WorldCon 2015 Post #2
Perhaps you read my adventure going to WorldCon 73 in Spokane, WA. If not, go do that. I’ll wait.
<Elevator music: an all-pan-flute rendition of “Bingo Jed Had a Light On.”>
Back? Good. Now, allow me to relate my adventures coming home from said convention, also in the form of a story I shall call “The Boy What Were An Moran, Part Too [sic].”
But first! I suppose I should get a thing or two out of the way. I had fun in Spokane, in spite of the fact that there is pretty much literally a ring of fire surrounding the city. There were two days when the air quality sucked so egregiously that the con organizers told everyone to limit their outdoor activities. People were walking around wearing surgical masks. The area of the con (the Convention Center and Riverfront Park) could not have been more lovely and convenient, at least for me. I stayed in a Best Western right across the street, and all the activities I had planned were a short walk. The weather — ignoring the whole ‘ring of fire’ thing — was spectacular. I had a nice walk around the park on the last day of the con.
And now, without much further ado . . .
The Boy What Were An Moran, Part Too [sic]
You read Part Won [sic] of the story, so you know that the hapless protagonist, Gary (a.k.a. “The Boy Who Were an Moran”) foolishly left his photo ID at home — in the valet on the shelf in his closet back in Atlanta before flying to Spokane where he would desperately need it — when traveling by air. Not on purpose, but because he was so intent on making sure that he didn’t carry any extraneous cards along, he managed to leave that very important one. But that’s all in the past. As we learned in Part Won [sic], getting out of Atlanta wasn’t (much of) a problem. (This is called ‘foreshadowing.’)
Getting out of Spokane? An airport approximately 28 times smaller (in passengers per year) than Atlanta? Way easier, right? Wrong! Gary did the same thing, there, that he did in Atlanta. He approached the KTN queue and explained his situation. The patient, friendly TSA agent furrowed his brow and called his supervisor. When Mr. Supervisor-man finally responded some twenty minutes later, however, he was not impressed by Gary’s moranity [sic]. He kept asking Gary over and over if he had some form of photo ID, and obviously did not truly believe our hero’s response of, “No, sir, I’m sorry.” Mr. Supervisor-man gave Gary several suspicious side-eye glances. These failed to entice the Universe to cause his photo ID to miraculously appear in his wallet. He checked. Stupid Universe.
Mr. Supervisor-man then directed Gary to leave the TSA Pre™ line and get into the regular line with the rest of the unwashed public. Then he had to go through the whole explanation again with the patient, friendly TSA-woman in that line. It was like déjà vu all over again! It was like déjà vu all over again!
Gary ended up getting the full-body x-ray. And the post-x-ray pat down. And his bags searched. And he had to take off his shoes and belt. The many TSA agents who performed all these tasks were all very polite and professional, and Gary was good-natured about the whole thing. He tried joking a little with the nice, hard-working TSA agents.
“Do you have any sensitive areas where it’s painful to be touched?” asked the kind, young TSA agent wearing blue gloves.
“I guess we’ll find out,” answered Gary in a weak attempt at something vaguely resembling a thing that once had a heartfelt desire to someday be humor, but started drinking young and never really achieved its goals.
TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.
“Just a tip,” Gary said to one of them, because learning is apparently not his thing, “don’t ever leave home without your photo ID.” Big, sheepish grin.
TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.
“I’m going to change gloves,” said one agent. Gary said, “I would appreciate that.”
TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.
Three strikes! You’re out!
Lesson: TSA doesn’t have a sense of humor. It’s in the handbook. It’s not even clear that they realize those are allowed aboard an airplane.
So Gary went back to just using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ and smiling. A lot. And instantly doing anything they told him to do. A lot. And thanking them for doing it. A lot.
As an aside, the pat-down is nowhere near as intrusive as people make it out to be. Granted, Gary did have to re-tuck his shirt into his pants because the TSA agent ran his gloved hands along the inside of Gary’s pants’ waistband. The nice, patient TSA agents swabbed their gloves afterwards and put the swab into a machine that sniffed for explosives residue (one assumes).
As an aside within the aside, Gary was glad that the smoke particles wafting around in the air around Spokane didn’t count as explosives residue. That would have been . . . unpleasant.
They swabbed Gary’s backpack and carry-on luggage. They examined — and swabbed — every item in both of those. They opened literally everything and examined it, including his glasses cases (yes, plural), his Kindles (yes, plural), his laptop, his phone, and his digital voice recorder.
As another aside within the aside, Gary was glad he didn’t have anything embarrassing in his possessions, because all of this was all out in the open. The friendly, kind TSA agents asked him if he wanted the search done privately, but he said, “Nah, it’s fine.”
They did all of this very efficiently and quickly, and put things back . . . roughly where they had been.
After that, our intrepid, photo-ID-less traveler was allowed to continue on his way! Since he didn’t have a hotel or convention registration to look forward to for the rest of the trip, everything would be smooth sailing, right? (This is called ‘foreshadowing.’)
That morning, he had given himself an extra half-hour to get through the Spokane airport. The hotel clerk the night before when he had scheduled his taxi said, “It’s a really small airport. I’ve gotten there thirty minutes before my flight and made it with plenty of time to spare.” He still gave himself nearly an hour and twenty minutes. He was glad he did! Because by the time all of the above festivities were done, Gary made it to the gate literally just as they called A-zone boarding, and he walked directly from the TSA not-quite-a-strip-search onto the plane. Alas, he had intended to use the extra time to buy a Coke Zero (nectar of the gods) and some snacks for the flights. Oh, well.
We should take another moment, here, and exposit a bit of Gary’s family background, giving away some of what is to come. His mother and he share something that they call ‘the heebie-jeebies.’ It’s when one gets so tired that no position is comfortable. Sitting? Uncomfortable! Reclining? Uncomfortable! Standing? Uncomfortable! Lying down? Uncomfortable! You simply must move. You simply cannot remain still another second. The compulsion to just get the hell up and move the hell around is very nearly unignorable. We now return you to your regular storytime, already in progress.
The flight from Spokane to Las Vegas is only like two hours. Maybe two and a half, being generous. And even though Southwest Airlines has a policy of no assigned seats so one can sit wherever one wants, Gary blithely ignored this (because he’s used to flying Delta, who does assign seats) and went all the way to the back of the plane and took a window seat even though he prefers the aisle seat. Why? Because he didn’t want to have to get up to let people past him. (Did you notice the foreshadowing that time? Because, frankly, it was pretty darned blatant, and we’re getting tired of pointing it out. In fact, you’re on your own from here on out.)
About an hour into the two(ish)-hour flight, Gary had a truly epic attack of the heebie-jeebies.
A comedian once remarked that airline seats are designed for twelve-year-old, anorexic, Japanese school girls.
Our intrepid hero has exactly not that physique. He is rather round. He is sufficiently beyond twelve. He is not Japanese. Although that particular quality is not necessary to the argument at hand, it does parallel the remark of the comedian, thereby creating a satisfying feeling of completion to the comparison. (Yet another literary trick.)
It should be noted here that the couple who seated themselves in the aisle and middle seats to Gary’s right had promptly both fallen fast asleep as soon as the plane began to move. There may have been snoring and/or drool. When the heebie-jeebies hit, there was literally nowhere to go. He could not stand in place, nor could he find a comfortable position. He fidgeted and bounced his knees and squirmed like a two-year-old on cocaine. He tried distracting mental games. Nothing worked.
In addition to the diminutive dimensions of an airline seat, the materials used to construct same are not made for comfort. Gary began to sweat because of the constant fidgeting and the heat-retaining material from which the chair is constructed. The more he fidgeted, the worse he sweated. The more he sweated, the more uncomfortable he became. But then, at last! The couple awoke when a flight attendant came around with snacks, and Gary took the opportunity to ask to get up to visit the restroom.
If airline seats are designed for twelve-year-old, anorexic, Japanese school girls, the restrooms are designed for their four-year-old, equally anorexic sisters. Or, quite possibly, for members of some alien species that do not in any way resemble humans. Perhaps the blue water in the toilet is some form of alien nutrient. Gary moistened a paper towel (in the sink, not in the aforementioned blue nutrient solution) and used it to cool down his face and neck, which helped slightly to ease the heebie-jeebies. He returned to his seat.
The rest of the flight passed in moderate discomfort because Gary had sweated through all of his clothing, including his socks. He had also sweated through the seatbelt. He felt a certain sense of chagrin at this, and mentally apologized to the next hapless individual who had to sit in seat 21A.
Yes, Gary had become That Guy No One Wants To Have To Sit Next To™. But it wasn’t like it was a choice. Well, technically, it was a choice, because of the whole ‘no assigned seating’ thing. But we’ve covered that.
Finally, the plane landed in Las Vegas. Temperature outside: 105° Fahrenheit. (105 – 32 / 1.8)° Celsius. Do your own math.
The plane landed and attached to a gate at the far end of the C concourse (C-12). The connecting flight to Atlanta was at the far end of the B concourse (B-16). Because of course it was. Gary had approximately two hours, but he didn’t know that, because he was exhausted from the unrelenting heebie-jeebies, wet with sweat, and tired from lack of sleep and therefore unable to do time math in his head and he wasn’t sure whether Las Vegas was even in the same time zone as Spokane, and he had turned his phone on Airplane mode and then forgotten to take it off, so it kept saying it was one time when actually it was an hour later, but he was adding two hours . . . and math is hard.
In short, by the time Gary made it off the plane, he firmly believed he had only thirty-five minutes to make it all the way across the airport instead of the hour and thirty-five minutes it actually was.
In another completely unsurprising aside, we will now explain that the Las Vegas airport, thanks to it being Freaking Hot° W outside, was about 80° to 82° F inside. Add to this that the entire square footage of the airport is designed to bleed the very last cent from trapped travelers by enticing them to GAMBLE GAMBLE GAMBLE, thereby reducing the usable walkways to about 1/3 the size of every other airport Gary has ever seen, and you get a very slow, impeded, annoying, uncomfortable trek across the entire expanse of airport. Behind slow people who likely had approximately twenty-six hours (judging by their walking speed) to get to their gate. And Gary had only had breakfast, and that was some seven hours ago. And he had had nothing to drink since then except the approximately three drops of liquid in the ice-filled plastic half-cup of beverage the flight attendants served during the heebie-jeebie-inducing flight.
In short, Gary “ran” “pell-mell” through the “airport” trying to make it to the gate before the connecting flight began boarding.
He made it! With three minutes to spare! Only . . . no plane was at the gate. And people were blithely sitting around reading instead of boarding the non-existent plane. Had it already left? Oh, crap! Had he, in fact, missed the flight?
No. Time math. Is hard. He finally remembered to turn off airplane mode on his phone and discovered he had an entire hour! Whew! He remembered passing a Wendy’s and went to get a burger, fries, and a Coke Zero (nectar of the gods). He sat at the gate to inhale his food. Normally, this would be a cool-down period. But the
airportcasino was > 80 degrees. He soaked through his clothes again. Ugh!
When, at last, the plane for Atlanta boarded, Gary was (finally) smart! He sat on an aisle! In row four! He took his shoes off! He had the remnants of his
Coke Zeronectar! The flight (more than four whopping hours) went with only minor heebie-jeebies, but since Gary was sitting on the aisle, this time, he was able to stand with impunity and move around! Sure, he sweated through his clothes (and seatbelt) again, but at this point, damp clothing was de rigeur! We hear it’s all the rage in Paris next year!
Finally! The plane descended slightly from the sky! Gary’s ears began to pop! He knew he was almost home! He could get off the miserable aircraft and wallow in the sweet, sweet bliss of a car blasting air conditioning, and then sleep in his own bed with his own damned pillow!
The plane landed. It taxied along the runway! It was within sight of the gate! And then . . .
Gary was annoyed when the plane taxied to a complete stop. Outside, many flashing lights split the night sky. Ambulances. EMTs. Firetrucks. Police. Probably other things. It was very festive.
The pilot came on and told the passengers that the plane directly in front of them — a Delta™ plane — was being towed by a hydraulic tow-tractor when a catastrophic malfunction occurred. In short, the tow-tractor spewed highly toxic hydraulic fluid in giant arcs all over the place, contaminating the entire area! It was very festive.
Gary and the other passengers had to sit on the plane and wait. With little to no air conditioning, no water, and no bathroom (they were not allowed to get out of their seats) until things were cleared up.
About twenty minutes in, the airport messaged the pilots to allow the passengers water and bathroom. Meanwhile, ten more planes had landed and were waiting behind Gary’s plane. No more planes would be allowed to land until the toxic spill had been cleaned. When the airport finally got their ducks in a row, they decided to re-route the waiting planes on the ground around the contaminated area and put them at alternate gates. All connecting flights were being held so Gary’s fellow passengers would not be stuck in Atlanta overnight. But since Gary’s plane was first in line behind the Delta flight, it meant they would be last getting re-routed. How festive!
It took, all total, about an hour to get everything rerouted.
To make a long story very slightly less annoying, he finally made it to baggage claim, his ride home, and his own bed and his own damned pillow.
And so he
lived happily ever afterslept the sleep of a dead, exhausted, sweat-damp, heebie-jeebied-out thing.
We hope you enjoyed the second story as much as the first. If you enjoyed either one, of course.
The Moral of the Story: Flying sucks.
As a final coda, I was not kidding — I mean, I was joking and making light, but I was not actually making anything up — about how nice, professional, and helpful the TSA agents were. All joking aside, I actually went to their website and filled out a form complimenting the agents in both airports for doing their jobs efficiently, competently, and with a minimum of attitude, and not making me feel any more like an idiot than I already did. I imagine they get very few such comments, what with people being people, and refusing to accept responsibility for their own actions (such as leaving their photo ID in a valet on the shelf in their closet in Atlanta when they’re desperately going to need it).
- “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller Band. See, it’s kind of like a theme for the post . . .
- I apologize profusely for putting Johnny Cash’s song “Ring of Fire” in your head. Really. No, really.
OK, I don’t. Because it’s a great song, and you should have it in your head more often. Like now.
- Gary decided that he did not need his AAA card, Zoo Atlanta membership card, insurance cards, Costco membership card, Sam’s Club membership card, Barnes and Noble card, or the credit card he uses exclusively online. Or so he thought! In the press of time to get packed, he took all the cards out and only put back in the ones that were on his aforementioned two-page checklist. Photo ID wasn’t on that.
It is now. :)
- Two by two, hands of blue! Aieeeeeee!
- He is, in fact, sufficiently beyond four times twelve.
- Whatever scale you like. F, C, K, A . . . knock yourself out.
- Have we mentioned that Gary is, at this point, unable to do time-math in his head?
- This is one way Gary and his mother can occasionally stave off the heebie-jeebies. If their feet are comfortable, the rest of the body follows suit. Usually.
- In both the ATL and GEG airports, TSA specifically asked if Gary had his CostCo card on his person (after him saying, specifically, that he only had two credit cards). Apparently, a CostCo card can serve as sufficient photo ID. Remember this useful piece of information!
- It’s a Firefly reference.