Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gate 23, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mini Commuter Plane

1) Set your alarm for 7:05 (not 7:00; that's too early). Fall asleep late the night before so you wake up dazed, haphazardly throwing items into your bag. Three pairs of socks make the cut. This ends up a wise move.

2) While on the highway at 8:45, look around at the cars that have drifted into the snow-covered median. Be glad you're not them.

3) Arrive at the train station to learn that the 9:10 train is canceled, and that there's been an accident down the line. Read magazine mastheads at the newsstand until a worker gestures to the sign that says, "Please buy before you read." I want to explain why I'm reading mastheads, but decide to loiter elsewhere. Plan to arrive on the platform at 10:10. When everyone makes a run for it at 9:45, join them. Nobody wants to be left standing on the train, after all.

4) Enjoy the cold, the slush, the crazy women next to you, and the smell of cigarette smoke until the train rolls in at 10:25. By this time you're concerned for your toes. They could have lost all feeling if you stood out there long enough. You bounce back and forth, do curls, a few toe raises. This is NY so nobody looks at you strangely. Nobody looks at you at all. You score the final seat in the car next to the girl who texts in German. You read over her shoulder until she starts to catch on. You chug water just before your stop. Surely, airport security isn't far away.

5) You make moves for the air train, but learn that the air train is not running due to snow. "There are buses downstairs," a worker says. You join the line that extends down the block, people in winter coats clutching luggage and generally looking displeased. But you're okay. You can wait the fifteen minutes until your end of the line meets the bus doors. It's only 11:45, and your flight's been bumped to 2:30. This is just a way to pass the time.

6) As you bump along on said bus, holding the rails and viewing the scenic area on the way to the airport, like the strip club, you overhear someone say, "You'll have to get off of this bus and take another bus to your terminal." Good to know. That should take but a moment. At 12:00, you walk off the bus. All these modes of transportation. Humorous, really.

7) You join the ring of people waiting for the bus to the terminals. And waiting. When that bus arrives, you're reduced to elbowing and shoving.

During every disaster, there's always an adage about how the human spirit triumphs, how kind people can be when pushed to extremes. Those people are somewhere else today, shoveling driveways for little old ladies, and the crowd here is yelling, standing in the road, blocking the way, pushing onto the buses into a wave before those who are on can step off.

If you want any chance of making it onto the bus, you have to stand in the slushy rim beyond the sidewalk that creeps into the drive. You have to be standing in just the right spot. And unless you have a small child, you better be ready to book it.

I think to myself, "What would Katniss do?" Katniss would trample them all if she had to. I am not so bold. I make the best moves I can.

Twice I reach the bus stairs to be told, or rather shouted at, "NO MORE!" It's past 1:00 pm. Deep within my snow boots, my toes are soggy and the smaller ones lose feeling. There's nothing to break the wind. I call my mom and my jaw moves oddly, slowly, when I talk. The girl behind me, who looks to be my age, is crying. The guy next to me holds a guitar case and wears thin sneakers. "When are the trains back?" I say. "I can't get on the bus. It's mayhem."

She looks online. "There are no schedules posted."

So I can stand here in the slush for a bus that won't come, or go back to the train station and wait for a train that might not come.

Around 1:25, my luck changes. I'm right near the steps when the bus pulls up. The driver looks out and says, "I need to go on a break. I've been working since --" People surge onto the bus anyway. I join them, since even if we're not going anywhere, I'd like to be dry.

8) As soon as the bus moves, I realize, "We're probably ten feet from the terminal and I could have walked there." I don't know how far away we are, but I do feel every stop-and-go tug of the brakes and gas. We're within airport roads and taxis and cars dart in and out. Traffic barely moves. I watch the clock on the wall and try to wiggle my toes. They feel no warmer. 1:45. 1:50.

9) Trot into the terminal, run around the corner, smack into the standstill security line. There is one man checking boarding passes. There are two lines, mine being the longer one. 2:00. 2:05. We haven't moved.

A worker walks by, calling, "2:45 departure? 3:00 departure?"

"2:30," I say.

Her eyes widen. "2:30? Come over here."

I duck under the rope and walk to where she points. A new line. The boarding pass man shakes his head. "I can't do three lines. I'm only one person."

They argue. I watch the folks from the other two lines pass through. 2:10. I'm not going to make it out of here.

So I tear up. Just a little. He waves me up next.

Run through the metal detector. Grab shoes, bags, jackets, run to the monitor in socks and T-shirt. 2:13, I'm saved, I'll get to the gate!

10) You have time to exchange your wet socks for dry socks. In fact, you have time for many things. The monitor says the flight's been delayed to 3:00. Then 3:45. 4:10. 4:30. 5:00. 5:30. The other two flights to the same city have already been called off.

At first, 19/23 flights on the board are canceled. Then it updates to show that 14/15 are canceled. The terminal's packed: people trying to figure out where to go next, people who have been here all day, people who have been here for days. The sun sets over the runway.

A woman on her phone nearby says, "All of the rental cars are booked. There's a flight to Albany tomorrow and maybe from there we can get to..." People have driven here from other cities for the same strategy: Maybe this time, we'll get out of here. We'll take the three-city, extended layover, roundabout way if you'll get us into the air. But 1/15 aren't the odds you want.

11) Something miraculous happens: Our flight boards. We walk outside, check our carry-on luggage (by "check," I mean we toss it into a large pile next to the plane and receive pink tickets for pick-up). We sit on the plane. The lights shut off. From outside, someone official yells, "WE HAVE NO POWER!" I'm pretty sure this information was not meant for the passengers to hear.

12) As we slowly rumble to the runway, I read while the usual doomsday scenarios play out in my mind: mid-air explosions, terrorist threats, water evacuations. I do this every time I fly. I have flown many times.

This is when my heart rate usually accelerates, when I have to extend my breaths and try to tell myself, If it's going to happen, well, there's nothing I can do.

Except now there's another scenario. Say the flight was called off. Then I'd stand outside, catch the bus, stand in the slush, fight people for the next bus, wait another hour, finally climb on, arrive at the train station, wait on the platform for a train whose schedule nobody seems to know.

At 6:00, when the plane accelerates down the runway, I decide that powerless plane or not, I'll take my chances.

1 comment:

Flo said...

I think our new motto should be WWKD. We should make bracelets.

I think Katniss would approve of what I would've done: Set some bitches on fire. Good god, woman. No Tiny Dancer should have to put up with this. My heart mourns.