Ebertfest, Prelude: THE TERMINAL

 I left in the wee hours of the morning on April 26th, having celebrated my 32nd birthday the day before by packing. Arriving at Sea-Tac Airport at about 7:15, I got to experience the wonders of the full body scanners at the airport. Contrary to what the TSA is telling people, almost everyone at Sea-Tac went through them that morning, which slowed down the line considerably. I held out some hope that I wouldn’t have to go through one, as it wasn’t working moments before I approached it, but alas, it began working again before I reached it. The good news is, I was approached by a porn producer after I exited and no longer have to worry about monetary issues. Okay, that’s actually not true. Also not true is that I saw a fist fight ensue in the lines at the airport, though one of the TSA agents (the one who checks people’s ID and tickets) said that he’s seen people get into fights over cutting in the security line. Guess they’re in a hurry to show off what’s underneath their clothes.

At the gate, we were told that there were 30 mph gusts coming from the east in Minneapolis, meaning that Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport would be closing down its North/South airstrips, leaving only half of its airstrips (East/West) open for departures and arrivals. The ticket agent making the announcement said this is nothing new for people used to flying in and out of Minneapolis. At first, I thought that Greg vs. the Wind might make a fitting sequel to Wael vs. the Volcano, but it wasn’t, as our plane was only slightly delayed.

On the plane, I sat next to a cranky person on my left who was upset that Tuesday was the only day where there weren’t direct flights to Nashville from Seattle. On my right sat a woman who didn’t talk the entire flight. The woman on my left was reading Janet Evanovich. I was reading Franz Kafka.

Even though I was flying Delta all the way to Bloomington (where the LEX Bus awaited), in all of the infinite wisdom of airport planning, I had to walk from one end of the terminal (A?) to the other (C) upon arriving in Minneapolis. In fact, the main feature of the airport is that it’s one really long corridor. Luckily, my flight to Bloomington was delayed. As the plane landed in Minneapolis around 2 pm, and my flight left at 2:45, I would’ve had to flag down a cart to get to my gate in time. Plus, I wouldn’t have had time for lunch. But since my flight was delayed until 4:07, I had plenty of time to eat lunch. In fact, by the time I reached the C terminal, it was further delayed to 4:35. Since my bus was leaving almost three hours after I was supposed to have arrived (at 4:05), however, I still had plenty of time to make it.

Besides the winds that routinely shut down half of the airstrips, Minneapolis’s airport is famous for another reason: it’s where Larry Craig was busted in the men’s bathroom by an undercover police officer. While taking a leak there, I wondered if I were peeing in the same urinal that Larry Craig used. As I didn’t see a plaque on the wall, I’ll have to assume that it occurred elsewhere.

I began to worry when I got back from lunch (A&W owns a restaurant?) and the flight had been further delayed — to 4:55. I had called my mom before I ate and left a message, and saw — after my meal — that she had called me back. By the time I called her back, however, my flight had been further delayed to 5:44. Now there was no way I would be able to catch my bus. I checked with the ticket seller at the counter, but there was nothing going out to Bloomington any earlier that night, nor Champaign. So, I called my mom back and told her what the situation was, holding off on calling the bus company until I knew what was going on.

It’s a good thing I did, for when I returned to the terminal, I saw that my flight had been canceled. The same ticket agent saw me and made a general announcement that we should all go to the help desk between Gate C13 and C14 for assistance in booking another flight. I called my mom back (my dad was there, too), and we agreed that I should call the bus company first to see if I could reschedule or get my money back. In order to know which option I should follow, however, I had to rebook my flight first. I ended up using a “help line” in which the loudest volume was soft, though I could hear well enough. As the next flight to Bloomington wasn’t until the morning, I asked them if there were any flights to Champaign. There were two the next morning, so I picked the earlier one (leaving at 7:05 to O’Hare, with a connection to Champaign) and then called the bus company. The best they could do was deduct ten dollars from the price I paid and keep the rest for me as credit. Since there is no expiration date on when I can use that credit, I thought that the best option, rather than losing roughly $60 on a bus ticket.

I then called my parents back to let them know what had happened with the bus company. Now, I just had to call Eastland Suites to let them know that I wouldn’t be coming in until tomorrow. My dad urged me to call soon, as it was approaching 5 pm, and usually hotels won’t charge you if you change your plans before 5, especially considering the circumstances. So I called Eastland Suites and explained the situation to them. Getting off the phone with them, I wasn’t sure if they were still charging me for Tuesday night, but I figured I could ask them tomorrow. To me, though, it had sounded like I wouldn’t be charged.

I then called my parents back a fifth time, just to talk and laugh about my circumstances, since this is not the first time that I’ve had an adventure while traveling. In fact, it’s rare for me to go somewhere without some dramatic event occurring. And what was the dramatic event that canceled my flight this time?


My dad had been following the progress of my plane online, however, and saw that I was flying into an area where it was snowing. He figured I would be, since every time I flew to Europe, it snowed (and the first time I went was in April), leading to the inside joke that every time I go on a trip, there must be snow. And yet it was thunderstorms, not snow, that had canceled my flight.

I decided to stay overnight at the airport, since I never think to book into a hotel (plus, with the early flight time, it made more sense to stay where I was). One of the agents told me that they put out mats for passengers, so at least I wouldn’t have to sleep on chairs, as I did at Dulles back in college, which was the only other time I had to spend the night in an airport. That time, snow had stopped the running of the Greyhound buses until the next morning.

Not as comfortable as they look.

Staying in the airport also meant that food was nearby, so I was able to grab some dinner (Chinese food this time) and take a photo of the trash compactors there (they intrigued me).

As I told my parents, I wished I had packed my diary in my carry-on, as I could have caught up on diary entries while waiting for bedtime. As it was, I had luckily put my toothbrush, some toothpaste, and some mouthwash in my carry-on, though my razor and shaving cream were in my suitcase. I worried about running out of reading materials, however, only having the short collection of Kafka stories to read, along with the Esquire magazine I had brought along for Roger Ebert to sign. In fact, I ended up re-reading the article in there about him.

Once the mats were put out, I waited until I heard someone say that we could grab our own from the pile before grabbing a red one and finding a place to lie down. I used my jacket as a blanket.

The mats were surprisingly comfortable, much more so than the chairs would have been. Still, it’s difficult to sleep with bright lights shining in your eyes and a voice that announces the time every half hour. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to shut that thing off in the early hours, since that only gave me a half hour in between each announcement to fall asleep? I also think they should have pumped the lovely classical music playing in the bathrooms throughout the airport. It certainly would have helped me sleep more than the few hours I was able to snatch.

The Airport at Night

NEXT POST: Ebertfest, Day One: THE ARRIVAL