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May 30, 2006

Flight Misconnects

After the TSA strip searches the passengers, bullies them around, and generally asserts alpha dominance, the passengers are shunted into perfectly symmetrical autonomous trams in the bowels of Denver International Airport. There are no drivers. No one to tip. No one to ask for help or directions. Just autonomous meat-space gondolas, ferrying hapless deracinated mongrel herds through subterranean tubes machined through granite.

Glass and steel. Overexposed, chamber-of-commerce, government-subsidized adverts for something no one cares about. Eventually, the morons figure out that they're facing backwards, and, after the train makes a couple of unpredictable turns and accelerates to a dangerous speed, they turn around and face forward, like pigs turning to face the blades.

I wonder what would happen if the autonomous tram crashed. If it ran into the other tram at full speed, what would happen? I'm sure it's all designed not to happen, but what if it did? The glass windows and steel poles would pulverize the godless heathens, like a flock of birds caught out in a hailstorm.

On a good day, the bank of orphaned monitors at the centrum of Terminal is uninspiring. The array of screens was presumably created to convey flight arrival and departure times to a traveling populace. But no one took credit for their operation. The airlines all swore that they were run by the city. The city swore they were run by the airlines. No travel victims knew the truth and, in that artificial arena at the terminus core, where time was more valued than oxygen or money, where strangers chewed their nails to the quick and people carted their most precious belongings in ridiculously small, wheeled suitcases, no one had time to track down the lineage of those bastardized monitors.

The monitors blinked and scrolled sporadically. Shuttered and flickered. Some displayed that infernal Windows Blue Screen of Death. Others displayed off-the-air late-night test patterns. These monitors were ineffective, but at least they weren't doing positive harm. The monitors that displayed what a casual observer might forgivingly interpret as valid data were the worst. For they were seldom updated, and frequently wrong.

Even for the most confident and savvy technophiles, the blinking, shuddering, bastard-orphaned monitor banks were unsettling. For people that were on-the-fence...waiting on the sidelines of cyberspace to see “how this whole internet thing-a-ma-bob turns out?, the monitors made them wonder if a chalk board with an immigrant wouldn't better serve the common good.

For technophobes and Luddites, the monitors served as a testament to the false promise of science and technology. They instilled doubt about the technological evolution of man. They dispelled the conjoined twin myths of both evolution and intelligent design. Made a mockery of our so-called progress. Called the ascent of man into question more readily than the Scopes Trial a hundred years prior.

I searched for my flight.

The monitors are all lined up, improbably, behind a wooden frame, so that the first letter or two of every city is truncated. Trying to find your city is like witching water in a field. AS VEGAS, INCOLN, OS ANGELES, ISSOULA, ONTROSE, ASHVILLE,AKLAND, KLAHOMA CITY, MAHA.

A supreme dyslexia test. ASHVILLE. ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED 8:05. RESCHEDULED 10:10.

This is where it begins. This is where my meticulous travel plans begin to unravel. I'm flying with e-tickets. I've memorized all the little airline help desks on the terminals. I race to the nearest Frontier ticket counter in Terminal A. There are a dozen or so people in front of me.

The sign on the wall says “SERVICE MISCONNECTS?. And this is where I find myself. This is the pothole in the road for the jet set. This is the do-not-pass-go go-directly-to-jail spot on the board of consulting. This is where time stands still and your life leaks away from you, like a trout, dying on the bank of a stream, hooked, and mortally wounded.

I know things are beyond my control. I know I'm not really dying. I don't want to be a screaming redneck in the airport. This is not their fault. I wait in line. It moves slowly. I'm waiting for my turn, but it's like watching paint dry and after about 30 minutes, I'm thinking “Christ. This sucks.?

There are three hags behind the counter. They have hard jobs. The people before them are ruined. They've missed flights. They're mad. Sad. Despondent. Tired.

Gate agents are bleating into their intercoms, talking over the adjacent gate agents. They're all squawking at once announcing flight changes, departure times, weather forecasts on some other continent. The vociferous agents squeal louder and louder to rise above the din of the rival gate agents.

This counter is the airport's sphincter. It's where the losers of the game of modern air travel come to plead their cases. Forlorn travelers, disconnected from Plan A, come to discuss Plan B, C, or D. It is an ugly, sweltering cauldron. Service Misconnects indeed. The sign should say “Welcome to Hell... Please Take a Number.?

If this isn't hell, then it must be near here somewhere. The line is growing behind me. No one's moved in 20 minutes or so. The line's tail is stretching out toward the malevolent monitors at the center of the terminal. The bank of monitors has whipped its victims into a frenzy. They're throwing apples at it, smearing it with cream cheese, screaming, and crying. And that’s just the pilots. The normal traveling passengers have surrounded it, like monkeys around the space obelisk.

The miserable miscreants running this little Frontier lemonade stand that I'm queued up to are bleeding makeup from their eyes. They have crows feet and facial warts and their airline's not making any money and they're all one pay check away from a soup line on the other side of the tracks and you can see it in their eyes. These women are too ugly to be flight attendants and they're tired and drained and they've been pummeled by disgruntled passengers, like the ocean pounds the shore.

These inbred mutants are working the counter, shouting over the cross-talking gate agents, trying to get their point across as bluntly as possible, without actually inciting the disgruntled passengers to a full-scale revolt.

“Seattle? Not a chance. You're not going to make it to Seattle tonight. I can tell you that right now.? They're blunt because they can be. They're not much for nuance or innuendo. They're not much for holding out false hopes. These preternatural, subhuman waifs are the reef of reality against which people's travel plans are dashed.

Finally, it is my turn to do battle with one of the witches. She had only one eye, and the other eye was a hollow socket with a piece of Saran Wrap stretched across it and stitched shut like a football. When she got mad, it swelled up like a balloon, and you could see the deep purple blood pumping through it, swelling the eye socket like a mermaid's purse.

When the eye socket swelled to the size of a wine grape, she murdered the man in front of me. He thought he was going to Battle Creek Michigan. She ripped out his spleen and fed it to him and they hog-tied him to an EZGO golf cart ambulance, and carted him off, bleeding and squealing like a stuck pig.

“Next!?

Because my flight was delayed over two hours, I asked if she could try to get me on another flight. I further suggest that she print my ticket out for free, keep my seat assignment on the current flight, and let me go see if I could get on the earlier flight by United.

“Are you serious? There's no way I'm going to do that.?

“Actually, you have to. It's an international law. It's called Rule 240.?

“Rule 240 only covers canceled flights.? She shot back.

“Actually, that's not correct. It covers delayed flights as well. And, since you doubt me, I'd like a copy of the law, which you're also obligated to provide me under Rule 240.?

I had her there. The other witch beside her was strangling a mother of four, in plain view of her children. “He's right.? She reluctantly relented, as the woman expired in her hands and her children wailed like kittens in a burlap sack.

“Well...there's a $25 charge for printing your ticket.? She continued. The missing eye-grape throbbed and swelled, like an egg in a microwave. She wasn't beat yet. She wasn't going to walk away from an opportunity to ruin my evening empty handed. Not without a fight.

“Actually, Rule 240 is pretty clear on this. Again, if you'll just kindly print me a copy of the Rule, per your obligation under Rule 240...?

In truth, no one has any idea what Rule 240 says. It's sort of a Catch 22. In theory, it says that the airline has to put you on another flight if they fark your flight up really bad. And that they have to provide you with a copy of Rule 240 if you ask for it. But, in reality, they're never able to produce a copy of it, any more than the bank of flight arrival and departure monitors can steer you to the right gate. It's a nice theory, but that's not how it works in practice. In practice, they can never actually get a copy of the rule to print out. So, iIn the absence of any written proof of what Rule 240 actually says, I've found that bleating Rule 240 repeatedly, like a sheep stuck in a razor wire fence, often results in memorable results. Eventually, they get so mad they either rip out one of your vital organs, or they print your ticket out and scribble Rule 240 on it with a crayon, and send you off to another airline, which is what she finally did.

When her eye socket began to spit blood like a Cobra, she sprayed “Rule 240? from her eye socket's blood onto the ticket and sent me to the “Ted? customer service desk in Terminal A.

Ted's Customer Service desk is the second sphincter of Terminal A. It's just on the other side of the center of terminal A, and I walked past the monitors again. People were screaming and crying. Thrashing about like Bosch's macabre demons from the fiery, eternal pits of hell.

Ted's Customer Service said in huge letter on the wall “Ted...We're Part of United?. But then, every other sign explained that United didn't fly out of Terminal A any more, they didn't show United flights on Terminal A monitors, and really, didn't have anything at all to do with the company named United. This distinction was spelled out very clearly on numerous signs with yellow highlighting, for emphasis.

But, the cyclops troll had only given me a United flight number and a departure time. No gate information. So, I decided to try to check in at this other little corner of hell. As they say, hope springs eternal.

The lady at the Ted counter wasn't ugly or stressed or malevolent. She printed me a boarding pass and asked me if I thought I could make it down to gate B48 in time.

“Oh, I'll make it. I'm as spry as a gazelle.?

“OK, gazelle. B48. Get going.?

She handed me a boarding pass with the dreaded "Quad S" Super Secret Boarding Pass code, I was off, wending my way past the confusing monitors, down into the bowels of the automatic trams, squealing down to the next terminal....Terminal B. Technically, they were supposed to call down an armed TSA goon, prostate my carcass on the carpet, and perform a full body cavity search before allowing me to board.

At B48, the gate agent was drooling into the microphone, creating little static bursts that shocked her back to consciousness.

“There was a medical emergency on the inbound flight, so we have to replace the emergency oxygen tanks. They need to replace that little thingy on the oxygen tanks. Then we'll be ready to take off.?

So, we sat around on our haunches waiting for them to find that little “thingy? that would make our plane safe to fly again. The plane was about 45 minutes late taking off, so they boarded us like cattle, and failed to notice my dreaded Quad S boarding pass.

When we finally did get airborne, we took off to the east, beneath a menacing cloud that stretched across the sky like a manta ray's wing. The cloud was dark and ominous, and, as we climbed, the plane pitched and dived like a drunken housewife shoved, justifiably, down a flight of stairs. We climbed and banked sharply. The blood drained from my head into my toes. We pitched and bobbed a boat in a storm. I tightened up my seatbelt till it cut me like a tourniquet.

The guy in front of me hocked lugies the whole flight tried his best to snap the LCD display off of my new laptop. He slammed his seat back unexpectedly, multiple times. Rocked in it like a rocking chair as hard as he could. Unfortunately for him, he was less than successful, and by 1:30 a.m. EST, I was snuggled up in bed in my little room at the Veranda where I live in Lickskillet, Tennessee.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on May 30, 2006 at 11:20 PM

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