USA2010: (Tue Sep 7th) Planes, Trains and Automobiles …

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After Chicago, it’s on to Anchorage, Alaska and I made it on to the American Airlines (AA291) flight by the skin of my teeth’s teeth’s skin. And by the good grace of God, to whom I variously prayed, begged, cajoled and cursed during the most stressful 90 minutes of the trip (so far).

“Mr. Bridge, you’re just in time. Welcome to American Airlines”.

I’ve no idea how it got so fraught. I planned to leave the Days Inn hotel on W. Diversey Parkway at around 3pm for a 4:55 boarding of a 5:25 flight. It had taken about 40 minutes to get their from O’Hare airport so plenty of time.

And I certainly thought my luck was in when I noted that the (#76) bus to the train to the airport stopped right outside the hotel door.

So, having packed off my surplus gear to the Cape (Cod) for rescue later, it seemed serendipitous when the same #76 pulled in at the stop as I left the hotel. It seemed a little less so when I realised how packed it was, but I managed to grab a seat, so how bad could it be?

Well, first off, I nearly dropped a crab when the lady next to me, in brief conversation, let it slip that it was “4pm”.

“Shoot”, I thought (not really). “It can’t be. That’s like 55 minutes to boarding”.

It wasn’t.

“Shoot”, again. As I realised it was actually 3:47pm. I have no idea what happened to those 47 minutes. I’m claiming alien abduction, which may well explain the red and extremely painful inflammation in my left shin. I may have been chipped.

From there on … well the bus stops about every half block. i don’t know if it’s because people can’t walk or if it’s an Obama healthcare initiative to break them in gently. Oh … and it’s also school rush hour. Diversey is packed curb to curb with cars.

Panic is grappling with despair to clutch at my throat. I work it out as a 30 minute bus ride a 20 minute train ride a check-in to print a boarding card and a security check standing between me and my flight. All to be fitted into 55 minutes before boarding commences. It doesn’t compute and despair begins to win over panic. Think ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. Think fat chump cursing his ass.

As if the bus ride from hell couldn’t get better … the old dear with the wooden teeth opposite starts to rant about Jesus and how we all have to walk in our own shoes. Tarnation I must look that up. What does it mean? Did I leave my stilettos on?

And then the woman-with-the-beach-ball ass got on. She started screaming cos the bus started sudden and jolted her before she got a grip on the rail. Then she screamed cos she don’t like to be touched.

Man!. Anything in the orbit of that has had no chance of escaping fat-ass-trophe.

I stood up and let her have my seat. Mostly to see if weebles really do wobble-but-not-fall-down.

Finally the stagecoach reached Logan Square. I snatched my 40lb back pack and sprinted bear-like for the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare.

I realised when I got there that I needed to top-up my ticket. Tick-tick-tick.

Mercifully the O’Hare-bound train is just arriving (thank you God). It’s packed. Damn! The only seat is next to a smoking (not ciggies) Latino girl (“Thank you God, thank you”).

I sneak into the seat trying not to sweat out loud. Still clutching my Panera Strawberry-and-White-chocolate scone and an apple in a blotchy brown paper bag (don’t ask). I do not look cool. John Candy – thank you!

I count off the stops to O’Hare on the helpful CTA map opposite me. Nine. I thought it was an airport express service. It’s 16:20 (35minutes to boarding-time) and at least a 20 minute ride.

I begrudge each and every stop. Belmont, Addison , Rosemount, Harlem, Montrose … the lot of them. The more so because the smarmy automated message tells me every time that this is the “Blue Train to O’Hare”. and that “The Doors Are Closing”.

I know already. Just get the hell there!

Then it’s back to clock-watching and general cursing of pretty much myself. In between which I’m begging God that this train stops at Terminal 3, and I don’t have to use a shuttle bus. Because that would be doom.

The train stops. The doors open. I leap, bear-like as always, from my seat. The race is on and I’ve 9 minutes to find terminal 3, get my boarding card, clear (US) security and find my gate.

Thankfully, for some reason, all the terminals seem to be in the same building. Don’t ask. Don’t know. Don’t care. Owe God one (more).

I find terminal 3 and American’s check-in terminal. I punch in the locater code and (tick tick tick) … it slowly prints o – u – t – … I grab the boarding pass and like a loon I run to the security check-in, which snakes lazily back and forth in a languid ’S-like’ configuration for about 4 rows. It’s immense. My faith sinks. It is 16:53 and boarding is about to start. We shuffle forwards slowly foot by foot.

Then another lane is opened. Some lucky chancers get syphoned-off into it. I damn them and then get back to beating-up on me and the aliens.

The new lane is empty and the guide beckons more.

I’m in like Flynn. Loading my coat and laptop and wallet and liquids and all my worldly possession onto the trays and sliding them along the conveyor belt.

And then I turn to the scanner gate. It’s 5pm and they’re already boarding AA291, but if I can just cross that threshold then even now I might make ti to gate K12 (man, why 12?).

I tell the nice guard about my metal knee.

“Male assist!”, he yells.

My heart sinks. I know what this means. This is the land of the free. It means I get to stand in the Naughty corner; an isolation cage (glass).

Quietly fuming I await the humiliation of a public pat down and scan. The airport shuffles by to watch.

I’ve no idea of the time, but pat-down is finally over. Except for some reason the guard wants to scan my belt through again. While he does that I grab my shoes and slip em on. I snatch up my phone and laptop and jacket and clutch them as the guard hands me the freshly-scanned belt. Then I scram.

There are no medals, no awards, no recognition for Consumerism in the Face of Extreme Adversity; for going the extra mile when all is lost and everything is conspiring against you, Which is a pity, because I deserve one. I think I’ll call it the Candy.

I’m British dammit and we Brits never quit. Unless you count penalty shoot outs and Wimbledon Ladies and … well anyway I’m not sure stubborn-ness in the face of all logic is necessarily always a good national characteristic.

I spotted the K12 signs and set off at a pace even hungry bears would envy. Think Chariots of Fire (in fact hum it now, go on). I’m running (as best I can with metal knee, sprained ankle and dodgy shin) whilst still clutching a laptop, thick winter coat and a belt, with unfastened shoe-laces flapping freely.

I leave the bemused throng in my wake. Sidestep seniors. Dodge dodderers. Nudge aside lumbering luggage-luggers (K1, K2 … K7 … K9 … K10). In a last desperate effort I sweep past an electric luggage cart and catch the eye of the gate attendant on K12 as the picks-up the phone to call the flight-attendants and close the gate.

Seeing a blotchy, red-faced Brit bearing down on her with an armful of coat, laptop and belt and the momentum of a grumpy Grizzly, she flashes a plastic smile and utters the immortal words, “Mr. Bridge, you’re just in time. Welcome to American Airlines”.

I love customer service.

In my head I did a belly-flop victory slide down the 12ft of red-carpet coming to halt at her Gucci-clad feet.

In reality I stumbled to a halt as 40lbs of backpack tried to introduce me forcibly to the gate-attendant, whose plastic smile never waivered in the face of this assault (kudos to American Airlines’ training programme).

I stood gasping for breath and feeling the burning in my shin and ankle as she scanned the boarding card. I refrained from a shirt-over-head victory dance. I had made it.

Not even finding myself seated near a care-in-the-community outing to Alaska could wipe away my grin. And anyway. That’s another story.