Friday, July 11, 2008

Chicago 2008, Vol. VII: Going Out in a Taze of Glory...Almost

Now that I've been home for nearly three weeks, I may as well wrap this epic up...

Randy is one of the few people who have known me long enough to make informed observations about my behavior. For example, about five years ago he pointed out to me that I have a peculiar habit of ordering chicken fingers every time we go out to eat. Or at least I did at the time. Because once he pointed it out, I became self-conscious about it, and stopped.

On the trip, during candid (and solicited) conversation, Randy also mentioned my habit of dictating itineraries, which I already sort of gathered. So I went out of my way to let him pick the last place we ate out at, and was rewarded with some all-time top five jumbo shrimp at Petterino's. Here's to letting other people decide things once in a while.

Another observation Dr. Randy made was that I am easily agitated sometimes. This is going to strike some people as funny, because I can come across as so laid back most of the time. But that's just because I'm not agitated. Randy got a perfect front-seat view of this little phenomenon when he and Breto and I took a road trip to Yellowstone and I got a speeding ticket in Afton, Wyoming for trying to race a Buick with my '83 Honda.

Speeding ticket = Josh agitated.

Sad to say, Randy got to see Josh get agitated yet again on the trip home, but ironically, his presence stopped my agitation from becoming anything more serious, like an airport tazing. Allow me to explain...

By the time Randy and I boarded our tasteful Chevy HH2 and departed from Freeport on Sunday afternoon, it was clear that it was time to wrap up the trip. The trip was awesome, but at some point you realize it is time to go home. Unfortunately, US Airways didn't feel the same way. When we made it to our gate at O'Hare in preparation for our departing flight to Las Vegas, we learned that our airplane would be delayed by three hours. I should have known the speedy cruise through security was too good to be true.

A delay by itself was no big deal, if not for the fact that we had to grab a connecting flight out of Vegas to get back to Salt Lake. And a three hour wait in Chicago would effectively kill that connection. Which is why shortly after arriving at our gate, we heard someone get on the PA and tell anyone who was planning on connecting in Vegas to come back to the front desk for rebooking.

Cue Stage One of Josh's agitation.

As we hustled back through security, Randy and I tried to think positively, hoping that maybe we would wind up rebooked on a direct flight for later that evening that might prove more convenient than our original itinerary. But that hope was effectively muted as the guy at the front desk repeatedly shook his head and muttered things like, "you don't want that" and "that won't do you any good" as he scanned his monitor and typed away at his keyboard.

It was beginning to look like we would be stuck until morning. Randy was tired enough to accept fate. I, on the other hand, was determined to preserve the special day off I'd set aside before returning to my graveyard shift at KJZZ.

Then...a break. Somehow the front desk guy came up with a solution: there was an American Airlines flight leaving in one hour that had two available spots he could transfer us to. But he didn't have enough time to complete the full transaction, so he gave us a partial printout and told us to hustle over to the American terminal and have them finish the deal so we could make the flight.

Keep in mind that we have already checked our bags onto our original US Airways flight...

So Randy and I busted a move outside and next door to the American terminal. I hate running with a backpack on, because it bounces around a lot and makes you look like a goober, even if you usually look totally awesome in running stance like I do.

Over at American, Randy and I got in line, frantically looking at our phones to see how much time we had left. About forty-five minutes. Somehow we made it through the line without our heads exploding and stepped up in front of an American Airlines employee in an old Sammy Sosa Cubs jersey. By the look on her face, we could tell she wasn't very interested in helping a pair of faithful Priesthood holders with their rush transaction. Then she got a worse look on her face when she looked at our print out, and after criticizing the US Airways guy for not knowing what he was doing, she demanded that we return to the other terminal and get him to finish the transaction, transferring the proper dollar amount so she could print our boarding passes.

Enter Stage Two of Josh's agitation.

Instead of have both of us sprint over again with our overloaded backpacks, Randy left me and his pack behind and took off like a bolt of lightning back to the US Airways terminal. I stayed behind, looming to the side of Cubs Lady's kiosk, glaring at her and coming up with creative ways of serving her with vegetables if cannibalism ever became a necessity.

Around this time, as I watched Randy sprint away, knowing he now had the full line of displaced Vegas passengers in front of him at the US Airways terminal, I figured we were toast. We'd picked up a glimmer of hope when we learned that the flight we were shooting for had been delayed by an extra 25 minutes, but even that felt like it wouldn't be enough. If Cubs Lady could have helped, we could have made it. Now we were going to be stuck. Plus we were going to have to go wait in that dumb US Airways line to get booked for another flight out tomorrow as well.

But then...a break. Somehow Randy came flying back across the terminal with a brand new print out in his hand, one that actually had the necessary info. Plus, he was carrying our checked bags. Yep...somehow Randy had managed to accost the US Airways manager guy, fix our transfer, run down the stairs to the baggage loader, get our bags back, and make it over to the American terminal in about fifteen minutes.

We were back in business, even though Cubs Lady finished our transaction like it was causing her physical pain. I don't know, maybe she was suffering from some kind of government implant that was giving her electric shocks in her kidneys or something. Finally she printed our new boarding passes and with about a half hour to go, we dashed away over to the security check, which by some miracle didn't have a substantial line.

There was only one problem. My boarding pass was for some guy named Bob who was flying into Los Angeles. The last Sosa fan in Chicago had printed up the wrong boarding pass.

At this point I jumped past Agitation Stage Three and went right on to about Six.

I wanted to run back and impale Cubs Lady with one of the boot shoes Randy bought at the Guess Store. But I couldn't do that. Instead, Randy told me to zip over to the self-serve kiosk and print off a new boarding pass, since in theory my name should still be on the transferred ticket. So I dropped my bags at the head of the security line and ducked under the ropes to go to the kiosk.

There was only one problem. I had absolutely no idea how to get the thing to print off a new boarding pass, and Randy was still back in the Security line. Enter Stage Seven.

I started sticking Bob's boarding pass under the scanner in a blind effort to get something magical to happen. Nothing did. I hit random buttons on the touch screen to see if something magical would happen. Nothing did. Then I heard a voice from behind me.

"Sir, you can't leave your luggage unattended."

I ignored the voice and kept sticking Bob's boarding pass under the kiosk scanner. Of course, nothing happened. Stage Eight.

"Sir, you have to come and get your luggage."

Stage Ten.

OK, I would love to say that I suddenly found my composure and was able to regroup my thoughts in an honorable and upstanding manner. Maybe someday I will be able to do that. This was not that day. Let's just say nothing coming out of my mouth at that point could be used in any keynote addresses, Sacrament Meeting talks, or John Denver sing-a-longs. It did, however, perfectly illustrate my reaction to the security guy's suspicion that I was planning to blow up O'Hare International Airport with a small tub of exfoliating soap.

I stormed over past the security guy, grabbed my bags, ducked back under the nylon stretchy divider things, and slammed them to the ground at the foot of the kiosk. Here is where Randy's presence really helped out. While I continued to glare at the kiosk and deliberate whether my best option was to rip it out of the ground and use it to kill the Cubs Lady, Randy assured the security guys that there was no reason for them to remove their tazers from their holsters.

"Really guys," he said, "Josh is a pretty mellow guy most of the time."

Then...a break. If this story were Cinderella, and I suddenly had a thing for glass slippers, then my fairy godmother would be the old fellow that came up next to me and offered to help run the kiosk. I managed to downgrade to Stage Eight and communicate my name and destination, and he was able to successfully punch up my itinerary on his terminal.

There was only one problem. You couldn't print up a boarding pass less than forty minutes before a flight.

Stage Nine.

As I went back over to security--bags in hand, of course--to tell Randy that he had to come back and that we were finished, the old man wandered over to another computer. It was now time to contemplate our need to return to US Airways and get a morning flight, and a hotel to crash at for the coming evening.

Then...a break. The old guy came back with a boarding pass in his hand. It had my name on it. It had my destination on it. And we had fifteen minutes before our plane left the tarmac.

But before we went through security, we had to clear out all the liquid and goo stuff from our bags...the ones we had checked through US Airways but had to take as carry-on's through American. Randy lost some expensive eye lotion made from salt taken from the Dead Sea. I lost some hand lotion I picked up for my sister from the same place. I also lost a practically full bottle of sunblock that smelled like banana popsicles, and enjoyed so much I considered applying it even on cloudy days.

And so we moved on to security, which by some miracle had no line. No one tazed me on the way through, though I'm sure they wanted to. I considered telling them that I was now down to Agitation Stage Three, but I didn't figure that would help. I just pulled off my shoes, dumped all my crap in the little plastic bins and made a mental note to buy my sister some hand lotion online when I got home.

There was only one problem...Randy's bag got flagged.

Apparently the airport X-Ray had picked up a curious star-shaped object in Randy's bag, and the security folks decided that they needed to open the bag up and rub a little dust cloth on it to make sure it wasn't a nuclear bomb. What it was was a cheap promotional metal clock that eBay had given him at one of his seller appreciation events.

When they finally turned over Randy's now nuke-safe bag, we had ten minutes to get to our gate, which was at the extreme far end of the left wing of the terminal, about a quarter-mile away.

You ever see those scenes in the movies where people are running frantically through a terminal towards their gate, dodging carts and bags and kids, praying the doors don't close and leave them stranded? That was me. Only I did it for real. And I looked a lot cooler doing it.

After a one-hour stretch that nearly saw a full public meltdown, I was suddenly granted one of those thrilling vista things that President Hinckley used to talk about. As I flew down that corridor, side-stepping travelers and motorized carts and little kids, I felt like an NFL running back on overdrive...only sped up to about 3X speed. I can't really describe how fluid and speedy my flight was, cutting and dodging and accelerating, only to say that it was truly exhilirating, and it almost made the whole thing worth it. The only hang-up was that my backpack kept coming unzipped, threatening to dump my cargo in one final stab at my agitated soul.

But it didn't happen. Not this time.

With sweat pouring down my forehead and Randy only a few steps behind me, I rushed up to my gate and thrust my boarding pass into the hands of the lady standing at the terminal, hoping she could still turn around and open the locked door behind her.

"Actually," she said, "we haven't started boarding yet."

For a second I wasn't sure what she meant. Then I found out that they were still waiting for a stewardess from another flight to come over and join their crew. The huge crowd of people standing a few feet behind me, some of whom I nearly knocked over as I burst through the front lines to dive at the gate desk, were my fellow passengers. The lady handed me back my boarding pass, and Randy and I shuffled off to the side to wait for the other stewardess to arrive.

Four hours later, Randy and I were pulling our bags through the long term parking lot at the Salt Lake Airport, looking for the green pickup we'd abandoned only a few days before. It was about 11pm on Sunday night. According to our original itinerary, with the Vegas stop over and connecting flight, we were supposed to land in Salt Lake at 2:30am on Monday.

We'd picked up almost four hours. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. To feel grateful or to feel guilty. To acknowledge the hand of divinity or curse the people who tried so hard to thwart it. All I knew was I was dictating the itinerary again.

So I just went home.