them during their long and arduous training seminars. I’m sure.
       Eventually, our bus driver starts the bus and drives in a very large circle around the plane until we, inexplicably, arrive at the exact same place we started except there is now one empty bus in front of us. Passengers standing out on the sunny tarmac start boarding the empty bus, airport employees start loading their luggage into the empty bus, and all I can do is think about germs.
       Wow. I really hope there are several flight attendants on that plane rapidly disinfecting the seats that all of these people were just sitting in because if my head rests in the same spot that enormous, ugl-
My thoughts are interrupted by a strange spectacle in front of me. The man who drove the ramp up to the plane is now folding said ramp back up and attaching it to his cart. Our bus is remaining stationary. There is some more arm-waving. The ramp gets driven around a bit and ends up back against the plane. The man driving gets out and unfolds said ramp. I keep constantly looking at my watch. The door to the plane then reveals the funniest thing that happens all day. It’s not laugh out loud funny, it’s “ha ha” funny.
       An extremely elderly man takes a half-inch stride forward with the help of a flight attendant, another caretaker, his oxygen tank, a walker, and the “encouraging” thoughts of two full busses loaded to the brim with frustrated, late airplane passengers. He shuffles forward along the ramp in super-slow motion.
       “It’s like I’m living in a cartoon,” I accidentally say out loud. The man next to me just chuckles. Several people around me snigger.
       The man finally reaches the bottom of the ramp and makes his way to the bus. He gets close enough to our bus that I can make out the expression on his face: confusion. It seems that confusion became contagious and everyone within sight of the airport has become infected, including myself, because I simply cannot make sense of what happens next. The ramp down from the plane is once again folded up and removed. My bus starts moving yet again and we drive up to a completely different airplane. This is the plane that we board. Watching the last plane’s passengers disembark was apparently just an interesting detour that U.S. Airways thought would be entertaining and informative to two busloads of people who are going to miss their flights and arrive at their destinations much, much later than expected, or maybe they just caught the confusion parasite.
       Once on-board, things look as though they might actually be running smoothly. I get a window seat, the person next to me is mercifully silent, and we have a minimal amount of taxiing before we’re actually up in the air. It is 12:49. A flight attendant (we can’t say stewardess anymore right?) several rows in front of me picks up the P.A. microphone. It is by far the strangest speech by a flight attendant I ever experience, and I’ve flown Hrvatska zrakoplovna kompanija (that’s “Croatia Airlines” if you’re curious). Throughout her whole monologue about safety, she keeps falling down because the takeoff is so rough, and she keeps laughing about everything she says. I think she is trying to be funny by implying that none of it really matters because the flight is so short. This causes half of the people on the plane, the ones with no time-crunch, to laugh and the other half, the ones with a severe time-crunch, to scowl at the flippant remarks of this bold-faced flight attendant.
       After a rough, but ultimately effective, flight from D.C., we finally land in Philadelphia. Apparently they aren’t expecting us because we taxi and wait on the tarmac for a full seventeen minutes. Eventually someone comes on the P.A.
       “Passengers with connecting flights, please see the flight attendant once you disembark. New tickets have been issued if you have missed your connecting flight, and she will provide those for you.”
       And again there is no apology, no sympathy, no nothing. It is just a cold, calculated, monotone statement of fact. I decide to include a theory about flight attendants and other airline employees being robots in my complaint letter.
       I wait with a crowd of people, the non-laughers from earlier, as the flight attendant rattles off each poorly pronounced name and distributes the ticket to the appropriate scowling patron. As this is going on, I watch as each piece of carry-on luggage, which was actually checked due to the diminutive size of the aircraft, is “gently handled” by airport workers. By “gently handled,” I actually mean “forcibly torn from the pile of bags and thrown from the ground up to the walkway we are all standing in.” At least it was neatly arranged, giving it the appearance that it was carefully handled. I briefly wonder how many airport workers wash their hands after they use the restroom.
       “David Van derr way”
       Derr indeed. You do realize there’s no “r” anywhere in any of my names you stup-
“Yes, that’s me, thank you.” I nod my head toward the flight attendant and wave my hand a little bit.
       As I search for my luggage, which may or may not have been bludgeoned with a baseball bat and waterboarded for homeland security precautions since I last saw it, I overhear someone asking why they did not receive a new ticket.
       “Your connecting flight must also be delayed, so you will still be on the same flight as your ticket.”
       Poor bastard.
I look at my ticket and start making my way to gate B5. Gate B5 happens to be two terminals away from my current location, so I start walking. It is 1:31 in the afternoon, and my too-late-to-catch-my-train-in-Chicago flight doesn’t leave until 3:50, which probably means 4:30 in “U.S. Airways Time.” My legs are sweating a little bit by the time I finally get to my gate, and it is uncomfortable. It’s 1:46 and I decide that I should try once more to get on my original United flight that leaves at 2:01 from the same airport that I am in. I quick check the monitor for some ammunition, and I find it: my original flight is also delayed and doesn’t leave until 2:30! I have time to argue with employees and traverse the entire airport before my flight will depart. I foolishly start to get hopeful again.
       I walk up to the woman who is stationed at my gate to, I assume, answer questions. I pull out my increasingly large pile of documents and explain my situation as calmly and clearly as possible to her.
       “Well, you can go talk to customer service. They’re down there and around the corner to the right. I can’t actually do anything for you here.” Somehow she seemed less robotic than her D.C. counterparts. Maybe it was her almost-Mohawk.
       “Thank you,” I sigh. Sad Charlie Brown music again played in the soundtrack to my life.
       I walk down to “customer service.” There are two people in line in front of me. Their concerns are taken care of while I silently note the stuffy crowdedness and overall jankiness of the airport. Oh, Philadelphia.
       I could write out the dialogue that passed between this representative and myself, but it will just be a copy and paste job from every other interaction I have had up to this point. There are two important differences that make this event distinct. First, the overweight woman behind this desk seems to have a soul and genuinely feel bad about my situation. Second, I am given a telephone number that I can call, and I am told that someone on the phone will probably be able to help me. I thank her, walk back to my gate, and foolishly get my hopes up.
       I dial the number as soon as I sit down. I am one of three people in the gate area, and I do not see any children around, so I don’t overly concern myself with censorship or volume as I struggle through the automated menu several times before deciphering what magical combination of numbers will get me on the phone with a living, breathing human. Finally, some elevator music comes on and I hear the “this conversation may be monitored for quality control purposes” message.
       I don’t care what numbers I just pushed, I should just try 6-6-6 right away next time something like this happens.
       “Hello, how may I help you?”
       Wake me up from this nightmare.
       “Hello, how are you?” I always ask this when I’m on the phone with someone I don’t know. It’s a habit and it surprisingly catches people off-guard every single time. A brief pause of confused silence occurs before the guy on the other end responds.
       “I’m fine.”
       “Good, well, I am in Philadelphia International Airport… (a few minutes describing my situation)… is there anything you can do to help me?”
       “Well, what is your confirmation number on your ticket?”
       Did anything I just said matter?
I fumble with my pile of stubs, papers, and tickets until I find my ticket from Philadelphia to O’Hare. I look around and there are about 273 different numbers scattered around the face of my ticket. I’m not a cryptographer, so I ask a simple question.
       “Where can I find that number?”
       “It should be on the front of your ticket. It’s a six-digit number.”
       I pick a number and start reading it.
       “I think it might be A-4-Y-G-O-D,” and I burst out into a bout of sonorous laughter at the beautiful appropriateness of everything in my life at that moment. YGOD indeed.
       There is a bit more standard dialogue between us. The punch line of the joke I don’t need to tell again is that he informs me that someone at customer service in the airport will probably be able to help me.
       Just for kicks, I get up from the recently crowded gate area and walk back to customer service. I wait in line and I notice very little because I can barely see straight from some unknown emotion-poison coursing through my veins; I could feel a rage blackout coming on. I take a Zen moment to assess my life. I realize that it’s not anger I’m feeling. It’s not frustration that I’m feeling. It’s not even some of my favorite emotions, hatred and loathing, that I’m feeling. It is, in fact, complete and utter bafflement that has beset me. I literally cannot form a complete, coherent thought about what has happened to me and why I am in line at another customer service because some absurd black hole of logic exists somewhere between point A and point B in every thought I try to have.
       I walk up to the same woman I talked to earlier. I have now stepped out of my body and turned myself into an instrument in a social experiment.
       “You know me from earlier. I’m stuck here and I’m going to miss my train and I hate everything about your airline. You’re sure there’s nothing you can do to help me?”
       “I can’t do anything here.”
       “Funny, when I called the number for customer service that you gave me a short while ago, they told me that you would be able to help me.”
       She just shrugs her shoulders and sighs. I do the same, thank her, and walk back to my gate. I guess I was wrong about her having a soul. I see that my seat is filled by an overweight man with a cane, and all of the other seats are taken.
       I walk up to the almost-Mohawk woman. As I make eye contact with her, she starts speaking. Somehow I know she knows what I am going through and I love her.
       “Still stuck on this flight huh?”
       “Yes. I did notice when I came in that my original flight was delayed, is there any chance I can still get on that flight?”
       “Well, you can go down there and ask them. I don’t see why they wouldn’t let you on if there’s room.”
       I almost cry. I get really unstable when I don’t sleep much.
       “Thank you, how do I get to that gate?”
       “It’s a long way, just follow this hallway, turn right, and keep walking.”
       “Good luck.”
       I grab my bags and start my journey across three terminals. My legs start to sweat in my pants again, and I keep bumping into disease-ridden strangers because it’s so crowded.  I glance at a monitor and see that the flight I’m trying to get on leaves at 2:30. It is 2:23. I start walking faster. I go through a sweltering, sunny, long stretch of empty hallway and finally arrive in the general vicinity of the gate I’m looking for. I find it and walk up to the lady behind the counter. It is 2:30.
       “Is there any room on this flight?”
       “Are you on this flight?” she asks, extremely alarmed.
       “No, but I am trying to get to Chicago before my train leaves,” I sigh, “it’s a long story. Is there any room on this flight?”
       “Oh, I’m sorry, this flight is already leaving.”
       “Okay. Thank you.”
       I shrug my shoulders, and start the trip back to my too-late-to-make-my-train-in-Chicago flight. I take my dear sweet time getting back because, well, I have a lot of that. I take in the faces of all the people rushing around. I briefly have one of those weird “things are too complex to understand” moments when I imagine everyone’s life as a line that intersects with everyone else’s in the same place and same time. I see a girl my age and I realize that we both have twenty-three years of line behind us and a great deal more to draw ahead of us, and we momentarily intersect at some preposterous angle at this airport at this ridiculous time when we meet eyes for what could have been three milliseconds or three minutes for all I know because I have lost all sense of what time means at this moment. Everything is infinitely meaningful and infinitely meaningless at the exact same time.
       I eventually get back to B5. I tell the almost-Mohawk girl that I couldn’t get on my flight. She’s sorry for me. I’m actually happy for the first time since getting to the airport as I stand in the corner of the seating area and call my parents.
       “Hello?” my mom answers.
       “Hey, this is ridiculous, but I need you to start driving to Chicago in the very near future to pick me up from the airport.”
       “Oh, what happened?” my mother is a chronic over-worrier.
       “It’s a long story. We’ll have time to talk about it on the way home. I’ll be at O’Hare, and I’m flying U.S. Airways.”
       “Okay, we’ll figure something out.”
       “Okay. Keep me posted.” I could tell that this ruined their day. They now had to drive at least three hours to get to O’Hare, assuming there was no traffic at all anywhere during rush hour. After that we had to drive another three hours back to Michigan.
       Even if they leave right now, I won’t get home until at least 9:30 p.m.
       3:20 p.m. comes around, and I’m one of the last people to board the plane. The almost-Mohawk girl asks me if I am all right.
       “Yeah, I’ll be fine. My folks are coming to pick me up in Chicago.”
       “Okay. I’m really sorry about everything.”
       “Eh, it’s not your fault. Thanks for all the help.
       “I didn’t really do much.”
       “Eh, not much anyone could do.”
       “I guess. Well, have a good flight.”
       “Thanks, you too,” I say as I walk away.
       Did you just wish her a good flight? You stupid moron.
I find my seat. It is, mercifully, another window seat. I am sitting next to two trim gentlemen who seem pretty well-off. I stow my bag and pull out my book. I set it on my lap, buckle my seat belt, and grab the flight safety bulletin. I have several strange personality quirks that all kick in at the same moment when I buckle my belt on an airplane or train. First, I compulsively read all safety information everywhere I go because I like to be prepared. I’m poignantly aware that whenever S.H.T.F. (shit hits the fan) I somehow become a sea of calm and composure.
       Example: I am in the R.A. office writing a paper at three in the morning. Someone runs down the stairs and tells me that A. has slit his wrist. Time slows to a crawl for me for the next forty-five minutes. I call 911. I dash upstairs to the 3rd floor and find A. with a huge gash on his wrist, a pair of pliers on the ground, and a prodigious amount of blood and broken glass all over. I grab a towel and apply a healthy amount of pressure on the wound while having someone else grab my fellow R.A. to clean up the mess. I have a polite, Mr. Rogers-like information-gathering talk with A. while I help him walk to the elevator. I sit him down on the couch and a medic is already there waiting. He pours some sort of coagulant on A.’s wrist, and I help A. to the campus safety truck that brings the three of us to the hospital. I check A. into the E.R. and then diffuse a ridiculously confrontational cell phone call from A.’s mother. She is a lawyer. I help A. get to his room and hold a strangely intellectual and informed conversation about local anesthetics with the doctor. This leads A. to believe I am a genius and leads the doctor to relax, so we keep talking as he pokes around, cleans, and stitches up the three-inch gash. Little known fact about me: I decided not to pursue a pre-med degree in college because I get ridiculously queasy at the sight of blood.
       In any case, I take this strange aspect of my personality very seriously and try to make sure I am responsible about it. I read somewhere that, in a crisis situation, the first reaction of at least ninety percent of the world’s population is to freeze up and sit motionless until someone tells them what to do. Another strange personality quirk: I have a secret, strange desire to be involved in and survive a plane crash.
       A flight attendant approaches our three seats and is shocked that I am reading the safety information. I am in an emergency exit row. I feel like I get three gold stars on the bulletin board of life when she tells the two men sitting next to me that they should be reading the safety information “like this gentleman right here.” She gestures toward me and smiles. I smile back and mentally run through the motions required to open the door that I am leaning up against. Some studies show that envisioning the motions you need to go through for a task (the study I read was done on playing the piano) build skill just as fast as actually practicing them.
       The flight is pleasant and completely uneventful. The flight attendant that talked to us about the safety information keeps stopping by to refill my coffee.
       “Not many people are drinking coffee, and I have that whole pot made. How is it?”
       “It’s great. Thank you so much.”
       “Oh, it’s no trouble at all.”
       I instantly love her too.
       I land in Chicago. I walk down to baggage claim even though I don’t need to pick up any bags. I call my parents. It is 6:23 p.m. They do not answer. I sit down and read some more. A few minutes later my phone rings.
       “Hey,” I say.
       “Hey, Dave, we should be getting there soon. We’re stopped in traffic though, so we’ll call you once things start moving again.”
       “Okay. Things look pretty clear once you get to the airport. Not too many cars driving by, and I have a really good view of the highway. It looks pretty clear.”
       “Great. Well, we’ll call you in a bit.”
       I read some more. They call me and tell me they’re pretty close. I go out to the curb and wait for about fifteen minutes in the cold. They finally show up, and my dog Lacy. jumps out to greet me. I throw my bags in the car and sit next to Lacy for the long ride home. I tell my story to my parents. They feel sorry for me. I call my friend H. even though I’m exhausted. It’s 10:12 p.m. and we’re still driving.
       “Hello?” H. says.
       “Why hello,” I say.
       I tell the story of my day to her.
       “And you haven’t even heard the best part yet,” I tell her.
       “Really? What else is there?” she laughs.
       “I kid you not, and you’ll know I’m not joking because you can’t make shit like this up, there’s a confirmation number on my ticket. The last four digits are Y-G-O-D.”
       She laughs a lot. It’s like bells tinkling through the phone. I cut in after just a few seconds.
       “I know! Isn’t it ridiculous? I’m telling you, that’s the kind of shit that only happens in real life.”
       We both laugh a lot.
       I finally get home at 11:31 p.m. My dad and I both have to teach a bunch of high-schoolers for the next two days. I write the first three paragraphs of this story as soon as I get home. I vow to send it to customer service as soon as it’s finished. I set my alarm for 6:20 a.m. and go to bed.

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