Monday, June 22, 2009

Oh foul weather, I am not impressed.

ShuteyeWhat a disturbingly long weekend. I had to make a trip up to Chicago on Friday. Why, you ask? Why, I had a day long meeting to attend on Saturday for a conference I'm helping to organize in November. The conference doesn't matter here. What matters is my Gilligan's Tale and my 12 hour winged boat trip, over hill and dale, passed an archway you couldn't touch, and finally into a rain-swept city that's famous for it's pizza.

Friday started out fine. Austin, as usual, was blazingly sunny, creeping into a mild hotness that's only seen on the outskirts of Hades during their flaming winter break. I took the day off so I could have a relaxed flight up there with some time to spare. Like CattleBecause I was only flying up for the weekend, I wouldn't have much time to explore and some of the others en route were planning a trip to one of the museums. The plan ... it was good and golden and smelled of sweetness.

Things began to go sour when I came close to missing my flight when Schlotsky's employees at ABIA stepped up to a new level of dumbery that I'd not seen since ... well, do you remember that I Love Lucy scene where they're in the chocolate factory and the chocolate just keeps coming and coming and coming? No? Here's a refresher.

Anyway, the sandwich makers were doing everything possible to screw up orders. The bread just kept coming, slamming into orders ahead like a bad pileup on IH-35. No one slowed down and everyone with a receipt just got closer and closer, rubbernecking with the best. When I finally got my food, they were one group away from closing off the door to the jetway and launching the plane. I boarded, found my seat with every intention to eat on the way to Chicago, and settled in for a short three hour flight.

DeterminedWe were all summarily booted from the plane 10 minutes later. O'Hare was closed thanks to Mother Nature. No problem, take off time reset to 3pm. I sit out in the waiting area munching on my food and chitchat with a female soldier on her way back from Iraq. She'd been over there for a 12 month tour. She's ready to go home. She's on her way to New Hampshire to pick up her kids, one of which she hasn't seen since the kid was 15 months old. It was pretty heart wrenching listening to her talk though. You could tell she was done with flying.

So, 3pm comes and goes, we all board and ... the O'Hare that had been opened had just been ... closed. Again. This time we were booted from the plane only if we wanted to be booted. Everyone Reads, Everyone WaitsI stayed on the plane and read. The camera got pulled out to start documenting the hilarity that I knew would ensue.

5pm comes and everyone starts piling back into the plane. O'Hare is open! Mad rush to the seats. Mind you, we're at groundstop number two and we haven't left Austin yet. It's now freaking hot in Austin. It's also storming in Chicago so badly that they have tornadoes. Or warnings, at least. But, the pilot thinks the can time the flight so we land in between two of the larger feeder cells that are swamping Chicago with cats, dogs, and wicked witches with striped stockings.

We taxi out and ... no, no ground stop. We actually make it off the runway. Now, every time I take off in a plane, I'm reminded of the scene in Firefly where they're zooming through the planet and Wash is piloting the ship. He says, "I'm a leaf on the wind, see how I soar." Well, I think about this line every time I fly. In the LightI don't know why. Just a weird quirk. It's not like I expect a wooden spear to slam through the fuselage of the plane and stab me in the chest. Hey, it could happen, but I'd prefer it didn't.

So the flight is merrily cruising along. We're singing Kum-ba-ya, Leavin' on a Jetplane, and other campy things. Well, not really. But the image is cute. So, again, we're cruising, we're cruising, we're cruising, we're ... why did the plane just slow down and begin descending? It's only 6:20.

The captain comes on and says, "Uh, folks, I'm sorry to tell you this, but O'Hare is closed again. They just had a feeder cell close up our one projected opening. They're not letting anyone in, so we're being diverted to St. Louis."

The Flight LineGroans throughout the plane.

I got to see the arch in St. Louis though. Well, from about 10 thousand feet up. We land at the airport and get parked out on the tarmac. People are pretty antsy by now, unsure if they were even getting to Chicago by Friday night. By this point, I texted a few folks to give them a heads up.

Ever play the game "Telephone"? You start it by telling something to someone, they tell it to someone else, and eventually it gets back to you? I was doing that with SMS. Found out that one of the other folks flying into O'Hare was also stranded in St. Louis, but he was off his plane and renting a car. We agreed to meet up if my plane didn't make it off the ground again. As all of this is occurring, people are requesting to be let off the plane, so someone comes out to the area we're parked in and hauls them back to the terminal. I decided to play the numbers and see if we'd take off again.

Sunset over AmericaAs time drags on, we're all getting a little more restless and ... one of the passengers coming from Austin pulls out this box of cupcakes from Hey, Cupcake! He proceeded to cut them up and pass them out with the help of the flight crew. That made everyone a bit happier. I'm not sure if he was a Hey Cupcake employee or not (he was wearing one of their shirts), but no matter what, it was a great thing to do.

8pm comes and the pilots come on the air. They're negotiating with the tower and ATC to get us off the ground before the other planes in line because their reset time is quickly coming. If we didn't make it off the ground by 8:15, we'd immediately go to the terminal. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. And then we'd have to wait even longer for a new crew to arrive. Damn legalities. I managed to get a beautiful picture of the sunset in St. Louis. I wish I had been on the left side of the plane when we took off again because the view was gorgeous.

Back of the BusSo, we got off the ground a few minutes shy of the reset time. There was much rejoicing and cheering for the pilots. The remainder of the flight was uneventful. Off to the east, we could see the ginormous cloud fronts trailing off towards the east. We were traveling at 27 thousand feet. The cloud tops were easily up at 45 or 50 thousand if I had to guess.

We got to O'Hare and visibility was about five miles. Crystal-f'ing-clear. All that was left to do was land, get to my bus, and get over to the hotel before I collapsed.

The Sunday flight back was relatively uneventful. Thankfully. I saw the soldier again. By this point, she had managed to get up to New Hampshire and retrieve her kids. You are free to move about the cabin.They were walking off to some other gate so I didn't get a chance to say hi. She looked happy and more relaxed with her kids in tow.

Spent a few minutes at O'Hare on Sunday taking photos. Airports are an interesting place to capture the lives of people. Always in a rush. Or not. Always pissy. Or not. Just a daily grind, all compact and neat, shoved into a building surrounded by tankers of jet fuel and exhaust.

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