August 31, 2004

The Fun of Flying: Vacation Report 1

Whenever I am about to join my fellow citizens in the Totalitarian Theme Park called "Commercial Aviation," I like to feel I have everything under control. This is because when we submit ourselves to commercial aviation we surrender all control and pay for the privilege as well.

Whenever I'm going out for a day of fun and frivolity in the air transport system, I like to be packed, ready and at the airport early. Early arrival for late departure is necessary to savor the experience of shuffling along in the black and white reel of the Apple Macintosh Superbowl commercial, knowing that every female athlete that can throw a hammer into my reality screen is busy rolling around in the sand with her partner at the Beach volleyball finals in Athens. Still, it is important to get to the airport early wearing loafers or flip-flops. The airport is our new national ritual in which we celebrate our "freedom from fear." Naturally, I got to the airport late.

At her pre-dawn gym session, my wife had the first of a number of minor mishaps which would plague our "summer vacation." As she pulled hard on the supersized rubber bands she uses for stretching exercises, one band slipped off her foot and, obeying the laws of extension physics, snapped across her torso and directly into her eye. The sound of the impact was enough to bring the slaves of the stairmaster to a halt in mid-step.

Pain, icepacks, swelling and an emergency call to the optometrist were next. At the time where we would normally be wondering if we were going to win the body-cavity search Lotto or settle for just a light wanding of our toes, we were waiting for the optometrist to determine if a retina had detached and surgery would be our major vacation activity.

After long minutes manipulating her bizarre machines in her darkened room, the optometrist determined that it was "probable" that the eye was not severely damaged and, while my wife would see a host of gnats, dots, and translucent islands floating about in her vision for some time, no surgery would be required. We were grateful for her skill, care and her mojo vibrating out of her four inch gold broach spelling out "Jesus" in rubies. You take the edge you can get. I asked my wife if we should stop off and get her a pirate's eye patch because it would make her look hot and we could say "Arrgh!" to each other. She told me to put the hammer down and get to the airport.

"Pulling into "John Wayne..." (I love to say that I fly out of "John Wayne International." It seems so masculine even though a friend of mine is in the fifth year of trying to convince me that John Wayne was gay -- "The walk. The real name... Marion. The butch cowboy gear and that little bandana. The

small tight butt. C'mon...." It's a shame that there's a move afoot to rename "John Wayne Airport" to "Orange Country International." Some people have no sense of romance. I suppose, if it gets close, we could bring John Wayne out of the closet and claim that renaming the airport would be homophobic. That would stop it.)

....Pulling into John Wayne, we were late. Late means anxious at airports, and the moment an airport senses your anxiety, it pulls out all the stops to increase it.

Can we curb-check the bags? "Nope," says one "guide, "probably too late."

Hustle to the terminals for electronic check in. No booking number and, no, the reservation cannot be found under your last name. Just numbers here, no names. Security.

A second guide tells me we actually can curb-check the bags so we hustle out to street again. Nope. Too late.

Back inside to discover that in the last 30 seconds a tour group of some 25 people has entered the line labyrinth just ahead of us. Shuffle along as various simple ticket transactions in front of us develop into arguments over the inner nature and meaning of the Holy Trinity.

Finally, we get to the ticketing agent. "Can we make the connecting flight to San Jose for our plane to Reno?"

"Yes," she assures us. "Your bags might not make it, though. We'll see. But they'll come in on the 5 o'clock flight."

Excellent. We'll arrive an hour and a half from the Lake Tahoe cabin and get to hang around Reno for four hours. My wife is staring off into space fascinated by the hoards of gnats and other translucent small life forms visible only to her. I guide her gently away from the bags now consigned to the maw of the luggage handling system and walk her through security.

At the security check, I remind myself that the only reason not to require all free American citizens to fly buck naked is the epidemic of clinical obesity. Looking around me I find that this is one policy decision I can support with no reservations.

Shoulder bag goes in the first scanning tray. In the second tray I place wallet, watch, glasses, shoes, belt, pocket change, and pocket lint. I wait for the come-ahead signal and step through the body scanner with no beeping attached to my person. My wife also is accorded a clean bill of health.

To our left a wheel-chair bound old lady, skin the color and toughness of parchment, is getting her person and chair patted down by a TAS woman who was probably the poster child for clincal obesity. Odds are that the old lady never flys anywhere, but probably works for the government to assure the public that America would never, ever, check out middle-eastern men as a matter of policy. Body-cavity searches have to be, by law, an equal opportunity for all citizens. This frail woman is a living testment to our country's firm committment.

(Again I remind myself that when I am the Ruler of the World, I am going to market test Uday Hussain's torture collection on every lawyer that has ever worked an hour for the ACLU. These sessions will be televised live. My people will love me.)

The loading gate for the plane is, of course, the one furthest from the security check point just so we can get in one last jog. We make the plane, but I'm not sure why. The plane goes up and the plane comes down. The next plane goes up and the next plane comes down. The bags -- because there is a merciful God -- are there. Total time in the air, 2 hours. Total time getting to and from the time in the air: 5 hours. Time in transit: seven hours. Cost in airfare, $350. Rental car cost: $250.00. Total cost: $700.

Time to drive from Laguna Beach to Lake Tahoe: 9 hours. Cost in gasoline: +/- $60.00.

It would seem that the sane way to go would be to drive, but if you do you have to look at a lot of beautiful scenery and you miss out on the chance for a body-cavity search. Plus you lose your frequent flyer miles.

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Posted by Vanderleun at August 31, 2004 3:17 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Driving is looking better every day. My old fly versus drive decision point used to be drive > 4 hours. Now it is more like drive > 8 hours. I chose to drive Atlanta to Chicago versus fly last Christmas and actually enjoyed it.

Posted by: phil gilbert at September 1, 2004 10:35 AM

Hell, I drive from Portland to SF. In winter. Preferable to annoying airport experiences. I arrive emotionally refreshed rather than frazzled and grumpy.

(Now if the 55mph limit were still in force, it might be a different story.)

Posted by: jaed at September 1, 2004 9:38 PM
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