My Life

Long Day’s Journey into Flight – Part V

Click here to read this story from the beginning…

 

As our plane lifted off, bound for JFK in New York, I tried to settle in and relax. Initially, this was not easy to do, partly because I’m not a fan of flying but mostly because my crotch smelled like chemicals from The Swabbing Situation. Every time I moved I would get a little whiff, which meant the folks around me were getting one as well. Eventually, though, things dried out and I no longer reeked of a plutonium incident.

It was going to be a long flight, so I snatched up one of those cheap-ass earphones as soon as the flight attendant showed up with a basket of them. I plugged into the little monitor on the back of the seat in front of me (how did we ever survive without these things in the past?) and proceeded to watch a bunch of pre-recorded TV shows that one would never watch unless they are trapped on a plane. I also managed to peruse “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, a movie I hadn’t seen in ages. It’s actually a very sad story, despite its reputation as a romantic comedy. But it’s a good sad, and the music is perfect.

Nine hours later, my huckleberry friend, we landed at JFK, and the madness began anew.

Because our flight had been delayed so long, there were quite a few people on the plane who had mere seconds to catch their connecting flights. Once we were at the gate, these people went insane, grabbing bags and running and knocking people over. Walking up the gangway was like The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, with the very real possibility that you could get gored at any moment. It reminded me of staff meetings when I used to work at Verizon. Especially the mooing.

As we traipsed our way towards Customs, I happened to catch a few signs saying something along the lines of “Download this app and Customs will be a breeze!” or some such. Since we were swept up in a sea of people trying to make their connections, I didn’t have time to reflect on what those signs meant and I essentially ignored them. This will prove to be an important plot point, so make a note of it.

We turned a corner, trotted down a ramp, and suddenly found ourselves in a massively cavernous room that was bigger than my hometown. (I’ve been to JFK many times over the years, but for some reason I had never gone through Customs there, so this was a new experience.) There were, literally, thousands of people all over the place, standing in huge lines that switch-backed into eternity. It quickly became very clear that our four-hour layover might not be quite enough. I had visions of taking 17 anxiety pills with a vodka chaser.

We jostled our way to the starting point and queued up. This first section was just a funnel to get people to the automated passport scanners, which was just the beginning of the process. (After that you had to queue again in order to speak to an actual Customs agent.) It took forever just to snake along in this first bit, so I knew this was not going to be a pleasant experience. Why would it be? After all, the day had been a smorgasbord of not-good since we got up that morning.

As we moved forward only a few steps at a time, I studied the signs around me, because I was bored out of my skull. Apparently, one of two things would happen at the passport scanner. You would either be given a Customs pass that said you were good to go, or you would get a pass with an “X” on it. If you got an “X”, you had to divert to a different line.

I glanced over at the diversionary area. There was nobody over there. Okay, there were ten or so folks in the line, a single Customs agent, and a frazzled-looking cleaning lady who wasn’t quite sure why she had a feather duster in her hand. But basically, nada. I wanted to go over there, even if I had to answer a few extra questions. And I was fairly confident that I would be sent that way, considering how many times I had already been given “special treatment”, with that “this guy is shifty” sticker on my passport.

As we approached the scanner, I chanted a mantra. Please give me an X. Please give me an X. Please, oh, please.

I did not get an X.

Something inside me died. But I took a deep breath and queued up at the next line, one that twisted and turned for miles, leading toward Customs agents that were blurry, they were so far away. Three things happened at this point.

One, I suddenly realized how hot it was in this place. It was the end of June and there were 4 billion people in one room, with the collective body heat apparently overwhelming the air-conditioning system. I started sweating and, if you’ll allow me to get personal here (we’re friends, right?), my testicles descended. This is a natural phenomena with the male body, something about protecting the little swimmers in said testes, and it’s uncomfortable. I was now lugging around four carry-ons instead of two.

Two, some of the people around us began to panic, realizing how long this was going to take, and they started behaving inappropriately, trying to cut in line and cheat at the switch-backs of said line. This did not sit well with the decent folk, including myself, and we countered their gambits by blocking their moves and calling them out. Luckily, the employees monitoring the lines didn’t play either and the rogues were sent back to where they once belonged.

Three, the man directly behind us, who had an accent that was a combination of both Penny Marshall and Garry Marshall, a full-on Bronx flavor, suddenly decided that I was his best friend. He began telling me everything he possibly could about his life. Nothing was off limits. I now know more about him than I know about my own mother.

An hour and a half later, we got close enough to the Customs agents that they were no longer blurry. (I could actually see the pores on their faces.) It was right about this time when we realized that one of said agents had a very short line, just a few people at a time and sometimes no one, while the rest of us cattle were being herded towards the other agents. What the hell was up with that?

One of the ladies in front of us trotted over and got the scoop, reporting back. Apparently, that line was for the folks who had actually paid attention to the “Download this app!” signs that were plastered all over the walls leading to Customs. Said app would do everything that the passport scanners would do, assuming your phone wasn’t a brick from the 90s, and you could avoid the massive lines that we were currently experiencing. The rest of my soul died at that point.

Oh, and it gets better.

Because the room was so backed up with people, on the verge of a safety hazard, the powers that be decided that some of us should be sent over to the “X” line because ain’t nothin’ happenin’ over there. So, just as we made it to the front of the non-X line, Partner and I were told to report yonder. We ended up in the very line that I had wanted to be in two hours ago, before Penny Garry Marshall gave me a full update on the status of his colon.

And what happens with the Customs agent and my infidel passport? This conversation:

Agent: “So, Mr. Brian, did you enjoy your time in Spain?”

Me: “Sure did.”

Agent: “Good to hear. Next!”

That was it. No swabbing. I was mildly disappointed.

Next up in the funfest, we had to go through Security again. This made absolutely no sense to me. We were still in the interior of the airport, and we had already been screened in Málaga. (Swabbing!) There had been no opportunity for us to slip off and cobble together a frittata, never mind a bomb. But we were back in the humiliation saddle again.

When I walked through the body scanner, the thing practically had a heart attack, it beeped so much. How in the hell was this happening? I had changed absolutely nothing since Málaga. (Okay, my testicles were lower, but come on.) As I stepped out of the scanner, I happened to spy an image of my scan on a monitor. That thing was lit up like a Christmas tree, indicating that I needed to be checked in 47 places. The agent proceeded to do so.

They found nothing and eventually sent me on my way. I was so done with people at that point. So done.

Emerging from Security, we reviewed our boarding passes. We were now at Gate 2 in the terminal. We needed to get to Gate 55. It seemed like a bit of a stretch, but surely it wouldn’t be that bad. This was a truly delusional moment on my part. Gate 55 eventually proved to be on the other side of the planet. Those Jetson-style moving-sidewalk things? We maneuvered through at least a hundred of them, nearly killing ourselves with that abrupt stop-motion transition to non-movement, stumbling and flailing.

Thirty minutes later we got to Gate 55, covered in sweat and regret. On a whim, I checked us in on “Swarm”, a location app that I had promised a few friends back home that I would use so they could enjoy our trip vicariously. When I did so, a comment from a person who had previously checked in popped up. “Gate 55 is at the end of Hell. Don’t try to walk there. Take the shuttle bus instead.”

Shuttle bus? What shuttle bus?

Just then, a bus pulled up outside the gate windows. A door we hadn’t noticed popped open in the wall, and a herd of non-sweaty and relaxed people clamored through said door, plopping down in the seats around us. They settled in and chatted happily, unlike the two of us who were on the verge of death after the Iron Man march to this gate.

I’m assuming I ignored another important sign somewhere. It was clearly not the first time.

We boarded the plane shortly after that. Three hours later we landed in Dallas. Three minutes after that, our efficient friend Cheryl pulled up outside the terminal, popping her hatchback so we could throw our luggage in such.

As we got situated in her car, clicking seatbelts and such, Cheryl had a question: “How was your flight?”

Oh, honey. How much time do you have?

 

The End.

 

Note: I feel compelled to say that, for the most part, the people at Delta Airlines were exceedingly professional and polite. They were just following established protocols. The real issue here is how travelers get randomly flagged as security risks through no fault of their own. One would think there’s a better way to handle the situation. Just my thoughts.

Thanks for sticking with the story. Rest assured that there will be more to come, as we’re already planning our next trip to Spain…

 

37 replies »

  1. Oh, thanx for that. I have to take the daughter to the Toronto airport later this month. “Trying” to switch lanes from Arrivals. to Departures is enough of a test of Canadian good manners. She gets to handle the fiction…. or friction, inside. 😯

    Liked by 1 person

    • May I politely suggest that you, at some point, try navigating the madness that is known as DFW Airport? It’s huge. And it’s designed in a mind-boggling way, with cryptic navigational options that don’t make any sense and a high-ratio probability that it will take you three hours to get to the desired gate. I weep copiously every time a relative is flying to Dallas and they ask me to pick them up at said monstrosity…

      Like

  2. Shuttle bus? SHUTTLE BUS? Oh, yeah, ain’t they a joy. At Quatar they go so far you think you’re going to have to change onto another one. And you get less personal space than a Tokyo bullet/banzai train. Ah, memories. Welcome home, weary teary traveler.

    Liked by 2 people

    • On the flip side, there’s the time I was trying to fly out of Bloomington, Illinois. (Long, sad story about why I was there in the first place, so we’ll skip over it.) We were forced to get on a shuttle bus that would take us to the plane. Said bus literally traveled less than a hundred yards and then made us get out, as the plane was right there. The airport only had two gates. Why in the hell did they have a shuttle bus in the first place? That right there explains the decline of Western Civilization…

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  3. Glad you made it home, even more that you’re planning another trip to Spain. It’s good for your writerly soul.
    As to the man from the Bronx, so understand that. Phoenix has many ex-New Yorkers and they are a friendly bunch, whatever the silly stereotype tries to tell us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes, life is all about overcoming the misconceptions we have about people and places and things. It’s just that some of us are more adroit at celebrating variety instead of shunning difference…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You survived! Physically and morally intact, if not mentally or spiritually 😉 I’m glad I read it all. I gasped, shuddered, cried and gulped. But I also laughed. A LOT! I’m going away from this saga more knowledgeable, more prepared and very keen for your next trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very happy that my little saga did not prove traumatizing to your spiritual well-being. Travel can be a challenge, and a test of will, but the joy of visiting new places, at least for me, far outweigh the moments of not-so-good…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A belated comment, thanks to being time poor. I read ‘Huckleberry friend’ and my mind goes, tangentially, thus; Theme song BAT, sung by Andy ‘wider than a smile’ Williams who was then married to French ex Follies Tropicana Las Vegas lead dancer Claudine Longet- she is 19, he is 33- ahem, moving on. Claudine is the romantic lead in ‘The Party’ 1968 with Peter Sellers in now most un-PC blackface, as an Indian actor. (Movie has great set pieces on Hollywood studio system etc. If you ain’t seen it, look it up.) Moving on.In this flick, in a small(?) role, is Carol Wayne, later the Matinee Lady on The Tonight Show, with Johnny. A monumentally talented woman, especially in profile. Ahem. Moving on. Carol drowned in 85, in Mexico, last seen by ‘companion’ Edward Durston. Mr Durston was also the last person to be with Dianne Linkletter, Arts daughter, before she tried flying, LSD inspired from her sixth floor apartment. Or so said the good Ed. (One female companion dying on Ed’s watch must have been singularly upsetting- two, doubly so.) Moving on, and back. Claudine leaves Mr Moon River, meets a skier in Aspen, Spider Sabich. Love blooms. Somehow ,a little later, Spider, who is having a shower at the time(?), is telling Claudine how a gun works. Somehow- quelle horreur- ze gun, she go boom. Ze Spider got gut shot. Tragic. Perhaps her little finger was frozen? (Rolling Stones song ‘Claudine’ is the backing track here, perhaps?) Moving on. A trial ensues, Claudine gets an entire month in jail. After her ‘ordeal’ Claudine falls into the arm of her defence attorney, who leaves his family, and he and Claudine live ‘appily ever after. Oh, Carol Wayne was also a dancer at the Follies in Vegas at the same time Claudine was. So ends this convoluted tale, all thanks to a throwaway aside, my Huckleberry friend. The Party IS well worth look from your POV of older Hollywood though. Replete with drunken waiters, stoned jazz musos, stars and starlets on the make. Unforgettable line ‘I’m on a diet, but the hell with it.’ Plus you will never look at The Love Boats sweet captain, Gavin McLeod in the same light again.It all tails off when the elephant’s in the room, but up till then..

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is NO WAY I can even begin to compete with the sheer random brilliance of this comment. I’m not even going to try to respond to all your wickedly-precise words. But I will say that there is an entire novel percolating in this inspired madness, and I am basically begging you to expand this comment into the counter-cultural epic that it should be.

      Do it!

      (Seriously, do it.)

      With warm regards,
      The Elephant

      Like

  6. Well, its a thought to work it into something, but its just a thread that got pulled-literally- from the hukleberry comment ‘Tis all true as far as the basic bones of this tale goes. Stranger than fiction, truly? And thanks for the kind words about words. You sure have a way with ’em. Writing humour successfully is hard to do well, and its always a joy to read, so I do appreciate your comment. Please, if you don’t know or have not seen The Party, you will enjoy it, if only for the satire and lampooning of the studio system of the time, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Whew! So glad you made it home safely and caught all your planes. I’ve never had an experience like that, and I hope I never will.

    Also: Was very pleased to read you were able to watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on the plane.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have been looking for this segment of the story and cannot believe I missed it.
    I’m not even sure how I missed it, Anywho, it is a tale to be shared with anyone
    who has even a foggy notion of embarking on an overseas flight. It is funny, scary
    and educational all at the same time. So very much enjoyed the telling…so very
    sorry for the duress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very happy that you did find this final bit and you were able to absorb all the madness. It is a cautionary tale, but at the same time, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again. Despite the irritation of the flights back home, we still got to spend some time in the south of Spain, a place that just connects with me and I immensely enjoy being there. In the end, we do what we can and make the best of the opportunities that we are given….

      Liked by 1 person

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