Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Made in Hell

I don't know how many times Neil Young has been to Alabama; this is my first time. I do know that he managed to irritate Lynyrd Skynyrd with his songs "Alabama" and "Southern Man". Being a Neil Young fan for an uncomfortably long time, I don't care. Lynyrd Skynyrd can eat my shorts.

However, already I digress.

My adventure began with arising at 12:30 a.m. after a really early bedtime to drive to the Tampa airport (an hour's trip), allow time to be shuttled from the cheapie parking lot, to check in, get through security, and still make my 5:20 a.m. flight (book late in the game on Travelocity, this is the kind of thing you get). I'd like to complain about that whole process. Even if you do mind. Quit fussing and read on. That's too stinking early to have to begin a two-flight journey, and all the fun has long since gone out of flying, what with all the increased security and whatnot. I played the radio loud and sang along to keep myself awake, which is a good thing to do when you're doing things like driving at 65 mph and going over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It's a monster of a thing and probably very well built, but one cannot help but remember that nearly 30 years ago, a freighter hit one of the two old spans and knocked down 1,500 feet of the center of the span, and 35 people died. You can still hear the ghosts, even when you're semi-conscious. Maybe that's a better time. Imagining it? Of course not; I never imagine anything except the stuff I make up. Fortunately, there weren't too many other people on the highway, so me and my somewhat wonky brakes proceeded apace. I followed the signs to the remote parking garage, and marveled that for once, they hadn't misdirected me or detoured me with the never-ending construction around this airport. I think they have no idea what they're actually doing, and are just trying to look busy. So, who am I to complain? A taxpayer, that's who.

Anyway, I managed to find a nice space by the elevators in the cleverly named purple section. In case people couldn't handle simple signs with a purple background, they painted the lower three feet of the walls and pillars purple, so it's really hard to miss the point. Not impossible, of course. Even so, they go so far in assuming that people don't know what they're doing as to provide little slips of paper at the elevators that tell you you're in the purple section. Maybe they're for people that are colorblind, but it still wouldn't help them, since they wouldn't be able to tell that all that paint is purple. Since the hour was so early, I didn't see people wandering around aimlessly, trying to find their cars. No doubt there are some that have been wandering around there for days, losing $9.00 per day when they realize that they don't even know their own license plate number. Geez, people can be thick. However, this situation is easily classified as an SEP (Somebody Else's Problem), always A Good Thing.

Now I have to catch the shuttle bus to the terminal, as it's much too far to walk, and I have no idea where I'm going because the previously mentioned signs have now all disappeared. Every seven to ten minutes, they say they run, 24/7. Suuuure. I see a couple going the other way, dropping some hapless people off to try to find their cars, but none coming my way. Why? Because only an idiot wants to get to the check-in counter and past security to get to their gate at such an unholy hour. Fortunately, one driver shows some enterprise, sees me, and goes and makes a U-turn. I am finally picked up and delivered to the terminal, still within the dreaded recommended advance time that they are currently saying you should allow. It's about 3:40 by now, I'm cranky, and I want a cup of coffee. No dice; all the coffee counters are closed, because only an idiot is flying at this hour. I get to the check-in counter, armed to get through quickly with my online-generated boarding passes and prepaid baggage fee. All I have to do is enter my code, it generates the routing tag and my receipt, a representative confirms and takes it, and off I go. This beats standing in line behind people who've forgotten little things like what freakin' airline they're supposed to be on and can't find their documents or tickets. Somehow, I always wind up directly behind someone with a Special Problem.

This plan would have worked quite smoothly except that nobody is manning the check-in counter. We are told that they open at 4:30, which, according to the airport's announcements, doesn't leave any of us taking the flight (for it is full, rife with a bunch of idiots flying at this obscene hour) to get the shuttle over to airside and get through security screening. No chairs in sight to wait in, so many of us wind up seated on the floor, the carpet smothered deeply in grunge from the feet of previous passengers urinating themselves because they, too, ain't gonna make their flight. Waiting, waiting. Miraculously, the workers begin trickling in at 4:00, and at the recommendation of another kindly passenger, I had my bag waiting on the scale to go, and I zipped up to the front of the line. I'm from New England, and I know how to bust a line. They announce my name, getting it wrong in a brand-new way. Look, how much easier can my last name get? Woodland. Wood. Land. Plain as day. Therefore, they call out "Woodlark", a name I've never heard before. I set them straight and off my bag goes.

Let me state unequivocally that this business of charging everyone for even one bag is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys. I can see charging for a second or third bag, or one that's too heavy, but for every bag? Robbery, that's what it is. Why don't they just make the ticket price a little higher, assuming that everyone is going to bring at least one bag? Sure, the ticket price would be more, but it would seem less heinous than picking my pocket for $23.00 for the privilege of sending one medium-sized bag on its merry way. As a result, I'm cursing under my breath as I head up to the shuttle level. Bad form, as I'm trying to cut down on my cussing, but I'm having a @*#&ing hard time doing it. I'm Irish and from Rhode Island, after all.

In order to serve us better, naturally, they're only running one of the two shuttle trains to airside, so there go a few more precious minutes. This makes me grind my teeth (something else I wish I wouldn't do), since I know I'm going to take longer than anybody to get through the security checkpoint. Why will become evident in just a moment. Finally, the train comes and carries the batch of us idiots flying so early to airside, in the process rendering my cleverly quick check-in moot. Son of a- no, I'm trying to stop that.

So here comes the security check. Now, I realize that there are problems in the world and dangers to worry about, but come on. I join the line of people who are taking off their shoes and disrobing in various ways to send their goodies through the X-ray machine. Here's where I run into a difficulty. I have a CPAP machine (standing for Continuous Positive Air Pressure) that I use for my sleep apnea (as if I need another defect to contend with). It's a nifty, nearly silent air pump with a mask that keeps my airways open while I sleep. It is also, apparently, a highly suspicious item that they're going to spend five minutes examining, while everyone behind me is cussing under their breath (whether or not they're trying to give it up) because of the delay. I have to follow all the other guidelines, including having all my teensy liquid or gel products in a baggie (because lip balm is so very dangerous). However, the CPAP, which is fragile piece of medical equipment, has to be taken out of its wisely padded bag and put in its own bin and sent through. "He has a CPAP!" they cry, having actually recognized what it is. If they're that well-informed, why do I have to endure what comes next? So they stop the line following me (endearing me to the crowd even further), and run it through the X-ray again. Then they take it over to hand-inspect it at a little table in the back before running it through the X-ray yet again.
Here's where I get worried, because the last time I flew, they manhandled my machine, dropped it onto their metal table in the process of their inspection, and managed to break my machine. TSA, you owe me and my insurance company (who were very good about it) $1,700.00. Careless. Not funny. Even I'm not that clumsy, and I can trip over an imaginary line (a required skill for actors). I plead with them to please handle it very carefully. This gains me an arched eyebrow, as if it makes a fancified air pump with a little humidifier inside even more suspicious. Fortunately, the woman was considerate this time and passed it through after the requisite ooohing and ahhhing before concluding "oh, it's a CPAP." Duh. Read the label. Plug it in if you want. However, I suppose I must concede that if it were full of C4, it could do a lot of damage. Still....

After which, I get the rare privilege of putting my shoes and belt back on (the buckle sets off the metal detector) and repacking the machine back into its case and back into my carry-on bag. Wouldn't it be easier just to put it on my checked bag and avoid all this? Zark, no, I'm not letting the bag with that machine and all my drugs (another thing they spend a couple of minutes checking out. Shut up, you guys, I can't help it if I'm not well and have eleven prescriptions) out of my sight.

Finally, we all get to the gate and soon board the plane for the flight to Charlotte, where I pick up my flight to Alabammy.

Thus comes my complaint as referred to in the title. "After all this verbiage?" you think incredulously? You bet, I'm reading your mind.

Who in the zarking fardwarks designed airplane seats?? I mean, it's not bad enough that I just spent four hours in the middle of the night to get this far, but now I have to steel myself for torture. I don't know who airplane seats are actually designed to "fit", but I suspect that it isn't human. Maybe ferrets, who are small and have no apparent spine. Not me, at six feet tall, certainly. Cramped in every respect, especially legroom. My knees are always in the back of the person ahead of me, garnering me the same dirty looks I get at security. Where the spine should be supported, they're concave. They're too narrow for even persons much smaller than I am (Say, Cadeaux of Humor Me Online, who's a lot shorter than I am and has wimpy little hands)(Why bring that up? Because I judge a couple of contests on the site, and you should come play. It's a sort of shameless plug, you see) and you're always brushing elbows with the people next to you. I don't know where those elbows have been, and when I've offered people some of my hand sanitizer for their elbows, they just stare at me. The head support juts too far out, putting an inevitable crick into your neck even on a short flight. The sides of the seat cushions are too high, attempting to bend your pelvis in (which it is not designed to do), but succeeds in putting pressure on your bladder (did I mention that on thus flight, my seat was right next to the lavatory door? Joy). And, inevitably, the whole place smells of recycled air and flatulence. That's right, I said it. We watched the plane arrive, too, and we all know that they haven't cleaned anything since the last people got off, people who were flying at an even more stupid hour than we were about to. Do I care that these people have just suffered sitting in the self-same uncomfortable seats that we're about to be strapped into? No, I do not. I'm more concerned that they've been breaking wind into the seat cushions and there's no time to air the plane out. The air inside the plane is ripe enough to suspect that they were serving bean burritos on the last flight, except for the small detail that they don't serve food on flights anymore, at least not for free. You're lucky to get a stinking drink these days. Well, not exactly true; the drinks, being fresh out of the can, do not in fact stink. Yet.

People are evil, that's all there is to it. They don't bring anything to do along with them on flights (personally, I prefer to listen to my iPod, which is not a shameless plug, since I offered one to Apple for mentioning them in this post and they told me where I could go), and so they just sit there, generating methane in their guts, carefully forcing it into the foam rubber of the seats under them, thereby contributing to global warming, and then have the nerve to be smug about it and smile as if nobody knows that they're doing it.

The end result of this (pun intended) is that as a result of this activity, you don't really have the inclination to sit down all the way in the seat; it would be better to keep an inch or so between you and that befouled cushion that you hope to high heaven that you don't have to use as a floatation device, because that would mean holding it right up to your face. I'll try treading water, thank you very much. However, with the fiendish ways that the seats are designed, and the flight attendants' admonishment to keep your seat belt buckled firmly at all times, you're pinned down with considerable force onto this throne of tribute to the gassier elements of the food pyramid. So glad I wore freshly laundered clothing.

Thus do I spend the next hour and twenty minutes of my life. The only saving grace in the process of going on my next flight is that I don't have to slog through security again. However, I do have a three hour layover. I drop in on a Starbucks, which is, unfortunately, the only coffee joint open. I don't like Starbucks because I don't drink sissy drinks like a triple frap half-mocha part-skim soy milk cappuccino with a cherry on top; I drink it black. And Starbucks (this is not a plug) burns their beans, making the coffee bitter. I have a scone, and linger as long as I can until I start getting the same dirty looks that I got at security, because I'm taking up one of the few seats. That's because I know what's coming next: two hours sitting in one of those horribly uncomfortable airport seats. These are designed by a wholly different group of chiropractic sadists than the plane seats. Don't even get me started on those things.

Look, don't get me wrong. I'm glad I made the trip and I'm happy to be here visiting my friend. The middle part of the sandwich is the best part, anyway. But flying anywhere these days is like stale bread on the outside.

Stale, like the air inside the airplane. But let's not start that all over again.