The Airport Moment
“Every hour spent waiting in an airport takes an hour off of your life expectancy.” W. Wade Porter to Thomas Hudson, Hobby Airport, Houston, Texas,1984
I had an airport moment on Saturday. I had not had one for a number of years. Friends and family who have traveled with me are aware of these airport moments, times when my exasperation regarding problems related to traveling on airplanes bubble over into dangerous and maniacal behavior, always toward airport personnel or airline employees. These categories of workers are perhaps the stupidest people on God’s green earth and the kind most susceptible to believing any drivel doled out to them by their lying scum employers which, no matter how preposterous, they will pass on to you as gospel.
The horrible events of 9/11 have had the salutary effect of calming me down to the point where no one is forced to draw a pistol on me anymore. I recognize that it is no longer appropriate to try to intimidate or even respond with sarcasm to officials in the airport. You can now end up in a little room being strip searched, or put on a watch list which will make your continuing ability to board a plane very problematic. Gone are the days when I could jump on an electric cart at an American Airline gate at DFW and tell the gate agent that I was going to drive it over to American offices since it appeared to be the only thing that the airline owned that could move ( I was blocked in my attempt to do this and told to remove myself from the cart). No longer will I kick open a door at US Air (or as we called it Useless Air) in Pittsburgh, after my flight had been cancelled and ask (at the top of my lungs) just what kind of a “Mickey Mouse” operation were they attempting to run here when they could not even get a “God Damned airplane from Pittsburgh to Bethlehem PA. ?” and demand to see the passenger list because “I know that you only canceled this flight because no one was on it.” Actually, the uniformed man from U.S. Air never got upset with me, as my tirade went on, he kept handing me one after another of free coupons to the airport Bar which I eventually took in bulk and went to the bar determined to get hammered. Which I did and proceeded to take a cab to my hotel where, on the way, I saw Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys, opening up one of his restaurants. That was the last time I saw Roy Rogers in this world.
Gone are also the days when I reduced my wife to tears by my standard act I began when told that my plane was late. “Oh yeah” I would always say,” how late ?” “About 20 minutes sir, look at the monitor.” The lady would say. “Monitor” I would spit, “that’s always the first lie.” And it is, there can be a flight delayed for three hours but the monitor will never admit more than a twenty minute delay. Back in the old days, they used to instruct airline workers to just flat out lie to your face. “We expect that it will be within call in range very soon sir, please take your seat and stop stabbing your pencil into my desk.” They no longer lie to you because they figure that going through a security line and paying $15 to check a bag is likely to have a passenger on edge anyway. They don’t want any ugly confrontations. I never knew why my antics upset Rayda so much. She would be moaning and complaining about how miserable she was, but when I got up to try to do something about it she was horrified. Most of the time she would grab a bag and announce that she was no longer going on vacation with me because I was such a jerk Actually, this particular scene has also been played out at hotels, theatres and restaurants many times on two continents. So far, she has never actually left the building.
As I said, it has been a long time since I had had an airport moment. I finally had one on Saturday. Having been booked on Northwest Airline on what ought to be advertized as their “Pygmies only” flight to Memphis and stuffed into my window seat in roughly the same manner that you stuff an oversized suitcase into the overhead compartment, and having forgotten to remove my jacket and having the A.C. system go out, my flight up to Memphis had been a nightmare. Part of it was my fault, the Northwest bag checker told me that I did not need to check my third bag. “But your sign says two bags only” I protested. “Yeah, put one bag inside the other” she advised. “But, the bag won’t close, they will see that I have a third bag sticking half way out of my second bag.” I responded. “They won’t care” she said, and they did not. Some rule, I guess if I had stuffed five more bags into the opening of my zippered suitcase they’d have ignored it. I was only really carrying two bags. Anyway, the walk with all the baggage was very awkward and long and it had been very hard to get them in the overhead because I kept hitting my head on the airplane ceiling which could only have been properly walked under if your name happened to be Happy, Dopey, Sleepy or Doc.
But I made it to Memphis and everything went fine, that is until I came back and they directed me to the wrong gate, causing me to march roughly half a mile more that I should have had to. But I got over that. It was when we landed in Austin that my moment came.
Having talked Northwest into checking my third bag for the flight home, I had to go to the baggage claim area to pick it up. It took, as usual, an unconscionable amount of time for the conveyor belt to start to bring down the bags, but once it did, I sat down in a chair and relaxed. Let the others scramble for their bags I thought. I will pick mine up when they clear out. And I would have, if the bags had continued to come down. Which they did not. Because three bags jammed together maybe six feet from the passengers collecting their bags, at most two and a half feet straight up the conveyor built. The belt stopped, we stared. For fifteen minutes. Then a uniformed guy climbed out from the exit chute on the wall down the conveyor belt for maybe a foot. He turned around and scrambled back, looking like one of those old cartoons where a guy gets caught trying to break through a hole because his butt is too big, and someone beats his ass with a club to get him through it.(Do they still show those ?)
After about ten more minutes, a young lady of perhaps 19 came over and briefly observed the situation and then left to go back to the Northwest baggage office where she pulled her homework out and started studying. This was the moment, I could feel my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels and I jumped out of my chair and ran to her office. “What in the hell is going on ?” I demanded. “Oh, those bags up there are jammed.” She said. “Everyone can see that, unjam them ! “ I stated, perhaps a bit emphatically. “I can’t, it’s against the rules, only the City of Austin Security can do that.” She explained. “ But they are only a couple of feet up, you can probably reach them. I know I can.” I (again) screamed. I followed up by throwing my arms above my head and screaming “This is crazy” and, in my defense. It was. “I’m going to unjam the thing myself.” Why I had not done this in the first place is a pretty good question. “O.K., great, but if Security comes, don’t tell them I approved.” She whispered. I turned on my heel and walked back to the belt, throwing down my carryon bags and rolling up my sleeves.
At this point, the crowd waiting for the bags streamed right past me walking away from the conveyor.. After 40 minutes, Northwest had figured out that they could simply use another carrousel for the rest of the bags. This spoiled my day. I grabbed my bag and went to find a cab. I don’t know if they ever got the jammed bags down.
I write this not because it is something I am proud of, on the contrary, it is certainly the sign of a deep psychosis. But in a way , it was nostalgic. Once again, it was 1988 or 1991 or anytime before the World Trade Center Towers went down, I was young, carefree and feared neither airline nor airline employee. I miss those days.