Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Flying at Christmas - You can't go home again

Detroit Airport 
I never did finish that novel by Thomas Wolfe, but as far as I got, I can see how that would happen. With my book, I'm not too worried about going home again. No huge secrets being told or nasty comments. But that's not exactly the kind of home coming I'm talking about. I traveled to New England to see my grand baby once again, only this time I was flying.

No big deal, right? Eh, I started home yesterday about this time, and I'm still not there. In fact, I'm now west of Denver waiting for my complimentary hotel breakfast at the airport Quality Inn. Bad weather caused my flight from Burlington to Detroit to be delayed about 3 hours. That meant I sat in the Burlington airport for 5 hours. This, of course, caused me to miss my connection to Denver. Using my new iPad in the Burlington airport, I changed my reservation to take me to Salt Lake City and then to Denver, arriving around 9:30. Only four hours later than my original arrival time. No big deal.

By the time we landed, I had to walk what felt like five miles from the farthest gate in concourse C to the farthest gate in concourse A, and I had about five minutes to do it. Moving sidewalks helped, but it was a long way, there were huge gaps between the conveyor belts, and I wasn't wearing great shoes for walking. I arrived at A73 sweating and almost panting, desperate because there was no plane at the gate. Yes, despite the announcement on the screen in the terminal that said the flight was on time, it was actually going to be another two hours before that flight was heading out. I wasn't the only one that was happy, irritated and exhausted all at the same time. Another wait, and another check to see if I was going to make it to Denver. Nope.

I talked to the guy at the gate, who had one of the most soothing voices I've ever heard, but there was nothing else leaving Salt Lake City, and he wasn't promising anything. That's fine. At least I'd make it to my time zone. We finally boarded, and I was sitting in the middle seat with a woman and her nine-month old baby boy next to me. The guy in the window seat found a seat next to his wife a few rows back, so I was able to move over, and we had room for the adorable young man between us. Pre-granddaughter, I might have been really tense about the situation. But while I have the most beautiful baby granddaughter in the world, this kid was easily the cutest baby boy in the world. I know his mom was concerned, but I was perfectly happy with playing with him. Besides, there was free Internet on the airplane. How cool is that? I even found an app for my new iPad that allowed me to text my sweetie (Joe 13) in Colorado and let him know I probably wouldn't be making it home.

Sure enough, I was not making it out of Salt Lake City. A man at the gate told me where to go to talk to other Delta agents. As soon as I walked up, they asked if I'd missed my connecting flight. Yes. She asked for my boarding pass, so I handed her my phone with the boarding pass that had been texted to me in Burlington. In less than a minute I had a voucher for a meal, a hotel room, and my new boarding pass for the first flight in the morning.

With my $6 meal voucher, I hit the Burger King in the airport. I was the last person there, and the guy cleaning up looked as weary as I felt. Probably even more. When I got up to leave, I left a buck on the table. I know it wasn't much, but having worked for minimum wage plus tips, not too long ago, even a simple dollar can be greatly appreciated. I know it isn't customary to tip at Burger King, but I wanted to know that despite my long and frustrating day, I could still be a thoughtful person and maybe make someone else's day a little brighter.

I was so happy to see the shuttle show up to take me to the hotel. It must have been apparent. The driver told me that I was the first person he'd seen smile all day. Again, I felt good that I hadn't let the trials of the day cause me to be a dud, like a burned out Christmas light. Instead I was the only bulb lit on the string. A group of three people got on the shuttle with me. They were a generation ahead of me, plus one, but they also rode a motorcycle in better weather, and we talked about motorcycles and rallies on the drive to the hotel. When we got there, I wanted to tip the driver, but all I had was my last five dollar bill. I was hoping to see one of the other passengers pull out a wad of bills so I could ask for change, but nobody was reaching into their pockets. What the heck. I gave the guy my five. It's Christmas, right? I don't have a ton of money, but being able to amuse myself with my new iPad and MacBook and Droid phone on my way across the country, it's hard to feel like I can't part with five bucks for a guy who has obviously had a really rough day for very little pay.

The hotel itself was a little rough on the outside, but my room was nice. I spent too much time on the phone with Joe13 when I realized that I had to get up before five to get to the airport in time. I enjoyed my nice hot shower in the morning and packed. Again, I chose to be thoughtful to the person who's probably making minimum wage cleaning my room. I always try to put all my trash in one can in the room. I piled the used towels on the closed toilet seat so it's one less time the housekeeper has to bend over, and I threw away my unused portion of soap. It isn't much. It doesn't take a lot of time. But it does make that job just a little easier.

I suppose my time last winter working for minimum wage, working harder at nastier jobs than I've ever had, as given me a new appreciation for the people who are stuck doing those jobs their entire lives. Sure the economy sucks, and we have less money and less security than ever, but that's when we need to have compassion. If we can afford to travel or eat out or text on our Internet-enabled phones, we can afford to show a little Christmas spirit to those we don't know, regardless of the time of year.


Now that I'm at the gate. I thought  I'd add my piece about airport security.

Denver at 8:00 am on a Thursday: Large airport, never stopped moving, no screening out of the ordinary, didn't see much of anything crazy going on.

Burlington at 10:00 am on a Monday: Small airport, lots of TSA agents with not much to do. While there were only about 10 of us there, we all got special treatment. I got tested for bomb-making residue, which was totally non-invasive. My bag got a thorough inspection. I think it was the 3 pound block of Seriously Sharp Cabot Cheddar cheese that made them suspicious.

Salt Lake City at 6:30 am on a Tuesday: Large airport, although not quite as large as Denver. Longer wait just to get to the part where they check your boarding pass and ID. I had to do the thing where you stand on the two yellow footprints and raise your hands. They show you a picture of the detail they'll see. I'm glad I don't have a penis. I just hope my bra was doing its job. Again the bag search and the block of cheese. This time they were interested in what looked like a wrench. Yes, I carry a 10mm wrench wherever I go. It's my rabbit's foot. If you read my cross-country trip blog of three years ago, you get it. If not, you'll have to wait until the book comes out. Anyway, I might hold off on the wrench for the next trip, but I'm sure I'll need it to loosen and/or tighten the nut on a battery if I leave it at home. After much consideration, they decided the wrench wasn't a threat, thankfully. It's my best 10mm wrench with the ratcheting box end.