Other bits and pieces

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fish on a Plane

....or, as Samuel L. Jackson would say, "Mother f%$kin fish on a mother F&^kin plane!"

I have not been looking forward to this trip at all. I travel a lot for work and usually it's not too bad. If there's a point based account, I've got one: frequent flier on most airlines, hotels, rental cars, even buses. My trips are usually 3-4 day conferences in places like Dallas, Sacramento and San Antonio. I've worked up a knack for getting good seats on the airlines that I like with as few stops as possible and comfortable layovers. This is not one of those trips.

Today I am traveling to Meridian, Mississippi. It's a small town just east of Jackson. I've never been there before—in fact, I've never been to Mississippi before. The airport, Key Field, only has a couple of small planes that come in and out each day. So, of course, that limited service drives the rest of my air travel. Due to my last minute reservations (which is always the case because I never know about trips until about a week out), there were no flights from Baltimore to Atlanta that would get me there in time for my flight to Meridian. So, I had to go through Chicago at 6:00A.M.

The trip did not start well. Anyone who travels by plane a lot understands the power of omens—especially bad ones. Multi-leg travel is a string of carefully choreographed events that can only take place in one of two ways: Perfectly, or very very badly. It's like a house of cards. The first card was being threateningly jiggled at the Daily Parking garage at BWI. I was parked on the 5th floor, and the elevator emphatically refused to visit my floor. Not a big deal. But, not a good sign either. This other guy and I took th stairs. After that, while checking in, I'm told that since my itinerary uses multiple airlines, I can't be checked all the way to my destination, and that I'll have to check in with Delta when I get to Chicago. Oh yeah...and the weather in Chicago is 9ºF with winds up to 35mph.

I figured I'd jump ahead of this game, and try to check in my connecting flight at the Delta desk at BWI. It's a long shot, but I have a little time to kill. This is what I learned. There is a mathematical formula that goes something like this: The IQ level in the room is inversely proportional to the square of the number of people trying to operate the self-check-in kiosks. I watched in abject awe while people tried to operate these simple machines with all the adroitness of a manatee playing a saxophone. The screen has big letters reading 'Press Start'. The start button is slightly smaller than Wrigley Field. There is an animation of a cartoon finger pressing the start button and being rewarded with a boarding pass. Finally, I get my shot at it. I confidently jam my credit card into machine...nothing. Oh yeah, I have to press the 'Start' button first. For the love of God. I get through, it doesn't have my itinerary. So what do I do, I try again. This is the human-machine equivalent of trying to communicate in Mexico by talking slower and louder.
“Do you have my itinerary?”
“No.”
“Umm, do you have my itinerary?”
“No...idiot”
Oh yeah, and I forgot to press the 'Start' button the second time too.

At the gate, I fall back to my mission: the food. My plan is to attempt to find food along the way that I can eat. Not having a lot of faith in that idea, I've brought some reserves—leftover lasagna, three hardboiled eggs, and some sardines (I removed them from the tin so that the flight attendant didn't think I was going to use the sharp lid as a weapon. This causes a problem later on.). There was really nothing open at BWI at 4:45 in the morning, so I opted to go ahead and eat my eggs. I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but when you think about it, how often do you see someone in the airport eating hardboiled eggs out of their backpack? I got a few sideways glances, mostly from people undoubtedly considering the possibility that I'll be sitting next to them on the plane about the time those eggs start getting things going in my lower intestines. I just wished I had some pepper.

Once in Chicago, I discovered that not only am I on a different airline, my next flight leaves out of a different terminal. Yeah...not a different concourse, a different terminal. This means walking the epic 26.5 miles to get out of the airport, and taking a train thingy to the other terminal, check in, back through security and to this gate.

In an effort to reduce the invasiveness of the security procedure and avoid a full body cavity search, I like to stop before I enter the line and take everything I have except my boarding pass and ID card and shove it all into my backpack. As I was doing this entering the L concourse at O'Hare, I get passed up by a young couple that appear to be foreign-ish. I see when we get to the security goalie that they're traveling on U.S. passports even though this isn't the international terminal, but whatever. The amusing part came a few minutes later. Everyone who's been within missile range of a airport in the last several years knows that you can't have liquids other than the size they give you in hotels. Everybody knows this. Plus, it's posted on HUGE signs all over the airport. There's a guy wearing rubber gloves yelling this information to the passengers in line. Wouldn't you know it, every single bag these two put through the X-ray had more bottles of liquid than clothes. “What do you mean I can't have my 32oz bottle of 'This Just Looks Like Explosives' brand shampoo?

New learned fact: Sardines, even shielded inside Tupperware enclosed in a plastic bag will still stink. I found this out on the plane ride from Chicago to Atlanta. I opened my backpack to retrieve my lasagna leftovers when I was hit in the face by 'ode de fish cannery'. It was really bad—kinda funny too. See, the plane was only about half full. I had a nice window seat and it looked like there was going to be no one next to me. Then this GIGANTIC dude comes down the aisle and, of course squishes in next to me. (I was on the side that only had two seats) After the cabin door closed, I figured he'd move to one of the numerous empty aisle seats just like his on the 3-seat side that were not only unoccupied, but had empty seats next to them. He didn't. He just sat there, half-way in my seat. Why would he do that? Who does that? Who wouldn't want a little more space to themselves? So, when 13.5 minutes into the flight I opened my backpack and the unholiest of unholy reeking stenches wafted out of my bag (much worse than if I'd just farted in his face) I just sort of chuckled to myself and figured he had it coming. It was truly bad. When I got off the plane in Atlanta, it was as though I was dragging a string of week-old trout behind me.

My goal of hunting and gathering wild edibles along the way through the string of airports was an unmitigated failure. Every single eatery I passed, while appearing succulent, was riddled with pitfalls. The one thing I did note, was that several of them had fresh fruit. If I get in a pinch on the way home, I'll look into that.

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