Sunday, July 20, 2014

Philadelphia Freedom II: The Philadelphiaing

Hi there! I'm Dave-El and this is I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that sees something on the wing of the air plane but ain't saying shit about it.  

As posted here on Tuesday, my employer needed me to go a on a business trip to Philadelphia which is in Pennsylvania or, more importantly, no where near the hell to where I normally live in and work here in North Carolina. I was going to have to fly in an airplane. I have flown on an airplane before but not recently and not in this kind of situation. I was to take a flight out that morning, take care of things in Philadelphia and then return that evening.  

Wow! How grown up! "Look it me, I'm Mr. Man on a business trip! I'm wearing a tie!" 

Well, I did wear a tie. 

Wednesday morning I arrived at Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport. (We get to add the word "international" to the name of the airport because Greensboro has TWO locations of the International House of Pancakes!) The TSA agent up front was a friendly Southern gal who made sweet comments about when you were born ("Ooh, you were an April baby!") and jokes at the expense of their job. ("Good news, sir. You don't have to have the full body cavity search. The person behind you, however...uh oh!") Getting through security was a bit of an annoyance but nothing I couldn't deal with so thanks to the TSA at Greensboro PTI Airport. (The TSA in Philly? Eh, not so much but we'll get there later.)  

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:18 AM and by golly if we didn't do just that. So that was a good thing. I had the window seat on the left side of the plane at aisle 13. Adjacent on the right side was the airplane restroom. Ooh, I'm in "The Enchanted Grotto". (Frasier reference. Sorry.) Only a couple of people used the restroom including 1 guy who went after the plane landed. Poor bastard must have really needed to go to use an airplane bathroom when a perfectly good restroom designed for human beings is only a few minutes away in the airport. 

In the seat next to me was a woman who was on her 2nd of three connecting flights trying to get to Vermont. I've been lucky so far in that each time I have had to fly somewhere, I've managed to snag a direct flight although sometimes that meant driving an hour to Raleigh or Charlotte to do it. Which is very frustrating in that if I had to, I could walk to Greensboro PTI. But most flights out of Greensboro are designed to get you somewhere just so you can get somewhere else. Unless you're a FedEx package. (Believe me, I've given that some thought on more than one occasion.) Anyway, once I'm in the air, I don't want to come down until I am where I am going, not on my way to somewhere. 

I arrived in Philadelphia around 10:20 AM. You know how people like to complain about getting past the TSA to get ON the plane? I was immediately approached by two TSA agents getting OFF the plane. I was carrying an olive green Eddie Bauer travel bag over one shoulder which apparently matched the description of a bag they had been told to keep an eye out for. Except the bag in question was with someone who had just gone through security to get into the airport. I advised them I had just arrived off of a plane. They were cool about it and moved on. 

So were the next two TSA agents who asked to see my bag.  

The next two TSA agents after that were a bit harder to convince as I was now further away from the airplane I had just come from. But eventually The Great Olive Green Eddie Bauer Travel Bag Security Threat was addressed and I was able to proceed through the Philadelphia airport unimpeded. 

And damn what a big airport Philly has! Just bursting with people and shops with none of the tumbleweeds that roll around Greensboro PTI. 

So I got a cab in to Philly and I think I may have been safer in the air. Cars, trucks and buses zipping around real fast only to come to abruptly to a stop. It was like some kind of high stakes bumper car ride.  

Downtown Philadelphia was a bit overwhelming to this small town guy. Cars and people moving everywhere amidst canyons of concrete, glass and steel. Greensboro may as well be Mayberry compared to this. No, Greensboro was just Wally's service station on the edge of Mayberry compared to this.  And I was Gomer Pyle, staring slack jawed at this urban spectacle and going, "Well, golly!" 

My business in Philly involved a meeting with attorneys on the 46th floor of one of those office buildings.  I got to spend some time in a private corner office while I got some work done in advance of the meeting. (Yeah, right!) 

Eventually, it came time for the meeting which was the reason for this excursion on the first place. 

Now I can't go into details but suffice to say that the next two hours were the most insufferably long and irritating hours I have ever spent anywhere pouring over notes, contracts and specifications dealing with minute details and innumerable interpretations of information and data. And I felt so fucking out of place. Let me just say if I am ever asked to do anything like this, I'll just have to say fuck you and the horse you rode in on. 

So that was that. 

My flight back to Greensboro was supposed to leave at 7:55 PM but there was an earlier flight leaving at 5:45 PM. My meeting had started and ended earlier than scheduled and I had a choice to make. Say to hell with it, do some sight-seeing in Philly and stick with the 7:55 PM flight or take a chance on getting to the airport in time AND convincing an airline agent to let switch my ticket to an earlier flight. I decided on the former course of action as I exited from the office building. I looked up and around me at the massive, surging organism that is downtown Philadelphia. Then I reached out my arm and called out, "Taxi!" (Just like in the movies! Cool!) 

I climbed in the cab and told the driver, "To the airport, please." And I leaned back into the seat as Jimmie Johnson by way of the Sudan drove me out of downtown Philadelphia. 

The TSA experience in Philadelphia was far less enjoyable than getting through security in Greensboro. A lot less personableness and much more impatience. One agent was yelling at everyone in line to be all our stuff in our bags and put the bags on the conveyor belt. So I pull my bag from shoulder, rummaged through my pockets and starting putting stuff in the bag. Then another TSA agent shouts at me, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, SIR?!" I replied I was putting stuff in the bag like the other person had told us to do. I don't know if maybe my actions of taking things out of my pockets and putting them in my carryon bag looked too much like I was wiring a bomb or something.  

My dealings with the airline were equally frustrating.  

Me: "Is it too late to exchange my 7:55 ticket for the 5:40 flight back to Greensboro?"

Airline rep: "You can't take the 5:40 flight. This is a 7:55 ticket."

Me: "Yes, I know it's a 7:55 ticket but..."

Airline rep: "So you'll need to take the 7:55 PM flight."

Me: "But I was just asking..."

Airline rep: "What is the problem?"

Me: "I was just asking if there was someway to change my ticket from 7:55 PM to 5:40 PM?"

Airline rep: "How can I let you on the 7:55 PM flight if you have a 5:40 PM ticket?" 

Me: "But I want to take the 5:40 PM flight."

Airline rep: "Not with that ticket, you won't. That's a 7:55 PM ticket." 

So I hung out at the airport for awhile. 

On the whole, it wasn't a bad experience. I did get to have a Philly cheese steak which, despite the reputation of airport restaurants, was quite good. I found a relatively quiet spot to read a big chunk out of a Donald Westlake novel. (Drowned Hopes, a Dortmunder adventure.)  

But finding that space was a trick. Compared to the wide open spaces of Greensboro PTI, there were moments in the Philly airport as the various terminal waiting areas resembled third world countries.  People packed in tightly together, missing only a selection of live chickens to complete the image of a third world exodus.  

By the way, the 7:55 PM flight left Philadelphia at 8:30 PM. On the plus side of this flight over the morning trip was it was a larger airplane with unsold seats so I got to spread out a bit. The downside were the two yahoos sitting behind me that talked the entire flight.  I was able to tune out their inane chatter about whatever the hell business they were in as I dove back into my book. Then the captain made an announcement. 

"Ah, this is your captain speaking. Just wanted to let you know that we have clear weather all the way to Greensboro and we should be landing there in about 45 minutes. Thank you."



"Oh, we received an alert that our left and right brakes may have a slight malfunction. We have alerted emergency crews at Greensboro PTI to be on stand-by just as a precaution. Thank you."


That was a bit disconcerting but OK, I willing to take it at face value that the problem was likely not that big and steps were being taken just to be on the safe side. 

But the morons behind took up the topic of airplanes and the safety thereof. 

"You remember that flight heading to China? Lost their brakes too." 

"Yeah, it came in with its nose up too high and the tail crashed into the runway." 

"That was not the right thing to do."

"No sir. But doesn't it seem like the nose of this plane is a bit high?" 

"Oh, that's not a good idea. Hey, I don't like what he's doing with those wing flaps." 

And so it went. Much to their disappointment (I guess), we did land safely and the passengers gave the pilots a round of applause.  

Still, as we touched down on the runway and we had not quite slowed down, my thoughts couldn't help but to riff on the movie Airplane

"Flight 323 now boarding at Gate 1. At Gate 2. At Gate 3. At Gate 4. At Gate 5. At..." 

Eventually we exited from the aircraft and into the shadowed environs of the Greensboro Piedmont Triad International Airport. Other than the disembarking passengers, the airport was deserted save for a security guard who appeared to be 85 years old and I would bet good money goes by the name of "Gus." 

I stepped out into the cool night air, my bag on my shoulder, as I headed for the parking lot. The tumult of Philadelphia far behind me, I looked up at the night sky where stars twinkled over Greensboro Piedmont Triad International Airport. 

Somewhere in the distance, the sound of crickets welcomed me home. 


As part of the 75th anniversary of the debut of Batman, this Wednesday, July 23rd, is Batman Day! So this blog joins as Batman Week begins here on the blog with an edition of It Came Thru Bruce Wayne's Window followed by other blog posts including Batman appearing in this week's Broken News

In the meantime, be good to one another and we'll see you here next time, same Bat-internet, same Bat-blog! 

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