Thursday, February 7, 2008

Almost Human

I keep wanting to write but have been in motion since...two weeks ago I think? Didn't bring along my not so portable laptop. "Any gigs?" people ask. No gigs. Just a US visit in the dead of winter for, let's say, family reasons.

I'll get to the special birthday destination part when I get back home and can post a few photos. And then there's a New York part. But now I'm in Chicago feeling almust human after twenty four hours of that weird half-life of being stuck at the airport.

I assumed that they would know how to deal with snow here so I never considered that a little bad weather could shut the airport down.

Wrong. Or, partly wrong. Because O'Hare never actually closed. They keep it open just enough to keep hope alive. As they cancel flight...after flight...after flight. But always stringing everyone along with the slim possibility that maybe, just maybe we'll get there.

After I got dropped off at the airport in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the airline informed me that they'd cancelled the flights that day from Pittsburgh to Chicago due to weather. They gave me the option of going back "home" (in this case, my dad and stepmother's senior apartment complex) and returning to the airport the following morning. Or flying on to some random city where there was a slim chance I could get a connection to Chicago. I think the choice was clear.

Pick a city then, the airline said. Philadelphia? Wrong direction, lousy airport. Houston, too far. Cincinnati. Hey, they've got an Outback. How bad can it be? Plus they're still showing three flights to Chicago.

I'd look at it as research. Now that I'm in France most of the time, this was a rare chance to get back in touch with America. But is that really fair to America? I mean, being stuck at an airport is akin to being put into a temporary coma. There used to be angry scenes at the airline counters but now people are so accustomed to the frustration and accepting of the quiet abuse that there's only this big mutual mute stasis. And,anyway,everyone's hooked up to their own little life support systems: cellphones, bluetooths, blackberries, televisions every few feet,laptops and these super high tech headphones that filter out pretty much everything except the sound of them telling you they just postponed your flight for another hour. Remember when reading a newspaper was the most obvious indication that you wished to be left alone in your own private travel hell? Papers seem so quaint these days, with the old-fashioned type and newsprint and awkward crinkling of the pages. Almost downright friendly! And incorrect - what about the waste of paper?

Around hour five I bought another newspaper and the woman behind the counter said, "Hey, would you like anything else with that today? Some gum, a bottle of water maybe?" Wow, I thought, she cares about me. Isn't that nice.

But as I turned to put my change away, I heard it again, "Hey would you like anything else with that today? Some gum, a bottle of water maybe?" I'd mistaken "upselling" for genuine contact. I have been away for a while. Same thing at the Outback, hour seven. "I bet you'd like a great big piece of our strawberry cheesecake right about now, wouldn't cha?" Oh no thanks! I replied in my best imitation of Zombie #2. Just the check please!

Around hour nine, when they cancelled the final flight and I'd learned pretty much all there is to know about spring's new peep-toe slingbacks, I climbed into a hotel van with a couple of other people, all of us clutching our airline-issued overnight bags and headed for the Days Inn to sleep for a while before trying it again the next morning. Maybe it was the dark interior of the van or the fact that we were at last in some kind of motion, but everyone started talking and laughing. It was like the spell was broken, we were all off duty. Then, just as abruptly, and maybe feeling a little sadder after that tiny glimpse of humanity, in the lobby of the hotel, under the fluorescent light, we all went back into our little traveler shells.


Rosie said...

sounds like a marathon. have you arrived anywhere yet or are you still sitting in a snow drift?

amy said...

I made it to my daughter's in Chicago and am cleaning her apartment (even though I was told not to). It was worth it to feel like an annoying mother again!