Sunday, September 30, 2012

Running to Baltimore


Are you comfortable? You sure? Good.

Okay, here’s the story.

So there I was, running toward Baltimore, heart pumping, breath rasping in and out, legs chewing up the distance as I sprinted for all I was worth.

Was I running in some sort of race?

Only against Time.

Was I running for my life?

No, but it sure felt like it.

I was running for a plane, dodging around slower-moving people, my computer bag slapping against my back with each step, carry-on thrust ahead of me like the prow of an icebreaker ship up in the frozen North. I was using it that way, too — anyone not moving out of the way fast enough for me was getting the leading edge of my bag right in the posterior. Hard. Luckily for all the posteriors in question I was also shouting “Excuse me! That’s my flight, leaving there! Coming through! Excuse me!”

The sight of nearly 200 lbs of sprinting, shouting bald man with a frantic look in his eye and holding up his pants with one hand bearing down on them was apparently enough for most people, and a corridor through the crowd opened up like magic before me. I only had to physically dodge around a very few of the slower-moving people, and needed to actually make use of the carry-on just once. I’m sure that old woman was fine, once they helped her to her feet and someone got her walker back under her.

Hey, she was warned.

You see, I was on my way to Colorado again, and my flight was scheduled to leave at 6:00 am. I was supposed to be going to Baltimore where I would catch a connecting flight in to Denver international. My father gave me a rode in to Logan, and he got me to the airport in what we both thought was plenty of time. I checked in at just after 5:00 am, took my little security pass and headed through the door the ticket agent indicated, the one marked ‘To Gates E1-E3’. I strolled down the short hallway to the escalator, rode it down, and came to a dead stop.

I had reached the back of the line.

Stretching out before me was a line of people running the length of the 50 yard corridor that ended in a doorway with a sign next to it. ‘Security Checkpoint, All Gates’, read the sign. ‘Ticketed Passengers Only, Beyond This Point’.

I checked my watch. 5:10 am. Fifty yards. Fifty minutes. Not a problem.

…or so I thought.

Twenty minutes later I reached the front of the line. Well, I reached the door, anyway. The line, I now saw, went through the door, took a turn to the right, and continued on down this new corridor. Not a problem, I thought. It says ‘Security Checkpoint’, right there on the sign. Just around the corner there’s that familiar set of scanning machines and my good old friends The Patdown People.

Or so I thought.

This new corridor stretched forward and out of sight around a gentle curve in the building. People upon people filled the space before me, each with their own impatient expression, each with their own tapping foot. The wall to my left was glass, designed this way, perhaps, to relieve the claustrophobic feeling of being herded into this hallway like cattle in a chute. What it did for me was show me Gate E-1, right there on the other side of the glass, not fifty feet away. I looked back at the line before me, the expressions, the tapping feet, and especially the way it stretched out of sight down the corridor away from the gate I wanted, that was so close I could see it.

Somewhere in the crowd ahead a small child began to cry, angry wails drifting back to me over the constant murmur of muted conversations.

I knew how he felt.

Twenty minutes later, still in line and not quite having the Security Checkpoint in sight yet (though I knew it was up there, I could see people ahead of me taking off their shoes in hopeful anticipation), I heard the PA system crackle to life.

“Last boarding call for flight 900 to Baltimore. This is the last boarding call for flight 900 to Baltimore on Southwest Airlines.”

I looked at the security pass in my hand, just to make sure. Yup. Flight 900 for Baltimore. I looked at the crowd ahead of me, keeping me from even having he pleasure of being randomly pulled out for a pat-down by the TSA agents.

One of the voices in my head began to swear. Vehemently.

“I can’t believe this #$%@! The plene’s on the way down the #%$@ing runway and here I am, trapped in Hell, surrounded by these #&ing people, an dI can’t even get to &#^%ing security!!”

I noticed the woman next to me staring a bit. More than a bit. Staing right at me, in fact. I run through the words that just passed through my head again.

“I said all that out loud, didn’t I?”

She nodded, still staring. I recalled the part about being ‘surrounded by all these #&ing people’, and I winced inside.

“Oh, I didn’t mean you,” I started, but that’s when she turns away, eyes front, staring toward the Checkpoint that is almost in sight.


I finally get to Security, and there are all the folks who usually make my travel experience so un-usual. TSA agents. I’m in motion now, though, and I have no time to worry what they’ll do to me. I’m stripping off shoes and belt, emptying pocket contents into trays, tearing laptop and E-reader out of my computer bag, whipping them into trays of their own and stepping into the line to step into the Bio-Reader — someplace I’ve been before, so many times I actually feel a sense of comfort as I step into the machine, legs spread, hands over my head in the correct position for scanning.

It occurs to me now, as it has occured to me before that I’m taking the pat-down position used for being placed under arrest, and think thqat they’re doing it backwards — I’ve they were supposed to do this before taking my belt and shoes. But I don’t make a fuss. Surprisingly, and for what may well be the first time, I’m not ‘randomly’ pulled out for extra search. The TSA agent waves me through, and I have to admit I stared at her for a moment, on the verge of asking her ‘Are you sure?’ before I get a grip on myself and run for the conveyor belt where my bags and trays are coming through.

I slide to a stop, Risky Business style (and if you don’t get that reference you’re just to young. Look it up.), and start throwing my stuff into the computer bag. Cell phone, pocket contents, my belt, everything is stuffed through the open top of the bag but my sneakers, which I jam on my feet while doing the hoppy dance. Fairly certain (but not completely) that I have them on the correct feet, I sling my computer bag over one shoulder, grab my carry-on, and start running.

That brings us full-circle. This is where we came in, remember?

Incidentally, it was while I was making this run for the Gate that I discovered my mistake in not taking the time to put my belt back on. The pants I was wearing have always been loose, and very light. Over the past couple of months I have lost somewhere between 15 and 20 lbs, and now they are a little more loose. Okay, a lot more loose. As I ran I felt, well, I felt a bit of a breeze. Cool air where there shouldn’t be cool air. I realized that while I was running forward, my pants were heading downward.

I made a grab for them and kept running. I managed to snag the waistband just as it was edging past my right hip, stopping their downward plunge. They hooked on my left hip, however, and with that hand full of carry-on I couldn’t do anything about it but go on with my pants riding ‘fashionably low’ in the rear.

I hate that ‘fashion’.

Thank God I was wearing underwear!

Thank Mom (and her training as I as growing up, all that talk about ‘what if you have an accident?’) it was clean underwear!

As I galloped up to the appropriate counter a man leaped out in front of me, arms spread wide. Having flashbacks to my own personal nightmares about TSA Agents and the small, private room where deep, deep searches happen, I lowered my head and charged him, readying my luggage for combat. It had shown that old lady with the walker the error in getting in my way, it would do the same for this beefy dude in the shorts and white button-down shirt who was shouting “Sir! Are you on flight 900 to Baltimore? Flight 900, sir? They’re holding the plane!”

I thrust my bag forward into position like a lance as I built up ramming speed… then his words penetrated my panic and I jammed to a halt in front of him.

“Wait,” I said. “What?”

“Are you in flight 900, sir? They’re holding the plane for you, sir.”

He indicated the counter he had jumped out from.

“We can help you right over here.”

I gave it a single beat to sink in, then “I love you!”

He gave me an odd look at that, most likely taking in my pants which were currently flying at half-mast. I put down my bags and slapped my paperwork down on his counter, gave my pants a two-fisted heave, then bent to rummage through my computer bag for my belt.

The gentleman assisting me relaxed visibly as I slipped it though the loops and pulled it tight.

Seven minutes later I was thudding down the gangway and onto the plane. I was shaking with the aftereffects of the massive amount of adrenaline that had been having its way with my bloodstream and I had a giddy smile plastered to my face. The smile, I am sure, in no way helped endear me to all the people who glared at me as I made my way down the aisle looking for a vacant seat; they were all very aware that the reason they had all been sitting there on the runway for so long was currently grinning at them like an idiot.

Did I care? Not at all. I just hope that the old woman with the walker is okay.

Aww…. I’m sure she is. After all, the elderly are known for bouncing right back from trauma, right? Right…

Talk to you later! 

P.S. - I did make it to Colorado, so we'll have to see what happens to me this week that's worth telling y'all. I can practically guaran-damn-tee that something's gonna go wrong -- and I'll be sure to try to entertain you at my expense, dear readers. 

P.P.S - ...and even if nothing happens to me while I'm here, I still have to get home,and that means flying, and that means going through Logan Airport in Boston... and that, my friends, is always an adventure!

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