The asscrack of noon, distant cousin of the asscrack of dawn, is a much more tolerable asscrack to wake up to. Having done so, I held high hopes that things would progress more smoothly today than they had the previous two days.
I was booked on a flight from Raleigh to Chicago, with a connecting flight departing Chicago for Portland two hours after I was to arrive there. The day’s first problem was that my flight from Raleigh was delayed two hours, thus making my connecting flight impossible. A phone call to United (by this time I had memorized their number, menu selections, and hold music) got me booked on a later connecting flight that gave me plenty of wiggle room.
Despite the governor of North Carolina having declared a state of emergency, the snow and ice really weren’t that bad compared to the storms that recently hit Portland. I had no trouble at all driving my little rental Kia to the airport. In fact, I had more trouble walking to the car on the ice without falling than I did actually driving the car on the ice. But I had no complaints; the deserted roads made for a quick and uneventful drive. I even managed not to get lost, which I thought was a very good sign.
I reached the airport and got in line at the United check-in desk. When I had reached the front of the line, a woman approached us with a sheaf of paper in hand and asked where everyone was flying. All flights to Washington D.C., Chicago, and various other places had been canceled, she said. This alarmed me, because I had checked the monitor as I entered the airport and it said my flight was still go (although delayed). I pointed this out to her, she consulted her list, and it turned out my flight was indeed still go. She led me to the desk and printed out my boarding passes.
While inspecting the boarding passes, she noticed that the pass for my connecting flight to Portland was for the earlier flight instead of the new flight I had been switched to due to the delay. The new flight was displayed on the screen, but for some reason the computer would only print a pass for the old flight. She wandered off to find a manager while I waited for fifteen minutes. Finally, she got the correct pass printed and sent me on my way.
By this time, I considered myself an expert at making it through security with a minimum of hassle, but I had not foreseen how dedicated the Raleigh/Durham airport was to protecting our nation’s airways from terrorism. The line at the checkpoint was extraordinarily long, and I soon found out why. Even before we reached the actual checkpoint itself, which was several hundred feet and an entire floor away from where the line started, there were three—not one but three—guards posted at equidistant intervals, each of whom checked my boarding pass and photo id with more intense scrutiny than the one before. In addition, there was a “standard invasiveness” checkpoint and an “ultra invasiveness” checkpoint. Most of us were directed to the standard checkpoint, but a seemingly random number of people were directed toward the ultra checkpoint, where they underwent a hand-wanding, patdown, baggage search and interrogation in addition to the metal detector and x-ray machine. I saw them send an old woman in a wheelchair through this process; they tried for ten solid minutes to get her to stand up and walk through the metal detector (she was only barely able to stand up), after which they finally just wheeled her through and searched every nook and cranny of her person and her chair by hand.
Finally, I emerged on the other side relatively unmolested and boarded my flight. The lovely young girl next to me dropped her bag on my head while attempting to stow it in the overhead bin, which was just about the coolest thing ever. We spent the next few hours having a very interesting chat and I tried my best not to flinch with disappointment every time I noticed the wedding ring on her finger.
We landed in Chicago almost exactly on time, and just as I was congratulating myself on how smoothly things were going, the captain announced that the airport was a little overcrowded and we would have to wait in line for a gate to open up. For the next two and a half hours, we sat there on the taxiway, breathing jet fumes and listening to screaming children, waiting for a gate. We were assigned a gate five minutes after my connecting flight had left, and after taxiing to that gate we were moved to another gate because that gate turned out not to be empty after all. I began to wonder how air traffic control can keep track of thousands of planes in three dimensions, yet ground control can’t even keep track of a hundred planes in two dimensions.
Deplaning ensued at last, and I found myself standing in the exact same United customer service line that I had stood in for an hour on day one. Oh, the irony. Not relishing the thought of spending another hour in this damn line, and not wanting to get stuck in Chicago overnight again, I called United while waiting in line, in the hopes that I’d get through on the phone before I got through the line. My gamble paid off, I got myself booked on another flight to Portland, and I snickered at the suckers still standing in line as I set out at a leisurely pace to find food.
I settled on Panda Express in Concourse C and sat down to eat my meal. Someone behind me called my name and I was startled to see the girl from the plane. This is the sort of coincidence that happens in movies, but apparently my screenwriter sucks because it does me no good whatsoever to hit it off with an intelligent, beautiful, married woman. Nevertheless, we chatted some more and it was time well spent. I eventually excused myself to go catch my flight and we wished each other luck (she had also had to rebook a connecting flight after our delay).
I found my gate and took a seat, with about fifteen minutes to go before boarding. To pass the time, I began reading a book Candice had loaned me, A People’s History of the United States. A few minutes later, two cute young women sat across from me. The one on the left was telling the other one about how she was always sort of a nerd in school because she liked Shakespeare and watched a lot of weird movies. My ears perked up. She went on to outline her opinions about the comparative acting talents of Keanu Reeves and Sean Penn (“Keanu Reeves is underrated,” she said, “and Sean Penn is way overrated.”). By this point I was only pretending to read…I have never met someone who shared my opinions about Keanu Reeves, much less my opinions about Sean Penn. This girl was two for two!
I covertly pinched myself, wondering what I had done to deserve this second stroke of luck (what with the girl from the plane being married and all). And this girl was on her way to Portland! As I attempted to muster the courage to say hello, she and her friend began talking about guys. “Sweet Lord in Heaven,” I thought, “they’re about to reveal their innermost likes and dislikes about the opposite sex! It’s almost like I’m cheating!”
“I wish I could find someone,” she said to her friend, “who was just really quiet. You know, someone really quiet and intelligent who doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does say something you know it’s going to be really smart or funny.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was, being really quiet and reading a big thick intelligent book. I nixed my plans to introduce myself, opting instead to continue the quiet/intelligent routine. Without looking, I tried desperately to remember what shirt I was wearing and how many ketchup stains it had on it, hoping that my luck had not neglected me in this area. I shifted my position slightly in a meek attempt to draw her attention without looking like I was attempting to draw anyone’s attention, but she failed to notice. This went on for a while. Finally, something terrible happened: the girl from before walked by.
It was a cruel and ironic twist of fate, another impossible coincidence that had no business being there. She laughed and said hi and sat down and the other girls, suddenly alerted to my existence by my broken silence as Coincidence Girl and I talked, no doubt saw me as just another guy in an airport talking to a girl. They had completely missed me being all quiet and intelligent. Eventually they went and sat somewhere else and I didn’t see them again on the flight. Sigh.
Coincidence Girl was, by another startling coincidence, flying out of the gate next to mine. By this time I was really really pissed off about that damn wedding ring, because she was very nice and smart and pretty and dammit this sort of thing never happens to me and it’s just not fair that the one time it does happen nothing can possibly come of it. After a few minutes, her flight began boarding, so we said goodbye again and I turned my attention to my flight, which I suddenly realized was not boarding.
As it turned out, a flight attendant was missing. They only had two flight attendants, and they needed three before they could board the plane. Thirty minutes passed, the attendant finally arrived, the plane was boarded, and from there everything went like clockwork. It was a four hour flight to Portland. After landing, we were at a gate within minutes, the jetway was docked faster than I’ve ever seen it docked before, Steve and Candice met me outside security, and my bag was one of the first on the conveyor.
Portland is a beautiful city full of beautiful people and—most importantly—it’s where my soft, warm, comfortable bed is. I will never never leave here again, ever.