Fly Untied 

November, 2001

 

It's not toasted-- it's not dated-- sorry folks--- it is belated. The traveler's edition of the November 2001 Read & Delete newsletter is finally off the web and into your face!

This month's Digression Digest is actually TWO newsletters-- one that was written in May-- and the other --- just last month. They both have something to do with air travel (business trips) and I thought it curious to compare the joy of air commuting in pre and post 9/11 America.

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Greetings happy travelers!

Once again the R&D comes to you from an altitude of 39,000 feet - as we cross the country via American Airlines from Chicago to Boston- and back again. I must say that there is nothing like air travel to give you a lift-- right in your stress level.
The trip to Boston started with a two hour cooling off period as we waited out a "weather situation" as we sat out on the tarmac at O'Hare airport. I had a window seat and was able to watch bolts of lightning
striking the nearby buildings.

The rental car agency ran out of 'businessman's specials' (mid-size sedan-o-matics) so they offered me a choice of upgrades. I could choose from two grandpa-mobiles- a Mercury Grand Marquis(grandpa with arthritis), or a brand new Ford Mustang convertible (grandpa with a mid-life crisis.) Care to guess which one I chose? HINT: I had to buy a new pair of sunglasses.

A word about using the Internet to map your route in a strange town-- don't.  I thought I would demonstrate some wisdom and print out some detailed maps from 'Mapquest' (an Internet website). The maps I downloaded showed my hotel in the middle of the Boston Courthouse. I guess it was a Holiday Inn for people who couldn't make bail.

For the return trip -as usual I am travelling in steerage with 119 other sardines. The in flight meal? Congealed turkey and Velveeta bonded to a hoagie roll, laminated inside a greasy foil pouch. Just before the flight took off, the captain made his usual schpeel warning us not to use 'unapproved' devices on the aircraft (waffle irons, punch presses and anti-tank missiles.)

As per airline regulations there was turbulence during the flight. The flight attendants did their level best to assure us that there was absolutely no danger that any passenger could possibly keep his food down
during the 'stunt flying' portion of the flight. As we were shimmying about in the skies over Lake Erie, I got an idea for the next season of the TV show 'survivor.'It could be done in a single episode, onboard a jetliner. We could have twenty-five contestants each drink three bottles of Budweiser, then eat six Krispy Kreme doughnuts just before flying into a thunderstorm. The contestant who can keep from hurling the longest would win one million dollars, a new mobile home and have his/her stomach bronzed for posterity. I guess that could go along with my concept for the new version of 'Temptation Island'. Twelve supermodels are sent to a small tropical island- wearing only what body coverings they can make out of the island's vegetation. They are given a week to construct whatever shelters or find whatever hiding places they can-- before 100 middle-aged, overweight, recently divorced businessmen are air dropped to the island-- smoking cigars and wearing 'Speedo' bathing suits.The temptation part comes in when we find
out which supermodels are tempted to dive headlong into the island's active volcano.
"The Weakest Link" game show could be played with electricity. The host could say, "You are the weakest link -- goodbye." BRRZAAAAAPPP! But I digress--- air travel makes my punchy.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Budweiser-- the perfect snack for flying in turbulent air.

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Greetings- Queued compadres!

       Welcome to the waiting room. Destination: Manchester New Hampshire. The worst thing about air travel nowadays is the wait. Last year you could span the entire continent in five hours-- Now I'd be willing to bet that you couldn't cross the country in less than two days. Thanks to Osama bin Laden, the entire business travel landscape has changed. In the last hour I have passed through more checkpoints than all the characters in a half dozen cheap spy novels.... and I'm not on the plane yet. I'm parked in the
departure lounge at Chicago's compact Midway airport, home of the world's shortest commercial runway. Most of the pilots that fly out of here have received their flight training in the navy-- and are used to landing on aircraft carriers. I am not afraid to fly, I just hate to do it. Up until I got married I did more travel in private planes than commercial flights. At least I could talk to the pilot and see what was going on in a private plane. Southwest Airlines has a daily lottery of sorts-- one that you don't want to be a part of. The lucky winners get to have their carry on luggage ripped apart by a team of expert Barney Fife impersonators right in the comfort of the departure lounge.

     I bought a bagel in the Midway terminal. The only tool I could use to butter it was my thumb. I ate it whole-- only because I didn't have enough time to get my shoelace off and use it as a saw to split the bagel in two-- before the kommandant ordered us onto the plane. But I was lucky. The guy next to
me spread jelly on his bran muffin with the end of his belt. At least it wasn't mustard.

At New Hampshire--- More fun with rental cars: Hertz gave me a Ford Taurus with a great big engine and hand controls-- you know-- the controls that they put on the steering wheel so that handicapped people can drive a too powerful car in unfamiliar surroundings. I discovered that if you push the lever forward, the brakes are applied (in no uncertain terms). I discovered this in heavy traffic while trying to adjust the tilt steering wheel. I also discovered that if you push the lever down, the car will accelerate (also in
no uncertain terms). I discovered this when I was trying to signal a left turn in heavy traffic. After some experimentation I found out that if I pushed the lever down at a 45 degree angle I could do a single handed "brake torque" on my rental car. I don't think that this is what Hertz had in mind, but if I ever became disabled, I could at least burn some rubber at the stoplights.

It was SUPPOSED to be a one day trip, but like most skin rashes, it lingers for an extra day for no known reason. I got a room at the local 'Stumble Inn' (hotel for tired angry business travelers) and went out to
dinner with the salesman who was trying to sell me a new machine. After that I sat in my room and watched a movie which starred Jason Robards cast as Al Capone. The movie was called, "The St. Valentines Day Massacre" -- and it was. It was the second worst miscast in movie history-- the first being
John Wayne playing Genghis Kahn. 
     After my second day in funland, I got out as quickly as possible, skipping dinner in the hopes of grabbing cheap sustenance at the Manchester airdrome, home of TWO McDonald's restaurants. I rushed to the airport just in time for the gate side McDonalds to close. The terminal side was still open, but
I would have to go through security a second time. I got the 'fish eye' once from the Green Beret standing next to the x-ray machine, and I didn't need it twice. I had terrible razor stubble by then (I couldn't pack my razor), so I looked like a desperate fugitive (which I was--of sorts). I checked in at the gate, and as I sat down in the departure lounge I banged my head into the "security partition" right behind my chair. There was an automated announcement playing over and over on the P.A. telling us that, "all unattended baggage will be removed." They don't mention that it will also be rifled by the security staff and the leftovers will be auctioned or sold at the nearest flea market.

Do I sound a tad misanthropic here?

I consoled myself by having a gin and tonic on the return flight. I m typing this on the plane, and I am quite thankful for the spell-checker as it tends to counteract the booze. The captain has just made an announcement that there is some pretty choppy weather ahead, and has asked all the flight attendants to strap themselves in. At least I have enough gin to finish the flight. You don't notice the turbulence as much when you think the alcohol is to blame.

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There you have it. Two nearly identical business trips, both to the east coast, both overnight, both accomplishing a task. The only major difference is one was 'safer' than the other (and a lot more frustrating.)  If you are going to travel by air nowadays, my only advice to you is to bring your sense of humor onboard in your carry-on. You will need to keep it handy. I will, because January 2002's Read and Delete will come to you from Shanghai and Shuzou, from within the Peoples' Republic of China. Apart
from airport security, I am looking forward to this trip.

Gotta go...... the line for the metal detector starts here.........


Neil