There's My Bag
Around every seven of so years, I decide to fly somewhere. There is a reason I don’t fly. I don’t like to. I am not afraid of the flying part since I am more likely to die by hitting my head on the faucet after I slip in the shower while shaving my testicles.
I hate the experience. I have never been a fan of frequent travelling, but I will take a road trip over any other form of transportation any day, and until I perfect doing my Endora wave and achieve an entrance surrounded by smoke and an exit punctuated by flames – now I both enter and exit with a punctuation of flames – I will pick a road trip over anything else any day.
My first experience travelling a great distance alone was on a Greyhound bus in 1977. I was going from Newport News, VA, to Washington, DC, to visit Nana, my drag grandmother – I look like her in drag; she didn’t teach me drag. The station in Newport News was located near King’s Department Store – the one store that even trash considered trash. The station in DC was and is still located in Union Station. Knowing I was arriving at 1:30 pm, Nana arrived at the Greyhound Station at 10:00 am. She never liked being late. Sound familiar? The trip was uneventful, and there were no-blog worthy events on that trip.
However, my next trip on Greyhound was in 1990, and I was traveling from Beaufort, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia, and from Savannah to Newport News, VA. That was also the weekend of the Greyhound strike. I was stuck in Savannah, and my long love affair with Georgia began that weekend when I was mugged at gunpoint. I was mugged again at gunpoint in 1993 in Atlanta, Georgia. Whenever I drive south, I make sure I pee and poop before entering Georgia, and I don’t stop the car until I am in Florida.
I have taken Amtrak once. I rather enjoyed it until it started raining, and the car I was in had a leaking roof and filled up with water. When the conductor came by to punch our tickets, I pointed out the crack in the ceiling, and he said, “Will you look at that?” Not the reaction I wanted with water leaking all over light fixtures and other electronics.
Air travel is another story. Often when I get on a plane, I think about that Lucy special in 1965, Lucy Goes to London, co-starring Anthony Newley (available now on DVD!). The special starts as an episode of The Lucy Show, and she marvels at the joy of flying, going here and there, drinking champagne, being served by a pretty stewardess in a tight fitting girdle, having a meal and a snack, and buying that fabulous Pan Am luggage at Duty Free!
Remember when you picked up Nana at the airport, and you could walk right in and wait at the gate, or better yet, when you dropped her off, you arrived twenty minutes before her flight and walked her right up to the gate? Those days are long gone. Long, long, long gone.
Air travel is no longer a luxury or a pleasure. I think my ancestors had an easier time getting on that boat to ride steerage across the sea to a land filled with promise and opportunity and a phone book full of Gentile names to choose. What security? They rode their horse drawn cart to the dock, paid their fare, let the horse go, and boarded the boat with all the belongings they could carry, including a set of sterling silver Shabbat candlesticks that would be passed down generation to generation until their great, great, great granddaughter Rabbi Sylvia Williams sold it on eBay.
Were they charged per steamer trunk?
If only air travel were so easy. I had a 7:35 am flight from Baltimore to Houston to see Devon and attend his gallery opening this weekend, so according to the TSA, I was to be at the airport at 5:30 am. That meant I had to get up at 3:00 am in order to have some breakfast (I haven’t missed a meal since 1962 – remember my safe word is “Dinner”), drink some coffee and hope for a bowel movement (fifty can suck sometimes).
I decided to drive myself rather than use the Blue Van because if I want to die while on holiday, let it happen on the plane not in a fiery crash on I-195 in a Blue Van. You see they are really bad drivers … get it ... moving on.
I parked in long-term parking, which is a reasonable $8. At Ronald Reagan George Washington George Bush Richard Nixon Gerald Ford International Airport (they are still changing its name) it costs as much to park your car as it does to pay off a politician. Neither is satisfying.
I then took the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal. I loved the following announcement: “Thank you for using long-term parking. On your next trip, consider using our covered garage completely powered by the sun for just a few dollars more.” A few dollars. Try an extra $16 a day.
Now, it has been a while since I have flown, so I was surprised that at check-in, which I thought I had already done when the android called me the day before to complete my check-in, which apparently, we did not, or I would not have had to go through the entire process again.
Here is what I found fascinating. The ticket agents all stand behind the counter, while you complete the check-in yourself utilizing a touch screen. The touch screen is like buying that thing that vacuums wax out of your ears that is advertised on the TV Guide channel. By the time you finish your call to the 1-800 number, you have bought four WaxVacs, batteries, a frying pan, a blender and the Veg-O-Matic for only six easy payments of $19.95.
Not that that ever happened to me.
I did order the seat-plus for those of us with extra inches, and I did the unthinkable, I checked my bag. I don’t do the four-three-ounce-quart-baggy thing. Who needs the headache? Besides, I go through six ounces of moisturizer a day and don’t get me started on lube. I pack what I need, and I check my bag. The ticket agent asked me, “Are you sure? There’s a fee. No one checks their bags anymore.”
“Check it, please,” I said. She then took my bag and flung it onto the conveyer. Seriously, it is the only bag you will have to grab today. I just checked myself in on your lovely touch screen, and the only communication we had was your inquiry about my checking a bag, and you fling my L.L. Bean exclusive, limited edition, roller bag in olive green with burnt sienna accents and matching tags? If she broke my Neti Pot, there would be hell to pay. I absolutely must water-board myself twice a day.
Then you walk through security. I love security. I like trying to figure out how many of the TSA screeners are former gang members, and how many killed someone. Want a hint? If a number is tattooed on the back of the neck – former gang member. It makes body identification easier after they are shot. If there is a teardrop tattoo near the wrist, they killed someone. Don’t ask how I know that.
I counted eleven.
I took my laptop out of the bag, emptied my pockets, then I took off my shoes, and I wanted slit my wrist with the edge of the bin (since you can’t even bring a fingernail file with you). I had worn a hole in my sock, and the big toe on my left foot was sticking out. How mortifying.
They you walk onto this Dr. Scholls kiosk and place your feet on the yellow feet marked on the floor (the feet are always much smaller than mine) and raise your hands. I received compliments that I am sure were inappropriate – well received, but inappropriate nonetheless.
After being told to exit, I asked which orthotic I should buy? No one laughed. I should have realized the Sharks have no sense of humor.
Then you have to walk fourteen miles to your gate. This is when the unthinkable happens. Your bowels, which you thought you thoroughly evacuated before leaving the house, send you a signal. And, no one likes to have a bowel movement in a public restroom, unless you are a senator from Idaho.
I took a wide stance and did my thing. Then came time for the paperwork. I usually carry baby wipes with me, but in my rush to leave, I packed rather than put the wipes in my pocket. Helpful hint: put some in a sandwich bag and carry them in your pocket. Huggies are the best brand.
I am about to get a little personal here. First, I want to know what sadomasochist designed the toilet paper dispensers in public restrooms. The paper never comes out, so you spend most of your time trying to get enough of it, and when it does, you realize a roll of calculator paper would have been better. Why is it when you really need an absorbent paper product, what you have makes whatever you are doing worse. This is where the term “hot mess” originated.
I was ten minutes from boarding, and no matter how much of this crap, pardon the pun, I managed to wrestle from the bastard of a metal dispenser, I was getting nowhere with my paperwork.
Needless to say, ten minutes and one very raw tuchus later, I walked to my gate looking as if I was the main bottom attraction at the Eagle’s latest demonstration on the proper way to take a fist up the ass. I am sorry, but there was no other way to put this. And, it has happened to all of us. The bad toilet paper; not the fisting.
Now, I would have to sit in my extended row seat for three hours, chafing, burning and itching all the way.
This is where the fun begins. I had a laptop bag, and my seat was near the front, so I quickly placed my bag and jacket in the overhead bin. Apparently, the ticket agent wasn’t kidding. I never saw so much crap carried on a plane in my life. One lady had a Queen Anne desk. Another had four radial tires. My favorite was the couple carrying the side-by-side refrigerator. Somehow, all was stowed away, and our flight took off.
Now, maybe my expectations are too high from watching Pan Am, a series that only lasted a season (if I like it, they cancel it), but when did flight attendants become so old? I am not talking my age old. I am talking worked the Lido Deck on Noah’s Ark old. One of them was nice enough to offer me the emergency row seat, but once I sat down, he asked me why I moved. Then he wandered aimlessly throughout the cabin for the rest of the trip.
The head attendant, or chief, or whatever they call them these days, used a walker instead of a beverage cart. The wings on her badge were made of wood and canvas.
Amazingly, the crew from Noah’s Ark did a great job even though one dropped her dentures into the coffee pot, and the other tucked her skirt into her adult diaper.
My favorite part of plane travel is the food – or lack thereof. You are offered choices on the pack page of the magazine, which you can pay for in-flight. The only problem is the same man who owned that restaurant in Ohio in 1955 when Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel drove through now runs the catering service for a certain airline. The hot sandwich choice was a cold cheese sandwich. I kid you not. I had to order one. Just as I suspected, that sandwich was manufactured in 1955.
I ate it anyway. I never miss a meal.
Knowing I was on the plane, and I am never late, the plane arrived thirty minutes early. After walking twenty-six miles through Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to baggage pick-up, I waited by the conveyer for my bag. The screen indicated my flight’s cargo was next, the conveyer started moving, and there was one bag: an L.L. Bean exclusive, limited edition, roller bag in olive green with burnt sienna accents and matching tags.
I chose that luggage because I thought it would be easy to spot in a sea of charcoal and black.
If you have struggled with airport toilet paper, get on my email list, follow me, tell your friends, or by my books at www.miltonstern.com.