Monday, November 12, 2007

On Time ... Or Not!

Even authors are allowed to vent from time to time, even those whose interest is in humor. This is the latest vent by Red Evans, author of On Ice (Click HERE to order). It is likely that others have had similar experiences and he dedicates this short vent to them.

The airlines say in their commercials that they offer comfort, convenience and prompt service. If you are vertically challenged and you can actually move your legs in the seat without requiring knee replacement, you might be comfortable. Of course, you may have the misfortune to have a seatmate whose deodorant has crashed and whose armpits are closer to your nose than his/her own, in which case, comfort is of less importance than clean air.

I remember a flight in which the woman who sat next to me must have bathed in a vat of honeysuckle oil. By the time I got off the plane, I needed a respirator.

Security has been ratcheted to a level no one could have anticipated, but all of us reluctantly accepted. Travelers made concessions to the new stringent measures but no one else has, certainly not the airlines or other institutions. Since 9/11, flight delays, late arrivals and other inconveniences have multiplied, straining the patience of any traveler, even Jobe would have lost his patience if chariot travel was as bad.

My wife and I recently went to the Charleston, South Carolina Airport to retrieve my visiting brother arriving from Milwaukee on a flight scheduled to arrive at 12:16 pm. To allow time for my brother to collect his luggage, we were deliberately late by more than ten minutes. In the pick-up lane, there were two rent-a-cops in little white high-tech helmets sitting on bicycles looking like Rottweilers with pork knuckles. “Pull up right here,” I told my wife, and then glanced at my watch, “I’ll run in and check to be sure the plane is down.” With some concern, I noted that if the plane was down, there would be some activity on the sidewalk, but it looked as deserted as a scene in a sci-fi movie – nobody around but the biker Gestapo.

I naturally assumed that a thirty to forty second dash into the terminal for a glance at one of those screens located all over the terminal while my wife waited at the curb would not lead to gunfire. I was wrong, well, maybe it didn’t lead to gunfire, but one cop stroked his weapon while licking his lips.

I opened the car door, put one foot on the curb and was immediately confronted by a helmeted man no more than five feet four who met his vertical challenge by berating motorists who violated curb space for which he was responsible. Waving a billy club like a Chinese goon in Tiananmen Square, he snarled, “Move along there, no stopping!”

I said, “I’m just gonna check to see if a flight is on the ground. I won’t be but ...”

“You can’t park here,” he snapped, “move along, smartly now, smartly!”

“It won’t take but a few seconds.” I pleaded.

“I don’t care!” he said loudly, and for a second or so, I thought he was going to arrest me, “YOU CAN’T PARK HERE!”

Twenty yards back, I noticed the other Rottweiler also waving cars away from the curb. A third helmeted cop, probably the supervisor of the other two, rode by on his bicycle pedaling like Lance Armstrong in the Tour De France and zig-zagging in and out of the slow-moving traffic. Hurriedly, I turned to my wife and said, “You’ll have to go around, Barney Fife here is feeling his oats.”

My wife said, “Maybe we should park in short term ...”

“What’d you call me?” the cop demanded.

“Go around,” I urged again, “go, go!”

I ignored the cop’s question and hurried inside as my wife pulled away from the curb. I figured he was too young to know who Barney Fife was anyway.

Inside I found the schedule screen and let my eye travel down until I saw my brother’s flight. There it is, I thought, arrival time 12:16. My eye followed the little green dotted line to “On Time”. I looked at my watch, which read 12:30. I slowly looked around the cavernous terminal which looked like the railroad station scene in “The Untouchables”. It was almost empty, and particularly so at the baggage claim area. If the flight was on time, where were the deplaned passengers?

The counter where I could inquire was at the opposite end of the terminal, which, since, at 74 years young, it might as well have been in California, I went back outside to await my wife’s return. Five minutes later, she eyed the cop as she went by him and then suddenly snapped the van to the curb. Three Rottweilers began furiously pedaling toward us, little sci-fi helmets bobbing rhythmically.

I wondered if one of the specifications for bike riding helmets was that they must look foolish to be effective. I gestured at my wife to lower the electric window, but with the death squad bearing down on me, I didn’t wait and opened the door, “Keep going around!” I shouted, “I don’t think the plane is down yet.”

“Is it on time?” she shouted back.

“I don’t think so.”

I heard a whistle blow ominously.

“GO! GO!” I slammed the van door and ran inside. My wife pulled away. The bike squad panted to a stop but didn’t follow me inside.

It was now 12:40, almost thirty minutes after the arrival time and the screen still said “On Time”. I began to wonder that maybe the airlines consider on time as being the same day. Ten minutes later one of the baggage conveyors got underway, but it was for the arrival of another flight.

Almost an hour after we arrived at the airport, I noticed more activity at the gate area and spotted my brother threading his way toward me. After a hug, we went to the baggage conveyor to get his luggage. Luggage came up a conveyor belt one at a time separated by at least thirty feet of belt. I remarked to a woman standing next to us that the man handling the baggage must be too small to handle more than one bag at a time. She nodded knowingly and said, “It’s a woman. I saw her myself and she couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.” I noticed the schedule screen still had my brother’s flight listed as “On Time”.

We finally got his bags and started outside. I saw the screen changing from “On Time” to “Arrived” for my brother’s flight. Outside, we weathered the glares of the three stooges on bikes while we waited for my wife to come around again. I found out later that she cycled around five times, about ten miles at thirty miles an hour.

Here’s the rub: the air travel industry doesn’t give a hoot in hell about inconveniencing the traveling public and now has an excuse. Don’t look at us, it’s the terrorists fault.

Late arrivals and delayed flights have proliferated beyond all reason, creating a mess for passengers and those trying to collect them at terminals. It seems like a little thing that legend “On Time”, but if it had been changed to reflect the real situation, we would have used short-term parking.

Unreasonable attitudes by traffic police exacerbate the problem. Has it not entered those silly little helmets that some brief parking is necessary, and can’t they approach their responsibilities with at least some concern for people?

As we drove away from the airport, my brother said incredulously, “They took my toothpaste!”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“No, the security agents took my dadgum toothpaste. Not only that, when they did, they berated me as if I was the control agent of a terrorist cell!”

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