wonko's Big East Coast Adventure, Part II

The asscrack of dawn looks pretty much the same in Chicago as it does in Portland, except with more wind and snow. I acquainted myself with it again this morning. After ten minutes of attempting to determine which limbs I could safely move without pain (the bed wasn’t terribly comfortable), I realized with horror that, being the unseasoned traveler I am, I had put all my toiletries in my checked baggage.

I inspected the hotel’s complimentary shower accoutrements, which consisted of 1 bottle of “Shampoo”, one bottle of “Conditioner”, one bottle of “Face & Body Lotion”, and one bar of “Deluxe Oatmeal and Almond Soap”. I am not making this up. Oatmeal and almonds. It looked and smelled like some kind of breakfast bar. But, since it was that or nothing, I got myself good and soapy (to make up for the lack of deodorant). Same with the shampoo and conditioner. I avoided the lotion.

I came out of the shower feeling refreshed and renewed, grabbed my bags, checked out, and boarded the shuttle to O’Hare. I arrived at the airport at 8:05 for a 9:05 flight, plenty early (thought I) since I didn’t have any baggage to check, and headed for terminal 2 via the train. Then everything went wrong.

When I attempted to enter the security checkpoint at 8:20, the guard joylessly informed me that what I had given him was not, in fact, a boarding pass; it was merely a clever decoy designed for the express purpose of ruining my day. I needed to go check in at terminal 1, checked bags or no. So back I went to terminal 1. Upon arriving at terminal 1, I discovered that every single one of United’s gazillion-plus checkin desks was mobbed by a horde of unruly travelers who for some reason thought they were all more important than me.

“Not to worry,” I told myself, there was an entire wall of shiny self-checkin terminals flashing large welcoming logos, just like the terminal I had used to check in back in Portland, which had taken all of two minutes. I fed the machine my credit card and it told me I was going to Baltimore.

“No,” I told it. “I’m not going to Baltimore.”
“I’m afraid you are,” it said. “Either you’re going to Baltimore, or someone with a name kinda like yours is going to Baltimore. In any case, you’re probably screwed. Please check in at the desk.”

So I got in line. Invariably, when I do this, I always manage to choose the slowest checkin agent known to man (each one is slower than the one before, I swear it). Finally, at 8:37 and change, it was my turn. I handed my decoy pass to the gentleman, showed him ID, and he gave me a disapproving look and said, “This flight boards in a few minutes.”

“I know,” said I.
“Well, you’d better hurry.”
“Yes. I know I had better hurry. That is why I need a boarding pass, which only you can give me. Please give it to me.”
“Now sir, there’s no reason to be upset.”
“I’m not upset, I’m just in a hurry.”
“Would you like a window or an aisle?”
“A window seat or an aisle seat, sir?”
“It doesn’t matter. Whatever. Look, the decoy pass already has a seat number on it, there, 4C.”
“The what, sir?”
“Nothing, nevermind. Aisle. Or window. Both. Either.”
“It looks like all the windows are taken, but there’s an aisle seat, number 4C. Will that be all right?”
“(stare)...yes. That will be brilliant. Incredible. Wonderful. Is that my boarding pass? Thank you.”
“Don’t forget to hurry, sir, they’re boarding now!”

I ran like a little bitch to the train platform, stood like a little bitch on the train, and ran like a little bitch some more to the security checkpoint. Having learned from my previous experience, I swiftly whipped off my belt and watch, unbagged my laptop, took off my coat, and sent everything through the X-ray machine. I passed through the metal detector without a peep. But wait, where was my laptop? There was my jacket, my belt, my watch, my bag…had someone snatched it? I absentmindedly grabbed my belt and prepared to strangle the evildoer what stole my precious computer, and lo, there he was! Looking me in the eye and walking straight towards me, laptop in hand and everything! The nerve! And…wait, what was that? A badge?

“Is this your laptop, sir?”
“Yes it is.”
“Okay. If you would please gather up all of your belongings and bring them to that table over there, I’m going to have to examine your laptop.”

I gathered my belongings and brought them to yonder table.

“Man, this sure is a heavy laptop,” he said with a smile, “you might as well have just bought a desktop!”
“Yeah, ha ha.”
“Feels really heavy. You must get tired lugging this around.”
“Not really.”
“What brand is this anyway? ‘Say-ger’? Never heard of them before.”
“Well, they’re kind of a small company. Hey, I don’t mean to be uncooperative, but my flight started boarding five minutes ago, so, you know…”
“I’m sorry sir, this is standard procedure.”

He did something puzzling to my laptop with a little gadget of some kind, then handed it back to me and I made my escape. I made it to the gate and was horrified—horrified—to see that they weren’t boarding. I had completely missed it! Wait, no…there it was on the display, United 5466 to RDU…not yet boarding. They were later than I was! Ha! My luck was beginning to turn!

I smiled to myself and sat down, tired and sweaty. I smelled something foul and groaned inwardly, hoping I wouldn’t have to sit next to whoever it was. I attempted to locate the source of the odor. What was that smell anyway? Sort of nutty and…oatmealy…oh, shit. I wiped some sweat off my brow and sniffed it, which was a terrible, terrible mistake. The soap was poison; it had infiltrated my pores and lain dormant and now my sweat had somehow activated it and caused it to release its odiferous oatmeal almond spores. Egad!

Eventually the plane was loaded. After two hours sitting on the tarmac, we took to the air and arrived a while later at a big white frozen blob that the captain assured us was Raleigh, North Carolina. The airport was eerily devoid of people on account of the big white frozen blobness. And apparently snow does terrible mind-altering things to baggage handlers, as my fellow passengers and I soon discovered.

Raleigh-Durham airport has three baggage claim conveyors. Above each conveyer is a red scrolling LED sign that helpfully informs you, over and over, that you are, in fact, in Raleigh, North Carolina. As helpful as this is, it might have been more helpful if these wondrous devices had displayed, say, just to name one possible example, which bags came from which flight.

I picked a conveyor at random and watched it for a while. I overheard a baggage handler tell someone that all the bags for flight 5466 were on conveyor #2, so I walked over and watched that one for a while. Then someone made an announcement saying that all the bags from 5466 were on conveyor #3. This puzzled me, because I had seen quite a few bags labeled 5466 on conveyor #2. But I went to #3 anyway. All the bags there were for Northwest 2322. Except for one or two for 5466. None mine. Another announcement: some of the bags from 5466 were at conveyor #3 and some were at #2. I chose a point between them and tried not to strain a neck muscle. Another announcement: In fact, most of the bags on conveyor #3 were not from flight 5466 at all, they had forgotten to put those bags on the conveyor. Whoops. All the 5466 bags were now on conveyor #3. Except four bags that were still on #2. Don’t ask me why they couldn’t take those four bags and move them to #3 (I asked them and for some reason they didn’t seem very eager to tell me).

After watching conveyors 2 and 3 for nearly two hours, there were still ten of us from flight 5466 without bags, so we headed for the claims office post haste. We stood in line there for twenty minutes while nothing happened. Finally, a woman came out and asked us if we were from flight 5466. “Why yes,” we replied almost in unison. She asked for our claim stickers (which we had received when we checked our bags). After gathering them up, she made a hasty exit stage left, telling us, as she retreated, that our bags were not actually lost, they had just been kept off the conveyor for our convenience. A voice somewhere deep inside me said FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, but I repressed it and refrained from bloodshed (this is something I do a lot, it seems).

Thankfully, things went mostly swimmingly from there. I got my rental car, had a nice discussion with the guy at Enterprise about how much better Portland is than Raleigh, checked into my hotel (which is way nicer than I was expecting), found food, got an Internet connection, and relaxed. Then I found out that the class I came here to take has been canceled. Completely canceled. So now that I’m finally here, I have to go back.