The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


May 23, 1998
5:35 PM

Travel travails

Logan Airport, 5:35 PM.  Starting today, a new feature: The Beanstalk, LIVE!  No, I don't concede that previous columns have been Dead, but this one comes to you from the trenches, from the cutting edge of experience.  Since the theme has so often been travel of late, this entry shall also be a chronicle of travels. 

At the moment, I sit in an airport bar at Logan, awaiting the first leg of my trip, via Miami to La Paz, Bolivia, and thence beyond.  I'm on my second Sam Adams beer ($4.46, and lukewarm), observing the Pacers-Bulls Game 3 on a very fuzzy TV screen.  You don't believe this is Live?  It's 79-78, Pacers, Bulls bring the ball up, Pacers steal it, Antonio Davis is fouled, Mark Jackson takes the inbounds pass and drills a 20-footer, 81-78.

There's a heck of a lot of people in this bar, for an airport.  I've got 40 minutes until my flight, and the gate is 100 feet away, so I'm in no hurry -- hope I can watch to the end of the game.  It's Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend; where is everybody going?  If you're vacationing for the holiday, you should already be somewhere by now.  Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that some of the people at this bar are just locals who came for the "atmosphere"?

5:45 PM.  One hazard (or benefit) of doing this in public is arousing curiosity in my neighbors. So I've just met one companion who was interested enough to ask for the Site address of the Beanstalk (welcome, Alex!), and to pursue a high-powered conversation about the evolution of the communicatinos industry (actually, that's over on the other side of the web site).

Meanwhile, the Pacers have gone up by 6, with 2 minutes to go, but my plane is due to leave in a few minutes.  I took a moment to ask the bartender why the beers cost $4.46.  She says, "to be a boss in this place, you have to pass a Stupid Test.  If you're dumb enough, you get to be a boss!"

6:10 PM.  The pace of airport life: I have to run to the gate with the Pacers holding a slim 4-point lead and 36 seconds left, only to discover the flight is delated, so I can run back to the bar in time to see Michael Jordan hit an unreal 3-pointer.  Then, to add to the fun, I bump into my neighbor from Swampscott, who works for the airline.

After a tense exchange of free throws, Larry Bird's troops pull out a tight 2-point victory, so I rush back to the gate, where the flight is now boarding.  The cattle squeezing into the runway. Now comes the dull part.

6:44 PM.  Good news.  On a pretty full flight, I've got an aisle seat with an empty seat next to me.  This, in the international travel world, is the equivalent of winning a minor lottery jackpot.

6:58 PM.  "It is a federal offense to tamper with, disable, or destroy a smoke detector."  Do we really need such precise, lawyerese language?  What if they just said "tampering with" a smoke detector is illegal?  Doesn't destroying a smoke detector qualify as "tampering" with it?  I want to meet the lawyer who wrote that phrase:  "Well, some customer might just smash the smoke detector with a hammer, and the courts have ruled in the past that the phrase 'tampering' implies 'altering or manipulating by hand', so this could be construed to exclude hammer smashing . . ."  POW!!  Man, it felt good to do that.

9:43 PM.  Sorry, I dozed off for a couple of hours, there.

"Please remain seated until the captain has . . ." (announcement drowned out by the clamor of passengers jumping out of their seats and grabbing their carry-on luggage).  The urge to be the first to stand motionless in a throng of people, holding heavy bags for 10 minutes, has always somehow eluded me.  I tend to remain seated, reading or napping, while the plane begins to empty, sacrificing those extra 40 seconds that I could be standing, waiting at the baggage claim.

Funny, double-entendre signs noticed while walking through the Miami airport:

In the Inspirational Reading section of the airport bookstore (this is Miami; New York airports don't have an Inspirational Reading section), some of the book titles:

No kidding.

11:10 PM.  AAaarg!!

If you travel to Latin America or the Caribbean from the East Coast, all flights pass through Miami -- a giant Way Station between North America and everything to the South.  I'm not sure there's really a city there, anymore, just a huge airport.  Anyway, I don't know how this affects air traffic, trying to squeez an entire continent through one airport.  All I know is I've had more delay problems connected with Miami than anywhere else, and here we go again.

It's ten past eleven o'clock at night.  Our overnight flight to Bolivia was supposed to depart at 11:00.  They kept gently informing us that there were some "maintenance" issues, and there would be a slight delay.  Well, they've now re-defined "slight" to mean "3 hours"!  Our flight will be leaving at 2:00 AM.

== ==

And here's another thing that grows increasingly annoying, the more of your life you waste in the hands of airlines: What is it about working for an airline that causes people to repeat the word "DO" incessantly?

"Ladies and gentlemen, we do apologize for the delay."

"While seated, we do ask that you keep your seatbelt fastened."

"We do hope that you do have a pleasant day, wherever your doo-doo takes you . . ."

What's wrong with simply "we apologize", "we ask"?  Inserting the word "do" in a sentence like that is a subtle distinction of English grammar; it conveys emphasis, and suggests a certain doubt on the speaker's part that the listeners accept his sincerity: "I do love you, I do!"

Do flight attendants, or airline script writers, suffer from perpetual self-doubt?  Is there some marketing/customer satisfaction theory which says if you convey insecurity while issuing commands or bringing bad news, people are less hostile in response?  You can be sure that there is.  I want to meet the author of that market study . . .POW!!  (I'd especially like to meet him when my plane's delayed 3 hours, and all I get is an extra "do" in the apology.)

2:02 AM.  Well, three hours have come and gone, and we're still here -- a hundred or so passengers, spread out all over the seats and the floor, with only the cheap airline blankets and pillows to make us comfortable.  I've passed the time by watching Saturday Night Live, on another airport bar TV.  I could steal a few bottles of Scotch if I tried.  The rest of the TV screens throughout the terminal are tuned to CNN Airport Network, which repeats the same news every 1/2 hour.  I have now thoroughly memorized the events of May 23, 1998 (you don't want to know: see April 30 column).

Sometime during the past 3 hours, they snuck a little change in the posted departure time, and now we're scheduled to leave at 3:00 AM.

Have you ever spent all night in an airport?  I did it once in Paris many years ago; some half-deranged French girl decided to wake everyone up at about four in the morning -- but that's another travel story.  This experience brings new meaning to the concept of Boredom.  I may have broken my record for consecutive games of computer Solitaire.

2:25 AM.  In what qualifies as a "pleasant" surprise this night, we are not waiting until 3:00 after all, as they have begun boarding the flight (not hard, considering we're thoroughly "bored" already -- low grade, late night humor).  Everyone is moving at a snail's pace, looking like Zombies.  The plane is filling up fast, but so far I'm clinging to my second lucky empty companion seat of the night.

(I should observe, at this point, that to you, reading, this must be almost as tedious as to me, experiencing it.  Well, look on the bright side.  You can quit any time you like, and go eat a creamsickle or play some badminton.  I've got six hours of sitting in an uncomfortable chair ahead of me.)

3:35 AM.  Utter misery has been achieved.  For God knows what reason, we still sit on the ground, awaiting takeoff.  I think I'll maul a flight attendant.

8:30 AM.  Miserably half waking from a half sleep to a stiff neck and badly swollen feet, I'm cranky.  The passengers at the windows on my left and right are asleep, and have left their window shades open, allowing the bright morning sunlight to beam directly into my eyes, so I hate them.  A couple in front of me are wide awake, and jabbering and laughing loudly, so everyone hates them.  The captain has just announced we're to return to our seats and stay there until landing, too late to get up and go to the bathroom . . . hah, let them try to stop me.

But hey -- Wow! -- the view flying into the Andes mountains is absolutely spectacular!

(Okay, we'll pick up the Odyssey on its next leg, in a few days.)


1998 David N. Townsend

The Beanstalk grows out of my head, so to speak, but I welcome
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