Then softer than a piper man one day it called to you
``Why do all my worst travel experiences involve Philadelphia's airport?'' was bunny_hugger's question. It's a good one. Most everyone's worst travel experiences involve Philadelphia's airport. (Part Two of that.) We were scheduled to fly through it, as the cheapest way to get from Charleston back to Detroit. bunny_hugger hadn't paid much attention to this deadly, horrifying airport's place on the itinerary when booking the trip. It was only on the way back we realized what we were in for.
We did not go to Philadelphia's airport that day.
Our scheduled flight was late-morning, a fair enough time for us. We had breakfast and hugged my mother goodbye while hoping she wasn't still infectious although I did feel a little sniffly a couple days later. When my father dropped us off at Charleston's airport we found the flight was a couple minutes late. Not much. Ten minutes or so, the kind of delay that makes you feel a little more secure about your margins. bunny_hugger didn't wear her hoodie nor her jeans rolled up, past excuses for the Transportation Security Theater agents to harass her. This time they got her on her sweater, which was the lovely sparkling one. Neither of us thought about why the sweater had this beautiful sparkle. It's because of thin metal strips woven across the whole material and go ahead, imagine what that looks like on the X-ray scanner.
For me, the agent was fine with my clothes. But she insisted on inspecting one of the books my parents had given me. It was a copy of Theodore Frankel's The Geometry of Physics, a simply magnificent book about exactly what the cover describes. It is a textbook, so I guess it's denser than normal books (I mean literally), or the agent just wanted to check up some stuff about cohomology groups and the Bianchi identities while on the clock.
And then ... the waiting began. A lot of waiting. More waiting than that, even. This was not a severe winter in Michigan. Nor was it severe in the Northeast. But there were, like, nearly two storms and one of them was that weekend. Flights arriving from the northeast were delayed and delayed again, and eventually the flights carrying our plane and our crew from Philadelphia crossed that dividing line from merely delayed to cancelled altogether.
I marched off to the airline service counter while getting on my phone to the airline's service phone line, and wondered which I would reach first. It was the phone first. They had already rebooked us on a new course; instead of leaving at something like 11 am (already passed) we'd be leaving at about 2 pm. We went for lunch, getting some sandwiches from a shop that felt like a chain but wasn't one we recognized.
We didn't leave at 2 pm. The flight got delayed again and I overheard talk about the widening circle of flights cancelled, delayed, or otherwise messed up by Northeast weather. bunny_hugger closed her eyes for the sort of horrible little simulacrum of a nap you can get in an airport, in one of a set of nice little cubbyholes that offered space for a person to sit and plug in their devices, while I phoned my father to say, you know, we can't be sure that we won't spend another night there after all.
I don't believe our flight got cancelled again, but it was a close-run thing. We would spend hour after hour waiting in the airport and wondering if any good news would ever be along. But we did, eventually, finally get to start boarding our flight, which would take us through Washington/National Airport. It's one I don't think I've ever been in before, unless you count the sets impersonating the front counters in some episodes of Get Smart!.
And yet the Washington leg of our flight was late. We got to that airport with just enough time to get the bus across the tarmac --- it was one of those arrivals --- and go to the bathroom and find the connecting gate, one of those weird little ones in a cubby-hole underneath the main terminal and with a number like 95X, to ... uhm ... we were there after the stated boarding time, actually, and nobody seemed to be doing much of anything. They hadn't started boarding, though. We got on the bus again to get to the tarmac --- it was one of those departures --- and settle in with the shortest visit to the Washington, DC, area we've ever experienced.
We took off well after sunset. National Airport is extremely close to the Pentagon --- this might be the first time I've seen it with my own eyes --- and the Washington Monument and the Capitol and the White House, back then still occupied by a pro-American regime. They were these circles of brilliance and light in gorgeous dark, and were these scenes too beautiful to photograph.
And we got back to Detroit finally something like 10 pm or so, maybe six hours later than we figured. There was, of course, a pinball event going on; one of the basement tournaments that BIL organizes. We had faint ideas that on our original schedule we'd be able to stop in, maybe put in a game for whatever the side tournament was, and hang out with friends we hadn't seen at a pinball event in, for some of these people, a week and a half. Now, though ... oh, conceivably someone was still there, but I couldn't imagine stepping in that late. We drove home, instead, finding that the house hadn't burned down, that our fish in the basement were all right, and that it would warm up from the vacation-set lowered temperature before we'd get to sleep.
Trivia: When opened in 1941 National Airport featured rotating turntables in the loading apron to allow for speedier positioning of planes, with service facilities in subterranean pits.
Source: Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, Alastair Gordon.
Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert.