The line is a long wire, barbed with harried people. What's worse than harried people? Harried people in a hurry. Harried passengers who've been told, back there at the gate, to report to the airline's main help desk. Hashtag Every Man for Himself.
O'Hare. The mere mention of the name balls fists. Clenches cheeks. The King of Clenched is the loudmouth with the wheelie suitcase in front of me. You know this guy. Maybe you are this guy. He's the above-it-all air traveler who becomes the line's emcee of inconvenience.
He's the World's Most Inconvenienced Air Traveler who ever took off his loafers for those shakedown artists at the scanner. He knows we want to hear his airport stories because we're here, aren't we? He tells his terminal tales one after the next. Hashtag Shoot Me Now.
"Detroit?" he says, like that one dismissive word says it all. "Detroit?" he says again. "Delta had me on the tarmac there two and a half hours. We could see our gate!"
I want to run over to the Orange Julius stand, buy the largest cup, the one the size of a KFC bucket, and pour it down his pants. Hashtag Wet Dream.
"Delta!" he says. "My God."
Air travel complainers like this dude, pissing his indignity on our shoes, aren't satisfied to merely share their O'Hare-em scarem stories. They also have to demonstrate their expertise in aviation and aircraft readiness.
"It's not just temp based. Weather elements and taxi distances are factored into de-icing decisions," he says to his captive audience, delayed in mild weather. I close my eyes and try to close him out by picturing myself on the beach. Three minutes later....
"Lightning strikes will damage ferromagnetic material and electrical distributions systems."
This guy played with planes when he was a child. I'm sure of it.
But now he's an experienced airplane ticket buyer who could run an airline in his sleep better than the executives in charge at American. Oh dear God. What if they could ground passengers who complain about air travel the way they do pilots who drink? Hashtag O'Hare Objective.
Dude ruins it for people like me. I never get to fly. When I do fly, I want to do it without being near someone shouting about Santa Claus not existing. I love airports and can't believe I can go there and be taken way up high in the air, above the friggin' clouds, in a silver tube with Cokes. I paid big money to fly on an airplane. Why wouldn't I love delays? I'd feel cheated if we couldn't stretch it out.
"I can see it coming," says complainer guy. Jesus. I consider migrating to the back of the line.
"They'll probably offer us motel vouchers."
WAIT A MINUTE! Staying in motels is as much fun as milling around an airport! This guy knows what he's talking about, right?
"Or they'll buy us off with flight vouchers."
Are you freaking kidding me? Dude cruises straight over the line from teaser to sadist. He's going to get our hopes up for free plane rides now? He plucks his smart phone from his raincoat and waves it in the air like evidence in a courtroom.
"I don't know about you, but I'm scooting over to Southwest." He bangs away on his phone. Snap! Others in line fill their hands with devices and follow him into cyberspace. Who is this guy? David Koresh?
I want a hamburger. Hashtag Suddenly Hungrier Than Shit.
I'm a naïve freak and a rube, but I trust the airlines. Not when it comes to giving me a good deal on fares, but I trust them on everything after that. Everything. I trust that in the impossible atomic-accelerator of air traffic management that is affected by weather, mechanical doodads on the ground, human error and countless other benign, dangerous interventions, everyone involved will make the right decisions when it comes to getting me to the Virgin Islands.
I trust that while highly trained mechanics check the diffuser section compression speed, the airport will have Starbucks and stools upon which to perch and people-gaze. I trust that while the ticket agent unties the knot of an overbooked jet, the shop next door will have a new Vanity Fair for sale, and the bar down the corridor will sell us a margarita at 10:30 a.m. With salt. I trust them. All of them. I put it in their hands. Gladly.
I'm the one who gets to fly!
Complainer Guy sees the airline industry as a business filled with decision makers who lie awake all night plotting against him. He's the first one to take a selfie when we board. Hashtag Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It.