Monday, June 06, 2005

Off to a good start...

June 6th, 2005, 8:40 am, Chicago

The debut NASA Academy Glenn Research Center is officially underway—unfortunately I’m still sitting in the Chicago O’Hare airport. Because I’ll no doubt be behind by the time I finally get to Cleveland (when that will be is still a gaping mystery), I might as well take advantage of the hours afforded by my second day of mind-numbing waiting by documenting my tale of travel woe.

Like most travel misadventure sagas, mine is long and tedious, and begs to be told much more than it needs to be heard. Yesterday’s heat wave is the first guilty party in this story. After taxiing for over an hour in a plane with broken air conditioning (the flight attendant handed out ice water and I could see the cold air emanating from the cup) , our plane was deemed a health hazard (fainting and heat stroke in the cabin aren’t exactly desirable for United Airlines) and was sent back to the gate. The plane that was on its way to rescue us joined Bigfoot and Atlantis in the realm of myth and our flight was cancelled. Thus began the hours upon hours (upon hours upon hours…and still more hours) of waiting in line. I finally made it to a hotel around 1 am for a scant four hours of sleep. After an early shuttle to the airport and a rousing wakeup-wanding at the security checkpoint, here I am back at the airport in a state worse than purgatory or limbo: perpetual standby.

On the upside, my anesthetized brain has lost the capacity for disappointment and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way:
-The ability to get in line fast is an invaluable skill. There’s a reason people wait in line just to be able to wait in line.
-While a quick line-joining instinct is useful, multi-hour waits are still inevitable. Cell phones help. Making friends with your line-buddies helps. Books help. Sitting down helps. For some reason no one besides me ever attempts the latter two.
-Always carry on necessary items for an overnight stay when flying. I learned this lesson the hard way.
-There is always someone in a who’s situation is worse than yours. Waiting behind me in the first of many lines yesterday was an old woman from China who spoke no English. I let her use my phone, and she kept asking me questions that I had no idea how to answer.
-Airline customer service agent must be one of the worst jobs ever. Airline desks are on the front-lines of the travel battlefield: before an agent even opens his mouth everyone they speak to is angry, frustrated, tired, and looking for an outlet for their anger, frustration, and fatigue.

Another positive side to my mishaps: the enthusiasm I had for NASA Academy yesterday morning has been hextupled by all this waiting. Arriving in Cleveland, no, just getting a boarding pass to Cleveland, will be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in a long time. If my luggage is somehow waiting for me on the other side, I just might collapse in elation.

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