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There and Back Again: my trip to Orlando

I’m like a million other people: I’m at the airport, waiting for a flight. I packed last night, and even checked in on-line; it was all extremely organized. I’m that sort of person. Of course, I’m also the sort of person that you see hip-sliding across car hoods in the parking deck and vaulting over old ladies to get to class on time.

Sometimes, when I’m in an airport, or a mall, or any other sort of crowded place, I feel totally unique. This is, of course, ironic, because there are probably thirty or forty other people that feel the exact same way. I find this notion charming. If you can understand this – and perhaps you can – it makes me feel like a writer.

The people around me are a blend, a spectrum of human existence. I look at individuals, and see a few facets of their lives – and I feel like I know them. As different and anonymous as we all are, we are temporary siblings in the fraternal order of Those In Transit.

I do not know the elderly woman sitting across from me, but when we board the plane, there is every chance that our eyes will meet and we will attain an instant, unspoken understanding over the fact that this food would give diarrhea to a wharf rat. When my stomach burbles, signaling that the “chicken” I ate wasn’t exactly “dead,” and is plotting some sort of internal coup, hers will burble in sympathy. And when she gasps, wheezes and shifts over to relieve the pressure on that G-D sciatic nerve, I will do the same.

In short, I’m in a singular situation, and it’s awfully interesting from the perspective of a nosy bastard that likes to turn phrases.

Do you know why every comedian has at least a few things to say about airports? Because it’s just what a comedian does. I suppose it’s similar to the way that about 95% of police chow on donuts and hot dogs until they’re too overweight to protect or serve – it’s not necessarily important to the job, and it’s even kind of cliché, but you don’t just ignore tradition. But why exactly did airport mockery become a tradition?

I think it’s because airports are a common experience for all. Additionally – and this part’s important – airports are brimming with stupid. Making fun of airports is like playing chess with Nicole Ritchie, or arm wrestling a baby turtle, but I am not above any of those things.

For example – of course I have an example – I was in line to have my bags checked. There was a glass display to my right, entitled “DO NOT BRING ON PLANE.” Inside, there were examples of the sorts of items that we are advised against bringing onto airplanes. I saw Drano, paint stripper, different types of aerosol cans, fireworks and – I shit you not – a chainsaw. Security staff actually thought it was necessary to notify individuals that it was inadvisable to bring a full-size chainsaw onto the flight.

Does that happen a lot? Do people sometimes forget that they left a chainsaw in their bags, or maybe had one on their keychains? Maybe people get confused and think that if they buy one of those novelty, souvenir chainsaws that makes farting sounds when it cuts through a redwood, airport security won’t mind.

It seemed a little negligent to leave a giant chainsaw to rev up and use. If something constitutes a dangerous weapon, it just seems both easier and far more sensible to not have one right there in the terminal, behind a thin pane of glass. I’ve seen enough zombie movies to realize the exact sort of carnage that a chainsaw can wreak. Thank God that those in charge didn’t remember that you aren’t allowed to bring rocket launchers or great white sharks onto the flight either.

***

As we board the plane, an alarm goes off behind us, and I can hear the loudspeakers informing us all that an emergency has occurred within the terminal. My first and only guess is that somebody microwaved their pita sandwich for too long. As you may know, terrorism can take any form these days.

We are at condition orange – I have no idea how I am supposed to interpret this news. I associate orange with cheerful and pleasant times; in fact, during one of my less sober episodes in college, I ran around outside while wearing a traffic cone as a hat. So to me, orange brings forth memories of frolicking, as opposed to raptor terrorists (which we wouldn’t have a chance against anyway).

I find myself hoping that the color system is completely arbitrary. Maybe ‘threat level Green’ means that there’s an planet-killing asteroid headed straight for us, and that the intrepid drilling team we landed on its surface doesn’t look like they’re going to drill to 800 feet in time, because Ben Affleck is on their crew, and he spends most of his spare time stuffing crackers into Liv Tyler’s underpants. And ‘threat level Red’ means that they’re giving away milk and cupcakes in Terminal A.

***

Despite the dire, looming threat of Condition Orange, we manage to board the plane. Before takeoff, I begin to daydream; my inner Zapatista emerges. I recline in my aisle seat, outwardly calm. Inside, I’m like volcano that’s been crammed full of organs and magma. I am a man of the people, transformed by circumstance and an inner flame from an ordinary citizen into a revolutionary. My heart cannot abide the sight of their glittering realm of first-class privilege, separated from the unwashed peasants by a curtain. I clench my fist, and peanuts fall, crumbled, to the floor.

I must enlist my fellow coach-class seatmates. My revolutionary zeal will be impossible to resist. And yet, I know that I will have to make an example out of one of my fellows, so that I will never again be questioned; I’ll have to lock an old man in an overhead bin, or maybe permanently seal a woman into a lavatory. I cannot let anyone know that such punishment hurts me more than it could ever hurt any of them.

We will start by dismantling our seats to create crude weapons and battering rams. We will lock down the stewardesses to the rear of the cabin, and thus cut off all supply lines to the front of the aircraft. I know that a successful siege is simply a matter of patience; it will not be long before the bourgeois weaken, denied their gluttonous diet of gourmet snack mix and complementary, travel-sized bottles of wine.

In victory, we will be stern but generous. They will be allowed to keep their passports and any children they might have. But from now on, the veal, the snack mix, and the leg room shall belong to all. None shall be better or worse than any other. And finally, my iron grip upon the aircraft shall unclench. The fist shall open to reveal a beautiful, shimmering blossom, a utopia of shared luggage space, agreeable bathroom lines, and stewardesses that ask everyone if they would like to try the veal.

Of course, I wake up, and realize that we’ve already landed.

***

As I leave the airport, I absorb one simple, glaring fact about Orlando (I’m in town for an interview): it is full of teenagers. They’re everywhere, and the sight of them makes me hearken back to my own years as a malformed proto-human whom the state had been stupid enough to grant a driver’s license.

Now that I’m all grown up (maybe), I use Wachovia for my banking needs. For the most part, it’s a fairly suitable arrangement. Wachovia keeps my money for me, gives me a little interest on it, and only pops up from time to time on the internet as the next big bank to foreclose and lose all of my funds. In return, I put money into my account and refrain from getting my identity stolen.

A while ago, I lost my check card, which is not a big deal, because I haven’t rented a billboard near the highway to publicize my PIN number. Very relaxed, I went to the local Wachovia and asked for a new card. They gave me a temporary card with limited services and told me I would have a new check card within a week.

I’ve had my temporary card for about two weeks. I’m wondering if “temporary” means what I thought it meant. At any rate, the takeaway message from this little vignette is that I cannot retrieve cash from anywhere other than Wachovia ATM’s. This is one of the many stipulations that we Wachovia second-class citizens labor under.

It might not sound like a big deal, and generally, it isn’t. Until you go to Orlando, and you don’t have a car, and you need to pay for cabs, and the free shuttle you thought existed does not in fact exist. When these factors come together, they create the Perfect Shitstorm. They overturn your tiny boat, they drown your entire crew, and then really mean dolphins steal your pants and refuse to help you find land (the media having lied to us about the altruism and good-heartedness of dolphins for years).

The above, as you may or may not have gathered, is a complex metaphor meant to tell you that I had to walk/jog 9 miles to the nearest Wachovia. The woman at the lobby desk told me that it would be a “nice walk,” and that she would do it if she “wanted to stretch her legs.” I innocently decided to hoof it.

The adventure ended on a high note: I sprinted across a highway, to hop into a cab that I saw parked at a McDonald’s. At this point, I had been walking for about two hours, and I was getting sick of it. I had been unable to flag down any other cabs, which was unsurprising, since I doubt that major byways are “pickup spots” for taxi drivers. As I only had 7 dollars, I prayed that the Wachovia was close.

As I constantly tell my girlfriend, no matter how much she may roll her eyes or “critically review why [she] bother[s] to date me when [I] start talking like this,” I have the mandate of heaven. I get very lucky at times when I don’t deserve to – i.e. when I’m walking along the side of an increasingly deserted highway as the sun goes down.

The Wachovia was just another mile down the road. And my interview went well. It’s probably the least interesting part, really.

***

I went back to the hotel to wait for my shuttle, and spent the majority of that time reading or horsing around on the internet. I may have bothered some of you excessively on Facebook, and for that I do not apologize. I needed to keep busy; I have the attention span and wanderlust of a toddler that’s been hopped up on an 8-ball of smack, and if it hadn’t been for the internet, I might have experimented with an electrical outlet, or dislocated my shoulder trying to lick my own elbow.

Behind me, through the window, you could see the hotel pool. Furthermore, you could see the many families that had paid good money to travel to Orlando and lie beside this particular pool, rather than one a few thousand miles closer to home. I look at them. My eyebrows rise slightly as I find that I can actually see these individuals getting pinker and more scorched, moment by moment. I briefly wonder if their cancer will be shaped like a two-piece swimsuit on their x-rays. Is that morbid?

I can’t understand it. If it were me on vacation, you wouldn’t find me at the hotel until it was time to leave. I would find Mickey, and I’d hug the spats right off that cheerful bastard. Of course, between the heat and my famous reputation as a lightweight, I might have most of a beer, and then I couldn’t be blamed for laying a right cross on Minnie Mouse for trying to come between me and my new “mouse brother.”

***

The next thing I knew, my ride back to the airport was in jeopardy. The shuttle that was supposed to pick me up didn’t really want to pick me up, which makes sense, since I was the only person that it would be transporting. Luckily, through a combination of professional ethics and the tears of a grown man that “juh-just wants to guh-guh-go HOME ahuhuhuhuh,” they decided to take me anyway, in a taxi, for the agreed upon price of $17.00.

This was nice, since the alternative would have been a $50 cab ride/financial equivalent of a nail through the foot.

In the sort of cliché that’s so perfect it might actually be proof of a Divine Power, my cab driver was Arab. Moreover, he spoke extremely fast Arabic into his cell phone during the entire trip. As a sort of abstract cherry on this delicious socio-cultural sundae, he mentioned the word jihad. I looked up in surprise, pretty certain that I must have heard him wrong. I had been reading my book, after all. But then, a few seconds later, there it was again. Jihad.

I thought about a lot of things, then. I thought about the fact that he casually laughed after the word, and the fact that he wasn’t trying to cover the conversation up at all. I thought about how a member of the Department of Homeland Security would immediately leap out of the moving car, draw their pistol, squint, and send a few bullets through the gas tank, causing a spectacular fireball that would rise into the air to the faint strains of “God Bless America.” I thought about how much Rush Limbaugh would love for me to call him right now, so that he could jam his hearing aid back into his sludge-filled ear and be a “live on the scene” socio-political tumor on the brain stem of society.

But mostly, I thought about the sheer insanity of considering a taxi cab to be a proper staging area for international mayhem. I simply can’t summon the constant vigilance and paranoia required to call the FBI from the back of the taxi, and whisper that I’m getting a discounted ride to the airport– a discount of terror. I don’t know. I’m just not Condition Orange enough.

***

I have a habit of ordering cranberry juice – or as close to it as I can get – on airplanes. I started this little pattern when I was about 8, but current airline stringencies might force me to rethink things. If you order a canned drink, you get the entire can. If you get the cranberry juice, like I did, all you get is one dinky cup of juice, and a broken heart. I pouted over my solitary few drops of juice, wishing I had the luxury of an entire can of drink.

I’d sip like a king. I would be carefree, laughing, frolicking through the aisle even after they lit the “fasten seatbelt” sign. I’d be so wonderfully hydrated.

To be fair, I was tired, and possibly a bit fussy as all of this went through my head. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t consider throwing my drink on the floor and mugging the lady across the aisle of her Sprite™. But sometimes, things just seem so unfair.

Once I landed, I decided to be a tough guy. Most of you civilians wait for the train to whisk you to baggage claim. Not I. I don’t know if it was the Wachovia venture or what, but I seem to have become a walker somewhere along the way. Understand, this is a pretty weak turn of events. Some people become test pilots or race car drivers, or at least gigolos that service lonely supermodels. But me? My natural affinities run toward things like “walking,” or “creatively pointing out the fact that Ben Affleck sucks at everything.” Not quite the stuff that a child’s dreams are made of.

Be all that as it may, I found something out. Atlanta’s airport is a little over a mile long. I suppose I could have just consulted Wikipedia, but finding out by walking just seems much more rad. It’s sort of like figuring out how tall something is by jumping off of it and seeing how much you need to go to the hospital/a bar.

***

What was the point of this trip? Why write it all down? I can’t tell you that – not because it’s a secret, but because I’m honestly not sure. I was interested in the whole experience, of course, but I suspect that’s because I lived it. Perhaps – and this is a frightening possibility – I’m rapidly being sucked into the torrid whirlpool of “blogging,” which is just another way of saying that I’m a narcissist, and that everything I say and do is worth memorializing for until the end of time. When I start updating you all on my feelings by way of animated emoticons cute enough to make a diabetic’s foot fall off, you have my permission to run me down on the sidewalk, GTA-style.

But barring that, I think it’s because I have an advancing and weird compulsion to write things down. I carry my bulky laptop around with me more frequently; we’ve become quite close. I write on him, dress him up with some fly stickers to impress those sexy little Blackberries, and tell him that he’s not old, he’s just classic. And in turn he rides around in my backpack giving me scoliosis, and holds about 8 minutes worth of power in his increasingly incontinent battery.

Together, we record things. Happy things, sad things, mundane things, and sometimes, even things worth sharing with the good people of the internet.

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Joe Sapien

Joe Sapien is a regular columnist. He is currently floundering through grad school and running up debt. He never got to be a bully as a child, but he would have been pretty good at it.

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