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Saturday
Mar192005

Fly like a Pelican?

I’m sitting in Portland International Airport, beneath an Internet Bar.  I logged on and checked my grades, but they STILL haven’t posted.  They tell you to arrive two hours early for domestic flights.  I, being an inexperienced air traveler, arrived two and a half hours early. 

Point 1:  Web check-in is the way to go.  I printed my boarding pass last night, and brought it and my flight itinerary with me.  I found an unused self-service kiosk as soon as I came in.  I checked myself in, then proceeded to the baggage check.  I checked my battered luggage and proceeded to security. 

I had been led to believe by my laptop’s manual that the Security personnel at the airport would expect me to disassemble my laptop and reassemble it, to prove, in no uncertain terms, that my Dell was in fact a Dell, and not a Dell-shaped bomb.  They were having none of it.

“Just throw it in one of these bins.” 
“I don’t need to take it apart or anything?”
He gives me a look that says “Lady, if you can take your laptop apart, I’ve got one at home you can work on, cause it don’t work, but now’s not the time.”
“In.  The.  Bin.” he says slowly, enunciating each word as if I am what his Kentucky kin would call an “M-B-sile”

I was also unaware that you had to remove your shoes until my Grandmother told me this morning.  I paid by not wearing socks.  They paid by smelling the inside of my shoes.  (For those who only know me casually, my foot odor is LEGENDARY.  In fact, I’m surprised YOU didn’t smell my feet from there—-wherever you are.)

Point 2:  In all the years I worked in this airport, I was never aware of the reason that A Concourse went down an escalator.  Now I know.  We will be boarding  ON THE TARMAC.  This is strangely frightening for me.  When you board from a gangway, it’s like you’re still in the airport.  One minute, you’re at the gate, then you’re in a long hallway, then you’re on the plane.  I’ll be going OUTSIDE to get on my plane.  This reinforces the fact that the plane is a separate entity—-fully able to fly or crash on its own.  Also, the plane is much smaller than I was led to believe.  It is still a jet (or at least I think it is.  If it’s a prop plane, I’m out of here) but it looks like a 40 seater.  My sister was right.  She warned me that the plane was smaller than I thought.

Point 3:  You may have wondered what I meant above when I said, “beneath an Internet Bar.”  When I saw the huge blue and white “Internet Bar” sign from 100 yards down the concourse, I expected to find a slightly swank (“swank” because the word “bar” in an airport always signified status to me, and “slightly” because, after all, this IS Portland.) room filled with cigar-smoking Internet junkies  busily tapping away on their sleek silver laptops. 

The Internet Bar is a 20 ft long countertop, facing a blank wall.  It “features” six double outlets, two TDD machines, two of the ugliest and most uncomfortable bar stools I’ve ever seen, and four phone books.  I’m plugged in to the wall outlet and perched on the floor below it.

I have arrived so early that neither the screens in the gate area nor the website devoted to flight arrivals and departures is registering my flight.  But who cares?  I have power, a computer, music, and people to watch.

Point 4:  One of the things I miss the most about living in a city is the variety of people.  In a small town there are people too, but you don’t get some things.  Like airline pilots.  For those who don’t know any, or have never worked in an airport, you must know that airline pilots are some of the strangest people around.  They have a perverse sense of humor, mostly centered around death.  Two just walked by me, commenting on the places they were going. 

“I’m 2143 to Deadford.”  I assume he means “Medford.”

“I’m 2416 to Hellings.”  2416?  That’s MY flight.  He means Billings.  This short, scrungy (for a pilot) freakazoid is driving MY plane?  We will fly like a pelican!

My plane is not yet here.  It arrives from Hellings at 2:45, and departs again at 3:15.  I’ll be at gate A2, which is nice, because I’ll only have to walk 40 feet, and if I chicken out when I see the plane, there will still be time to run back to the real bar and get a drink. 

Yes.  I’m thinking of drinking.  For those unfamiliar with my foot odor, you might not know this, but I don’t drink.  EVER.  AT ALL.  So for me to consider a drink is a frightening state of affairs.

Ah well, such is life.  I’m going to check my grades again. 


4:23 PM

At 3:10, they informed us that our flight might be delayed a few minutes.  We would now be departing at 3:45, rather than at 3:15.  We heaved a collective sigh and sat down (we had been lining up to board) and waited. 

And waited.

And waited.

At 3:40, they told us the plane had hit a bird on its way to Portland.  The front radar had been…damaged slightly.  The crew guys told a different story, and we could all clearly hear him while the door to the tarmac was open.

“It’s gone.  I mean gooone.  It’ll take another…”

The door shut, but we soon found out how long it WOULD take.

“Attention all passengers of flight 2416 departing to Billings, we are experiencing technical difficulties and will be departing at 6:45.  Thank you for your patience.”

Patience?  Technical difficulties?

Patience is what you have when you are told you must arrive two hours early, and then are sped through in four minutes.  Technical difficulties are what happens to your cable service when 60mph wind gusts knock out a reciever tower. 

Patience is not waiting 4 1/2 hours to get on a stupid plane in an airport.  Technical difficulties are not your plane malfunctioning aggregiously.  Waiting all day to get on a plane in an airport is torture, and a bird taking out your radar is an unmitigated fucking disaster.

5:29 PM We are still stuck in the waiting area outside of the gate. My traveling companions are as restless as I. There is the Leather Cowboy. Black leather trenchcoat, Black leather cowboy hat. Block leather boots. Not cowboy boots, but more like riding boots, knee-high. And a Punisher tee shirt. He hasn’t said a word. I wonder what his iPod is telling him. Then there’s Pug Dog Lady. She must be 80. Her poor dog is boxed up in a cardboard dog carrier. The lettering on its side proclaims it to be a Cosmic Pet Shuttle. The dog is not amused. She and another lady, who lives in another part of town (Billings has more than one part?) are discussing their respective properties.

10:12/11:12 (PST, MST) It was a prop plane. There was a lot of turbulence. But I finally arrived in Billings. It’s bigger than I thought. They have two 20 story buildings. They stick out terribly above the plain. My day is finally at an end. Luckily, The Dad lives downtown, in a little shack off of Main Street, and some nearby business has an unsecured wireless network, so I’m wi-fi from the house. This might not be so bad…if I could only get him to shut up. I’ve been in the next room, typing away for about an hour, and he keeps talking to me. I told him I was going to bed, but I suppose that the light is a dead giveaway.

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