Monday, May 30, 2011
The time I almost went to Chicago for the weekend.
Saturday, May 21st, 7:20 A.M.:
Standing in the security line at the airport in Duluth, I realize this is the first time I've ever flown out of here that there's been two flights leaving around the same time. Usually you just get to the top of the stairs (the escalator is out-of-order, ostensibly due to the remodeling project, yet I seem to recall it being out-of-order when I flew out of there last summer, too) and get in line, because there's only one line to get into. This morning, there's two -- one on each side of the Afterburner Cafe ("now serving pizza!").
Confusion! There's no signs labeling which flight is which, no announcements being made over the loudspeaker, no airport personnel to ask. No one in line seems to know which one they should be in. People flip a coin in their heads and pick one or the other, all willy-nilly. I don't find out I'm in the wrong one until I get to the x-ray machine, and a terribly cranky screener flips her bitch-switch on me. (To be fair, they did seem very understaffed that morning...maybe the two-flights-at-once thing threw them off, too.) I run across the platform to the other line, carrying my shoes, purse, and the contents of my pockets in a gray plastic bin, carry-on wheelie suitcase bouncing behind me. The screeners manning Line #2 are in a better mood.
7:50 A.M.: The passengers of Waiting Area #2 are getting restless. We're supposed to be flying out at 8:25, but we aren't on the plane yet and everyone's getting that pinched look that people get when they're waiting in airports. Ah, but a few minutes later, the First Class and Business Elite passengers are released (which is silly, ultimately, since we'll be flying on a glorified puddle-jumper to Minneapolis with too few seats to even have a First Class area, but whatever, let them call themselves "First Class" if it makes them feel special), followed by the rest of us huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
And it turns out we'll be breathing very freely, indeed, because we're going to have to walk out onto the tarmac to board the plane. Which isn't so bad, really, except that to get to the ground, you have to wind down a narrow, concrete spiral staircase of DOOM. Good luck, octogenarians behind me! My able-bodied self can barely maneuver my little carry-on around the corners, it'll be fun to see how you negotiate the turns with your walkers!
7:55 A.M.: I have to admit, though, it does feel kind of glamorous to climb up the stairs to the plane. Cold & windy, but glamorous. I always picture the Beatles, or Jackie-O, waving back at their adoring fans as they duck through the door off to some sparkling new place. Of course, in reality, I'm usually stuck behind some fat guy from Chisholm or some cranky old lady who can barely make it up the stairs, but if you can't daydream your way out of this stuff, what fun is there?
7:56 A.M.: I plant my butt in Seat 9D after the nice lady in 9C stands up & lets me in. She's chatty and very blond. That's good, I like a chatty seatmate, especially on the short flights from Duluth to MSP. It's nice to have someone to talk to, without the commitment of trying to keep the conversation going for more than 30 minutes. She's heading out to San Francisco, she says, to house-sit for her friends for two weeks. She tells me she only packed five pairs of shoes. I tell her I'm pretty sure I only own five pairs of shoes.
7:58 A.M.: Me & 9C are talking about Golden Gate Park when the pilot comes on the loudspeaker and says something that makes everyone on the plane go, "Arrrrrrrgh!" "What, what?" 9C asks the elderly woman across the aisle. "We have to get off the plane," grumbles 9B. "Back up those rotten stairs!"
7:59 A.M.: 9C is trying to convince the flight attendant to let her leave her carry-ons on the plane. "I'm so sorry, ma'am, we just can't let you leave them, it's FAA policy." 9C is displeased. I offer to carry one of her carry-ons, and she is grateful (and a little sheepish for packing all those shoes).
8:03 A.M.: Back in Waiting Area #2, people are looking much more pinched than earlier. A harried-looking dude gets on the intercom and explains that they're experiencing some sort of power outage at the airport in Minneapolis, and that they've decided to ground all incoming flights (that hadn't already taken off) so they don't get stuck waiting indefinitely on the tarmac in the Twin Cities. Having been stuck on the tarmac several times, I applaud this decision, but most of my fellow travelers are less impressed. Not that I blame them -- who wants to be delayed? This marks the first of roughly fifty times I utter the phrase, "Eh, whattayagonnado?" throughout the course of the day.
We watch out the windows as the other flight that was leaving that morning takes off. "They're going to Detroit," the desk dude tells us wistfully. Never before has going to Detroit sounded so good.
8:25 A.M.: We're officially late. The guy on the intercom comes back on and tells us that they're having a hard time getting updated information about what's up in Minneapolis. Instances of heavy sighing and/or eye-rolling go up by about 200%.
8:34 A.M.: The first time someone in Waiting Room #2 brings up The Rapture. It will not be the last.
8:42 A.M.: No news. I have to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, like a lot of older, small-ish airports, the Duluth airport was built long before threat levels and shoe bombers and 3-1-1 and when they had to add all that security screening mumbo-jumbo, there was no way to do it without cutting off the waiting areas from the only bathroom on the 2nd floor. In other words, if you've gotta pee, you've gotta flee...through the security checkpoint. With all your junk. And then go through the screening again on your way back. It's a pain in the ass, but still, it's better than being stuck on a plane on the tarmac, waiting to go to the bathroom.
9:10 A.M.: Getting the sneaking suspicion that I'm going to miss my connecting flight at 10:10.
9:30 A.M.: Okay, I'm definitely missing my connection. I call my friend Georgia in Chicago to give her a heads-up and save her some waiting time at Midway Airport. Not knowing what's going on, I tell her I'll just call her when I get to Minneapolis and get my connection stuff sorted-out, and we'll take it from there. "Oh, it's starting to rain here," she says.
9:45 A.M.: 9C is sitting across from me, talking about how she always schedules at least two hours between her flights "because this crap happens every time I fly to Minneapolis." I must admit, every problem I've ever had flying into or out of Duluth has been due to something stupid/unforeseeable happening at MSP -- weather, power outages, etc. It's never been Duluth's "fault" (well, except for that time I inadvertently scheduled to fly out of Duluth the day of the air show, which was a nightmare that lives on in infamy).
10:00 A.M.: Most of the people in Waiting Area #2 seem to have accepted their fate. Again, "Eh, whattayagonnadoaboutit?" Five jets from the National Guard airbase next door roll out onto the runway and take off one at a time. The sound is crazy. The little kids in the room run to the windows and there is much oohing & ahhing.
10:08 A.M.: There's a huge, hulking angry guy sitting way in the back by himself who keeps making a big show of pulling out his phone & calling...family members? Friends? Business associates? I can't tell. I can't help but overhear all his conversations, though, because he seems to be suffering from Van Horton's Syndrome. The more I look at him, the more he looks like Jesse Ventura.
10:15 A.M.: A lady sitting near me & 9C pulls out her laptop and goes trolling around the interweb, looking for updated information. Apparently, the power's out only in sections of MSP, but no one's sure which concourses or how long it'll be until it gets fixed. Laptop Lady was on her way to New Orleans, with about three separate airport stops along the way...things aren't looking good for her. She gets Delta on the phone and starts trying to preemptively save her trip. 9C gets inspired and gets out her phone, too. I just sit back & wait.
10:25 A.M.: No more news. Laptop Lady and 9C are gazing into the computer like it's a crystal ball, waiting for a sign. Jesse Ventura guy is still yapping away at a billion decibels. Loudspeaker guy comes on again and tells us the power outage situation isn't getting any better, and that they don't know what caused it or how long it's going to take to fix it. Sighing and eye-rolling reach critical levels.
10:26 A.M.: I pull out my phone and call Georgia. "So it's not looking good, huh?" "No, looks like we're going to be waiting for a while." "Well, how about this -- how about you just come in two weeks, instead?" I thought I'd misheard her. "Yeah, just see if they'll let you come in two weeks -- it's raining here, and ever since a plane went off the runway in a rainstorm there a few years ago, they close it all the time. So just come in two weeks instead, if they'll let you."
10:27 A.M.: I wheel my suitcase up to the counter and wait for the frazzled desk dude to finish up a phone call. "I was just wondering --" "There's nothing I can do, ma'am, we're stuck." "Oh, no, I understand that. I was just going to ask if I could reschedule my trip for two weeks from now." Blank stare. "You want to what, now?" "Just go in two weeks, instead." Blink. "Let me get Shelley over here."
10:28 A.M.: Shelley arrives at the desk and he brings her up-to-speed. "Well, yeah! Sure! I've never had anybody ask me that before." Shelley types at her console for a minute or two. The other passengers of Waiting Area #2 have been eavesdropping on our conversation and there is much whispering. "Are you sure about this?" "Well, sure -- I'm just traveling for fun, and my friend in Chicago says they might wind up closing that airport anyway if it rains." "Ohhhh, yeah, Midway. Bunch of pansies. They get a drop of rain, they close." There is the whirring sound of a printer running, and Shelley hands me a receipt that says I'll be flying out on June 4th and back on the 6th. "You're good to go!"
10:29 A.M.: I stop back to say goodbye to 9C and Laptop Lady. "You're going to what?" Their incredulity fails to mask their envy. "I just wanted to let you know what happened to me, so you didn't think I wandered out to the bathroom and never came back." I wish them good luck on their trips, and exit through the security area.
10:30 A.M.: First, a phone call to Georgia, to let her know she doesn't have to go to the airport today. Next, a phone call to my brother Nick, who drove me to the airport earlier this morning and who's been back in bed for three hours already. I head downstairs and to the benches out front for some fresh air and wait for my ride. I feel relieved.
10:40 A.M.: A lady I recognize from Waiting Room #2 walks out the doors and lights up a smoke. She gives me a weird look and asks what I'm doing out there. "You're what?" She looks jealous, too. Then she launches into a diatribe about how she's moving to Arizona because the cold weather's given her rheumatoid arthritis. "I've had three surgeries on my hands. Lousy Duluth. Take good care of your hands," she says, puffing away. Arthritis Lady is flying to Arizona, then driving back to Duluth (?), then driving a moving van back to Arizona (??). I'm not quite following her logic, but she's already agitated enough so I'm not keen on irritating her with pesky questions, I just nod & smile. As much as it sucks to be waylaid in an airport, it must suck a lot more to get stuck inside craving a cigarette.
10:45 A.M.: Still waiting for Nick. Another passenger I recognize from Waiting Room #2 comes out, for the season reasons as Arthritis Lady. This guy looks like one of those kids that went nuts at Columbine, all googily-eyed and pissy. "I paid $300 for this f'in ticket, damn it, and the service is terrible." I respond that it definitely sucks, but that it doesn't appear that anyone at the Duluth airport or Delta had anything to do with this delay, so it doesn't do any good to get mad at them. There's no pleasing this guy, though. "I'd better get some f'n peanuts on the plane." "I don't think they serve peanuts anymore, too many food allergies -- usually you get pretzels or a granola bar," I offer. "Three hundred dollars and no f'in peanuts, jesus." When I'm presented with people like this, my natural inclination is to do a 180 on them -- if they're super-negative, I go super-positive. I smile big and say, "Well, at least you got outside for a smoke before it starts to rain!" My mother's been doing this to me since I was a little kid and it drives me crazy, but hot damn, it does make irritating people go away more quickly.
11:00 A.M.: Still waiting. Arthritis Lady comes back. "You inspired me to reschedule my trip, too! My daughter's coming to get me." She puffs on another cigarette and looks happy. Apparently being stuck in Duluth for one more day isn't looking so bad.
11:15 A.M.: Passengers are arriving for the flights scheduled to leave around the noon hour. I wonder if Delta's informed these people about the MSP holdup, or if they're all going via Detroit. Arthritis Lady's daughter rolls up, and Arthritis Lady waves to me as she rolls away.
11:20 A.M.: My brother Nick finally shows up. We drive back to Superior and go to Target, where I find my brand of kitty litter is on sale for $8 a bag, plus there are $3 off coupons on each bag, and if you buy three bags, you get a $5 Target gift card.
10:02 P.M.: Watching the news at home, they show the power's still out in parts of MSP and that most flights that got grounded that morning never went anywhere. The End.