Monday, September 21, 2009

People Watching in the “World’s Busiest Airport”

For a couple of reasons, I do NOT like to fly to Chicago. Actually, flying TO Chicago isn’t so bad. It’s flying THROUGH Chicago that can be a pain.

First off, your connecting flight is never – and I mean NEVER – in the same concourse. Going from C10 to F17 is like Daniel Boone running the Indian – er, Native American – gauntlet, only you’re dodging strollers and luggage carts instead of war-clubs and tomahawks. I feel like I’d have a better chance of making my connection if I could play like Fess Parker and knock down that guy right there wearing the white Capri pants, toss him over my shoulder and use him to shield me from the savages. He’d be flailing at me with his man purse and his screams would alert the lollygaggers in front of me to get out the way, much like the cart-drivers beeping and mumbling, “Excuse the cart, please. Excuse the cart, please. EXCUSE. THE. CART. PLEASE!”

The other main reason Chicago connections are a pain is the weather. How can it be that you get delayed coming IN to Chicago, but the flight you’re connecting to isn’t delayed going OUT of Chicago? And, how was it decided to build the World’s Busiest Airport in the middle of the World’s Worst Weather location is a mystery to me. And if it IS the World’s Busiest Airport, wouldn’t you expect that they could get better at predicting and dealing with storms and the delays that they cause? And here’s what really makes me hate O’Hare: I’ve had flights delayed in Denver, San Francisco, LA and Baltimore, among others, when the weather where I am is gorgeous. When asked how that can be, the surly gate agents (who somehow give the impression that this weather information they so carefully dole out is like 5 security levels above my puny clearance ranking) inevitably, and reluctantly, say that it is due to weather in Chicago. Really?! It’s bad enough Chicago makes me miss connections in their own airport. Why does Chicago have to mess with me when I’m in all the other Not The World’s Busiest Airports?

I’m now sitting in the “Customer Service” area of United Airlines in the C concourse. “Customer Service” doesn’t mean that you’ll get any customer service. It only means that there is a desk below a customer service sign. The desk acts as a protective buffer – a DMZ if you will - for the agent behind it who doesn’t care about the problems of the traveler in front of it. The traveler is always 18-or-more people in front of you in the snaking Disneyland queue, and the agent is paid to listen to him whether he cares or not, and so he pecks away at his keyboard to keep up appearances while never looking the traveler directly in the eye, so he never sees the irate traveler’s neck veins pop and throb, and doesn’t notice the spittle that sprays all over the counter where there is, conveniently enough, a hand-sanitizer dispenser ready to keep your journey germ-free if not hassle-free.

I chose this seat because it’s across from the food court where I bought some ice cream and the seats looked cushion-y. This is cruel trick; some designer’s idea of a funny joke. Whatever padding there might have once been has long since been crushed into a thin layer about as cushion’y as a plate of stainless steel, but carries none of the “stainless” qualities as I notice that others before me have sat here with ice cream and left much of it behind.

However, the people-watching here is great! Every nation, every culture, every color, hue and tint is represented in the World’s Busiest Airport. Every hairstyle, every fashion style, every life style and every body style is on display to ogle, wonder at, and sometimes utter prayerfully, “there but for the grace of God, go I…”

Bored of reading, I decided to catalog the many strange, but true sights to be seen. Here’s a muscle-builder dude who obviously has no pockets in his Hans-&-Franz-sweat-suit so he has his iPod velcroed around his wrist. There are multiple sightings of carry-on abusers with 2-week’s worth of luggage in 2 large bags that will never fit under the seats and who, no doubt, will board before I do and, even though they’ll be sitting in the non-reclining seats in the back row, will drop off their steamer trunks in the overhead compartment directly above my seat in 3A so that I have to ask the flight attendant to gate check my one bag that is just millimeters too big to fit under my seat. Oh, Honey, it’s a Fashion Police emergency! Even if it wasn’t past Labor Day you should NOT be wearing those skin-tight white pants with a black thong underneath! Dude, stop reading your Kindle as you walk so slow that grandmas using walkers are cussing at you as they have to swerve into oncoming traffic to get around you. A veritable parade of wheelchairs going by makes me thankful that all I have to complain about is a sore knee. Mukluks and a parka? Really?! In Chicago in September? Not sure if it’s a fashion statement or if she’s traveling to the Yukon. Look out! It’s a posse of cowboy hats! Five gallon! Ten gallon! Do I hear 15? It’s the whole Dalton gang, riding the moving walkway to their date with Doc, Wyatt and destiny at the O-K Concourse. Is there anybody under 50 who ISN’T on their cell phone? What do they have that is so important to say? There’s the professor and Mary Ann, but no skipper in sight. Matching canary yellow shirts with black fanny packs – ow, my eyes are hurting. Is a miniature poodle a service dog? Just wondering. Oops, the poodle just “serviced” the floor tile while its owner adjusted her lipstick. The imam and the mullah in full-length white robes with matching embroidered skull caps are trying to ignore the sidelong looks that are easily interpreted as “I hope they’re not on my plane.” The couple with arms entwined, walking so close as to make you wonder if they have separation anxiety or if one (or both) of them have been drinking too much to walk the mile to E14 without support. Hair so white it’s like looking at the sun. Hair so red it looks on fire. The family in shorts and Hawaiian shirts flaunting their tans and leis. I’m jealous.

Still, I feel luckier than them. I’m homeward bound. “Home with my thoughts escaping. Home where my music’s playing. Home where my love lies waiting silently for me…”

Before I close my laptop and go stand in line for seating 4 to be called for the jumbo jet to Denver, I reflect on the how we see other people. Our egotistical minds see others as different than we are, so they cannot possibly be as good, as smart, as pretty, as sexy, as with-it. The things that make us different, though, vie with the similarities that make us all one. We may be human snowflakes, but the differences are small in the big picture.

In all my travels – in hotel elevators and shuttle busses and cramped airplane seats, at rental car counters and restaurants – everyone I’ve talked to wants the same simple thing.

We all just want to go home.


Chelsa said...

O'Hare is pretty dicey isn't it?! I remember once trying to catch a train to the city with my giant suitcase- think I walked at least 4 miles following a blue stripe through areas I normally wouldn't be caught dead alone in! Good times!

Pops on the Ridgetop said...

That's the trouble with big cities...they're BIG! Do you remember walking from the tall ships pier like 3 miles through town to the train station where we made the last train to the suburbs and Lisa's house with only minutes to spare? Don't know what we would've done if we missed that train...

Chelsa said...

How could I forget that one?!

And then there was this one time that we got on the wrong train from the city to get to Lisa's house and ended up on the Express- it was 1 in the morning and we were stuck in some suburb waiting for a ride! I love visiting Chicago- so much excitement!

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