Friday, March 26, 2010

Still travelling.......

The saga continues (isn’t it supposed to)

Connecting through Chicago O’Hare in the winter is always an iffy proposition. I have successfully avoided having to do so for many years.

That streak recently came to an end in January.

Last evening, thought it is technically spring, I was reminded that it’s not just snow or rain that can hinder winter travelers through the second city, but yet another meteorological phenomenon. One that the city works to live down, even as generations of tourists play it up.

The phenomenon: wind.

Yes, the windy city is in fact windy at times.

So windy in fact that a connecting flight through O’Hare from Colorado Springs was forced to fly a holding pattern for 55 minutes over some part of that part of the United States that certainly today was flyover country.

And that’s where the story begins.

Dutiful flight attendants on the incoming flight to O’Hare cheerfully told all of us on the RJ-70 where our connecting flights would be gated. That was nice. It was civil. And it was helpful.

But it wasn’t quite accurate, as our flight arrived 65 minutes late, putting a great many of these connecting flights into a category that could best be described as illusory. But in their best impression of Julie Haggerty, they carried forward, and smiled. No waving, just a lot of smiling, and joking. But no assistance with re-connections.

This being a regional jet, rollerboards are not allowed as carry on. So along with a contingent of frequent fliers, I exited the plane, only to wait on the entryway for my bag. And wait I did. For what seemed like an interminable amount of time. And after waiting a few extra minutes to deplane, coming after what appeared to be the longest taxiing trip on the tarmac, even coasting by my scheduled connection to Washington, this was all insufferable.

And I’ll avoid mentioning that it was freezing in Chicago, the gangway was packed with more middle aged white guys looking for bags than at spring training for the Cubs fans, and the wind was coursing through the metal canister in which we were waiting. Yeah, I’ll avoid that, and the heavy steel door that would slam shut like a prison gate each time an airport employee would access the area.

Once my bag made it’s appearance, it became a race to the inevitable, a rush for justice, or really just me trying to make a plane that was inexplicably sitting at a nearby gate 10 minutes after it’s scheduled departure.

Of course there were no gate attendants at the end of the jetway. That would be too much to ask for a flight arriving at O’Hare an hour late in the early evening.

And the departure board nearby was fuzzy, with a digital hit on some of the screens. Naturally, my screen was one of them. But I was able to make out a sign, not the ON TIME sign that was aside a number of scheduled departures. Alongside my flight 624 was a second time, one that I couldn’t completely make out, but one that suggested there was still a chance of this connection working, and thus my avoiding the plane change limbo that would follow.

So off I went. From the ‘E’ wing of O’Hare all the way around to ‘B’ wing, B10 actually, which was quite a distance. I didn’t set my stopwatch, and didn’t stop to catch any of the usually amusing anecdotal images that I find in our airports. And for once, for just this time, speed, consistency, a good set of polyurethane wheels, and a loud voice, all helped to turn an impending disaster into a moment of triumph.

The headline: Good guy wins! Connection Made! No sweat broken! Well, that may be tmi, but I can assure you, my seatmate was happy with that point.

So I made the plane, but only after seeing the gate attendant closing the door. Yelling out to him as I turned the corner, he hesitated, took my ticket, and let me finish my journey across our wide continent.

As for windy, this note might contain too much wind itself. But it’s a fitting coda to the affect that the invisible hand of nature can have on our traveling plans. Plan accordingly, and be prepared to jettison those plans if necessary.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Airport observations

People are larger in Chicago than in other cities.

Not necessarily in the city, but certainly in the airport. Not sure if they added girth to protect themselves as they hustle through terminals en route to another destination. Not sure if the center of the United States can bear more weight than the fragile coasts, east and west. Not sure if it’s March, and the masses need the mass to survive what have been described as a frigid winter.

Or is it just that we’ve grown as a people. Grown horizontally, that is. Yes, over the course of our American history, we have grown in size and weight. Both for men and for women. The average man weighs a bit more than in the time of Washington and Jefferson, and the average woman as well. We’re also a bit taller, 5’9” inches for men, and 5’3” inches for women, each about 2 ½ inches more than our colonial era ancestors.

And that’s good. It speaks to opportunities for healthier living, an easier life, and the wider availability of foods and medicines that both nurture and heal.

But there’s a flip side to our growth, and my friends in public health are both aware, and come across the side effects quite often.

We’ve gotten HUGE. I think this is my first airport trip since director Kevin Smith’s well publicized tiff with Southwest Airlines over his removal from a flight due to his size. And already I’ve seen a few folks who might wish to take Kevin on, in sumo.

What has happened to us? How did we allow this to happen? Is it ironic, or just smart politics, that the First Lady, herself a Chicago native, has recently called for a full frontal assault on childhood obesity. And will we do anything about this, both individually, and collectively?

At 2:45 this afternoon, several pubs at O’Hare are packed, empty glasses and beer bottles left on tables in front of patrons like pawn pieces from an abandoned chess game. The healthier food kiosks are not heavily trafficked. The mother sitting near me is feeding her five year old a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Even with the great distances one needs to travel to access connecting flights at O’Hare, it seems as though the desire for fitness and health succumbs to the desire to sate and numb.

And plopping down next to her, well, near her, really, is a seriously obese man who I hope doesn’t have a heart attack right here in the terminal. This guy has to be tipping the scales at 400, and more resembles an oompa loompa in chinos than anything else I can imagine.

What has become of us? And what will become of us if we continue on this path? It's as though consumerism, in the form of health and food consumption, has just run amuck.

But I’m not a businessperson, or a marketing maven. Just an observer. And if I could only see what was ahead of me, ahead of the large family shielding my view from the departure board, then I would know the likelihood of making my connection. The one to a room with no view. But that’s for another time, and another post.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

all is not forgotten

It might appear that it's been awhile. But it's not. That's just a state of mind. I'll be back. It's more like I've never left. There's time with new best friends from Germany, and travel, and writing, and coaching and prodding. And a little bit of living. And planning. And re-booking that which has been dropped, or canceled, or even neglected. But back I will be, even though I've never left.