It's the second day of 2006, and after a far too brief but enjoyable break, during which I worked (and I don't mean "wrote short stories" or "wrote my novel" or "wrote poems or revised old ones" or "wrote entries in this blog" or "wrote squibs and squiggles that could possibly pass as works of abstract art" at least every other day, including right up to the point we left for our overseas trip), I have to fly back to Chicago, because I'm scheduled to start the new quarter tomorrow. (Yes, neither the students nor I will be psychologically ready, but what can you do?) So C. drives me to Newark Liberty airport, I submit to the degrading and, I'm increasingly convinced, unnecessary luggage and body-scan procedures (at this point is anyone still planning to follow the very bad example of Richard Reid?), head to the gate, and then, finally board the plane. I'm thinking, this flight is going to go smoothly, we'll be in Chicago on time (no O'Horror delays), and I'll have an opportunity to settle back in tonight, review my syllabuses (both of which look pretty insane at this point), before hitting the classroom and a candidate's job talk tomorrow...
But no, we're talking about O'Horror, and after we sit for a while, we taxi out onto the tarmac towards the runway. Then we learn that "weather conditions" and a bottleneck in Chicago will cause a "brief" delay. Then we learn that it'll be an hour before we learn when we can take off again. Then we learn that we will have to deboard the plane, but we shouldn't tarry too far from our gate because every 15 minutes we're going to get an update, and at any point we could learn that our flight is about to take off! I call my cousin in Chicago, who's planning to meet me at the airport, and she says it's "spitting" outside, not too windy, and between 38-40F, which are conditions never experienced before in the history of Chicago, of course. Then I call C. and commiserate. I grab my computer bag (forgetting my power cord, which is in my backpack, which, following the flight attendant's suggestion, I left on the plane), and make my way to the waiting area. After sitting for a while, I hear, in that inimitably garffled (garble-muffled) intonation that is a hallmark of airports and subways, that our departure gate has changed, so I first grab a horribly expensive and miniscule but delicious ham-and-cheese sandwich ($7.40, and the young attendant very apologetically alerts me to the exorbitant price) and a bottle of green tea from Starbucks, then hurry over to the new departure gate. After a while (more than 15 minutes, and there's no announcement), because of the tea, I have to go to the restroom so I gather my things.
While in the bathroom I can barely hear another announcement, so I quickly wash my hands and when I return, I hear another gurffled announcement that the flight to O'Horror following mine (at 12:45 pm) has been canceled, which causes a mad rush of people (see photo, at right) to the desk over which my flight's number and info had been posted, but is now missing. Because there are lines everywhere, I decide to call the flyer, Continental, but find myself on hold for a long time (and of course my power cord for my cellphone is in...my backpack, on the plane!) So I ask a guy who was sitting across from me on the plane, working on what looked like a legal brief or scholarly article, what's going on, and he tells me that we're now leaving from yet another gate, right nearby. He's not sure when, though. I guess they gurffled this during the millisecond that I was in the bathroom. That gate's flight information screen has a Washington-Dulles flight showing, not ours. But I see quite a few people from my flight milling about, looking anxious to angry, so I assume the flight hasn't taken off and that they haven't let people back onto the plane to get their stuff.
After a little while longer I decide to snap a few pictures and write this entry, and then another announcement blares: We won't learn what's happening until 1:30 pm. It's 1:05 pm now. But it's also a new year and I've resolved not to let things like this send my blood pressure skyrocketing. Hell isn't, as Sartre said, other people. Or at least not completely. To at least some extent it's commuting via our American air and railway systems!
Postscript: I'm back in Chitownia, safe and sound. It took about 6-7 hours total. After being allowed back on the plane, we sat for a while on the tarmac, then finally took off. The storm, according to my cousin, lasted only about 20 minutes, but when we flew into the upper atmosphere above Lake Michigan, the winds tossed the jet around like a hacky-sack. I stopped reading for a moment just to sit quietly and wait the fierce turbulence out. It wasn't the first time I'd experienced some bumpiness in a flight over the lake, storm or no storm, but this time was the worst. It was also one of the few times I can recall people on the plane clapping when we landed at O'Hare; I've usually only experienced that in countries south of the US border. When is someone going to invent affordable, long-distance traveling hovercraft? They can't be too far in the future, can they?