Friday, December 23, 2011

Air Travel - Losing My Luggage and My Mind

I've been out of town for a funeral; my Uncle Ballbat passed away and so Mom, Uncle Parsimonious, Aunt Annie and I headed for the mile high city in the great frozen State of Colorado via Delta Airlines and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, conveniently located a few miles West of downtown Detroit, Michigan.  The fun started right after we loaded all our gear into Unc's car and headed North, and I'm right here to tell you that if I have any more fun I just won't be able to stand it.
The short of this essay is this: Uncle Parsimonious is a lousy driver with a dyspeptic attitude, which condition is augmented by his deeply ingrained need to control everything within his immediate sight.  I also suspect that he's very likely slipping into some kind of senior citizen la-la land.  This made the entire trip interesting, challenging and provided my mother's favorite son with a personal learning and growth experience that likely shaved three weeks off the back of my life.  For openers I spent the drive up to Detroit flinching as Uncle Parsimonious weaved through traffic on I-75, and doing my best to ignore his childish tantrums concerning other drivers and their unrealistic expectations about shared space.  Since his attitude and personal expectations are not turned off right along with the car's engine, both the Detroit and Denver airports were much more interesting and challenging than I've experienced in previous years.  Just getting a boarding pass became a brand new experience.

To give credit where it's due, the automated boarding pass kiosk has a user interface that actually works.  I don't know who designed it, but that's one project leader that will never work in the industry again, having shattered the cardinal rule of systems design clearly stating that if a graphic user interface (GUI) really does provide ease of use and correct functionality to the end-user as well as the vendor no more money can be made in prolonging the problem – and thus unemployment will grow, company expenditures will shrink and a small segment of the population will see an improvement in their personal mental health when they use the device in question.  Worse, a small portion of that segment will begin to wonder just why other devices cannot be designed in this refreshing, accommodating fashion.  TV remotes come to mind.  My amalgamation of my television, digital versatile disk (DVD) player and the magic cable box require no less than three separate remote control units that are not on good speaking terms with each other.  Sort of like Uncle Parsimonious and the automated boarding pass kiosk.  Uncle Parsimonious didn't want to use the kiosk; he wanted warm wear.  Naturally he selected the shortest line at the counter.  I tried to reason with him.

“Uncle Parsimonious, the helpful customer service people won't speak to you in this line.  You can't get served here.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because this line is reserved for first class passengers.  See the sign?  It says 'First Class', and that isn't us.”

Uncle shuffled over to the next line, which was slightly longer.

“Okay... Uncle Parsimonious, they won't serve you in this line either.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because this line is reserved for business class passengers, which is not us.  We're steerage.”

Uncle Parsimonious ignores me, staring straight ahead.  I try again.

“Uncle Parsimonious, we aren't flying business class.  We're flying economy class.  That translates into steerage.  We are, effectively, cargo.  Baggage.  Freight.  You know those people on the Titanic that got contained below deck when the watertight doors were slammed shut?  The ones that subsequently perished by asphyxiation due to excessive seawater inhalation?  That's us.  That's how Delta thinks of us.  They'd gladly crate us and stuff us into the cargo compartment if not for the United States Constitution regulations permitted.”

Uncle Parsimonious appears not to understand and continues to stand in the line for business class.  I shoulder my carry on luggage and remind myself that I am, after all, a reasonably good Christian person and should set an example by my kind and generous actions.  Besides, the TSA lurks nearby.  Taking the bull by the horns, I stroll over to the automated kiosk and begin the process.  Three minutes later I have relieved Uncle Parsimonious of his tickets and obtained boarding passes for all of us.  We check two bags and proceed directly to step two, airline passenger security, staffed by the infamous Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  As we get into the long line of folks waiting to be x-rayed and groped, Uncle Parsimonious starts making wise cracks.  I ignore this behavior for a few minutes, then I contemplate telling him to put a sock in it.  Mom is watching, so I try diplomacy.

“Uncle Parsimonious, you have to be careful about what you say here.  The people who staff these security checkpoints have no sense of humor, and they are likely to over-react to jokes about cavity searches and constitutional rights.”

“What the hell?  They couldn't find their own asses with both hands, let alone a bomb in my tennis shoes.”

“Okay... Look, prior to this cushy government job in the TSA, these people were minimum wage slaves and hard core unemployable.  They now have an amount of authority that complements the chip on their shoulder very nicely.  What they do not have is a sense of humor.”

Uncle Parsimonious refuses to shut up.

“They're a bunch of ignorant assholes.  What the fuck do they think their doing, searching everyone with their wands and x-ray machines.  This is a violation of our constitutional rights.  I'd like to take these sons of bitches and tell them just what I think of them.”

“So would I.  Just not here and not now.”

“These assholes belong in jail - ”

“Look.  These guys live for people like you.  If you want to cause a fuss and get a Taser shoved up your butt and thrown in jail, go ahead.  The rest of us are headed for Colorado.  Maybe we'll come visit you when we get back.”

That shut Unc up for a while, but just for a while.  He found stuff to grouse about the entire trip, and since Mom was keeping an eye on me I couldn't tell him to stifle himself in so many words.  Worse, Uncle Parsimonious rented the car and didn't list anyone else as the driver.  That meant that I had to listen to his incessant carping about other drivers the entire time we were in the car, and believe me that can seem like a long time and create a lot of frustration.  I managed to survive, and in a week or two I expect my normal, sunny disposition to reassert itself.  Meantime, I'm consuming two manhattans an evening and I've doubled my morning ration.

I got through the TSA security checkpoint with a minimum of hassle, but the TSA goons decided to shake Mom down.  That's right, my own dear mother,  who is 86 years old and has trouble with the idea of shooting coyotes, trapping mice and making unkind remarks about The Anointed One is clearly a suspected terrorist in the eyes of the TSA.  These people are idiots, and I'm being generous here, because on the return trip we encountered a family of Arabic heritage, only one of whom spoke any English at all, who refused to remove their shoes and made a fuss about being searched by the TSA.  The family was allowed to pass through security unmolested by the TSA's groping hands and suspicious looks.  They made a fuss in Arabic while the TSA JBTs stared at them like a pack of hound dogs watching Andy Griffith reruns.  I can't even guess at what they were saying to each other, but I'll make a guess at what they were not saying, and it had to do with religious freedom, the combined intelligence of the TSA employees and the quality of security at the airport.  Idiots.

We arrived in Colorado after a tedious flight, got the rental car and endured a game of Automobile Dodge 'Em on the way to the hotel.  I endured Unc's driving with a bare minimum number of involuntary flinches and successfully squelched some valuable advice about traffic laws, physics laws and pulling out in front of other people in heavy traffic.  I allowed a few other drivers to provide examples that Unc should follow.

Bad Weather and Colorado Drivers
The weather wasn't bad for Colorado in the winter.  The sky actually cleared for one and a half days, allowing me to get this shot of Table Rock while standing on the sidewalk in Golden, Colorado.

Table Rock
I'll spare anyone reading this a lengthy description of the funeral.  Everyone who has been to a funeral will understand, and everyone who hasn't will eventually experience a funeral for themselves, and then they'll understand as well.  Suffice to say that the entire procedure took about an hour and they didn't ask anyone from the audience to stand and recite an anecdote about the guest of honor.
Shotgun Bob showed up at the last minute which I thought was admirable.  Poor old Bob has had a few financial set backs lately and a last minute air fare from Memphis to Denver doesn't come cheap.  Shotgun Bob didn't stay long, explaining that he didn't want to leave The Girl home alone too long.  I may explain why later on, and then again I may not.  I know, I know - the suspense is killing you, right?

We hung around Denver a couple days and then made our way back to the Denver airport, Delta airline and Detroit.  Naturally we had to go through the argument about the ticket kiosk again on the way home.  I pointed out the ticket kiosk to Uncle Parsimonious and he immediately went to the first class ticket line.  Again, I tried to explain.

“Unc, they won't talk to you in that line.  That's for first class passengers, which we are not.  We're steerage, remember?”

Aunt Annie interrupted me.

“Uncle Parsimonious feels better talking to people.  He isn't comfortable using the machine.”

I tried patience and perseverance.  Besides, Mom was watching.

“Unc, they don't have anyone at the counter to serve third class passengers.  That's us.  We don't rate a person to talk to.”

“I want to talk to real people.  I don't like the machine.”

“Uncle Parsimonious doesn't feel comfortable using the machine.”  Aunt Annie whined sympathetically.  “He feels much more comfortable talking to people.”

I tried again.  Patience is a virtue, you know, and I am nothing if not virtuous.  Besides, Mom's eyes were on me.

“Well, you can wait there if you like, but they won't serve you.  You have to go to the kiosk over here and get our boarding passes.  It's real easy – there's a bar code reader and you just swipe your ticket and the screen pops up.”

“I'm sure it is, Jackie.”  said my Aunt Annie, resorting to her condescending school teacher voice that has never failed to get on my very last nerve.  “But Uncle Parsimonious doesn't feel comfortable using a machine.”

I became exasperated.

“Look, I don't care how he feels, he's got to use the machine.  They don't provide - ”

Alright, you're so goddamned smart, you use the machine!”  Uncle Parsimonious yelled at me.

Mom and Aunt Annie were scandalized.  Raising your voice in public?  Profanity?  People will hear and wonder if you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks!  Horrors, politicians and indiscretions!  For shame, for shame, for shame...

“Okay.”  I replied, switching to Mister Helpful Congeniality so fast that even my closest friends would suspect a blown circuit.  Mom and Aunt Annie laughed in relief.  Uncle Parsimonious was dog housed.  I was elevated from guttersnipe to choir boy in a New York minute.  I took the tickets from Uncle Parsimonious and managed to get the foolish thing to scan the bar code, checked two bags and headed for the TSA.

Uncle Parsimonious might have complained at the TSA security checkpoint, but no one would have noticed.  We were eclipsed by a family of twenty-three Arabs all dressed in dishdashas, only one of whom spoke any English at all and none of whom understood how to handle the x-ray scan machine. 

To give credit where it's due, the TSA found a half full bottle of Woodford Reserve in my carry on luggage and insisted on getting rid of it.  Since they were going to throw it away (which is heresy of the very worst kind) I objected, and they allowed me to nip around to a local bar where I brightened the day of an airport bartender.  Nice, huh?

I'm home.  It's Christmas, and my nerves have finally settled down from the time spent with Uncle Parsimonious.  My favorite people are coming for Christmas dinner and I intend to enjoy myself, holiday season or not.

1 comment:

Older School said...

Here. Here. I am about to do the same. Cheers and happy holidays to you!