"The Definition of Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results" - Albert Einstein

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hell is Freezing

Last year I went and saw author David Sedaris do a reading at the brand new Union at The Ohio State University, and one thing in particular he said recently stuck me as very false. He was recounting to us an experience he had in an airport waiting to board to plane, as his flight had been delayed. Sedaris claimed that being stuck in that airport felt like being in Purgatory. As a human, he had no control over when he was getting out of there, and some people got to go and some people got to stay. Some other person who no one can see or know makes all of the decisions about who goes and who stays and at one time. He assumed that very good people never got their flights delayed, and then assumed that all of the sinner probably ended up with huge delays and then maybe their plane crashed. However, as much as it pains me to say it, Sedaris is wrong on this particular point. Waiting in an airport isn’t like being in Purgatory, it is like being in Hell. And in the Newark airport, Hell is freezing cold.

Columbus International was Purgatory. It literally took less than a half hour from parking the car, checking in for my flight, printing my ticket, checking a bag, and going through security to get to the terminal. And then I waited for 15 minutes to board and the plane took off. I was lucky enough to have a travel companion, Bryan, and we were going to fly together to London from Newark. We arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule in Newark, at 3:00pm on July 3rd, and went to terminal C. The first thing we did was check to make sure our 6:40 pm flight to Heathrow was still on time, before sitting down for our layover.

Flight CO 28 Q London/Heathrow 6:40pm – Now 11pm

Delayed for six hours. That meant sitting in the airport for 8 hours before take-off. The admittedly not at fault but completely unhelpful lady at the Continental service desk let us know that the plane was going through maintenance, and that they would try to locate another plane but until then, all other flights were completely booked to London and that if we had checked a bag we could not be on a stand-by list. Why no one thought to put this plane through a maintenance check on any other day of the 6 months prior that flight CO 28 Q had been scheduled to fly to Heathrow is beyond me, but I suppose Continental is the procrastinator type of airline.

With that news in hand, I went ahead and sat down in the terminal in an attempt to not have a panic attack about getting to London 8 hours later than I had intended. Luckily I wasn’t expected to be anywhere until 5pm so I would still have enough time to adequately check into my residence hall and collect myself, I would probably just look disheveled and angry.

I spent the next hour and a half or reading and watching a live pigeon walk around the terminal. I’m not sure how it got in there, but I named him Pigeon and assumed that he was probably on a delayed flight also. What is absolutely amazing was how many airport employees walked by Pigeon and either didn’t see him or refused to notice him in an effort to do nothing about his presence. Which worked, because Pigeon was in terminal C for as long as I was.

Sometime after that I went to get into the line for 6$ of free food vouchers, because by now I was starving and Continental definitely owed me a meal. While standing in line over the course of an hour, the stewardess working the counter had the wonderfully pleasant task of informing the mass of us that the flight had now been delayed until 2am, again with no further explanation. At this point there was really nothing left to do but grumble angrily and curse Continental for being the biggest failure of an airline I had ever been on. And Yes, I am still angry.

So to pass the next 6ish hours of time, Bryan and I had the good sense to invent a card game. It’s called “Modern Warfare: The Seven Circles of Hell When Waiting in an Airport.” The wonderful thing about this game is that anyone can play it, all you need is a deck of cards, an airport terminal and the will to not kill yourself during a 10 hour layover.

“MW:TSCHWWA” has Seven rounds. They play as follows

Round 1: Played like the card game War.

Round 2: Each player gets to hold 5 cards in their hand and can choose which one to play at a certain time, and then they draw off the top of their stack to keep five in their hands. If you encounter a war (both players play the same card), you simply keep playing and the next hand wins both tricks.

Round 3: Played like round 2, except if there is a War, each player lays down all of the cards in their hand and each draws the top card of their stack, highest card wins all the cards.

Round 3.5: Between rounds 3 and 4, the “Royal Flush Rule” comes into play. If at any time, either player holds in their hand 5 cards in a row of the same suit, they automatically win the game. This rule remains in play until the end of round 6.

Round 4: Played with all the rules of the past rounds, with the addition of the rule that any player can now play two number cards at the same time and use their added value to win tricks. For example, player one plays two 4’s and player two plays a 7. Player one wins the trick because 4+4=8 and 8>7. If the value is the same, then the player with more cards played wins the trick, ergo, two 5’s beat a 10.

Round 5: All other rules still apply, except that now instead of laying down your card at the same time, the players alternate laying down cards, seeing what the other player played first, and then choosing what card to lay in return. Begins with the player who is winning, or has the most cards currently.

Round 6: All rules still apply except for that now if a player lays down two of the same card, those cards become eliminated from the game, and the other player automatically wins that hand, and is rewarded by drawing the top card from the other persons stack. The objective now is to get rid of lower suited cards. Cards must be played in pairs.

Round 7: The final round is played exactly like round 2. If at the end of round 7 you have not been told you can board the plane, both players lose.

While living through what would eventually be the worst 12 hours of my life, I came upon a very keen observation. Newark airport is absolutely freezing. It was so cold that my entire body was shivering and I couldn’t feel the difference between the temperature induced convulsions and my cell phone vibrating. My poor Mother (shout out: Hi Mom, made it alive and I love you) had been texting me all day to keep me entertained and to make sure I wasn’t dead and/or never leaving Hell. I was asleep at around 3:00am when she inquired last to ask if I was ever leaving. Thank God she asked too, because at around 3:30am, almost immediately after I texted her back that I had no idea and that I assumed I was going to die before I ever made it to Heathrow, they announced we would finally be boarding the plane and had been cleared to fly.

I’ve never been so happy.

The plane took off at 4:45am, which means (Drumroll please) I clearly hold the all time record for most hours spent in or around Newark airport by a non-employee: Approximately 14.5 hours. I slept for most of the plane flight, with 3 blankets and a jacket I might add. Apparently during those 14.5 hours of maintenance checks no thought to examine cabin temperature. I’m pretty sure it was just a hair warmer than the negative 68 degrees Fahrenheit that was the outdoor temperature while we were in the air.

We landed in Heathrow at 4:15pm Greenwich time and went to Border control, where after a 30 minute wait I was logically detained by border security for absolutely no reason. I assume it is because I am a dodgy looking foreigner. The kind border control worker who helped me said,

“I’m going to detain you, I have to make some checks on some things. So please wait over here and I’m keeping your passport.” I have to admit, in her English accent it sounded charming. At that point they locked me in a small, open air box so that I could watch the non-suspicious looking people cross the border into Heaven. 20 minutes later she returned and said I could go through. Her explanation was, “It didn’t have anything to do with you individually per se, but I checked and you can go now.” Thank you efficient government. And Goodbye.

I finally made it to University of Greenwich a mere 10.5 hours later than I thought it would, having missed check in and induction ceremony. Luckily I ran into some girls I new from my trip who were on their way to get a bite to eat, and having realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat other than potato chips and a roll for the past 23 hours, I happily agreed to go out with them.

One delicious shepherd’s pie and a cider later I finally felt much better. I no longer felt like I was going to have a panic attack or that I would never eat again. I made it to where I needed to be and I’m sure the next six weeks will be one of the most eye opening experience and enjoyable experiences I will ever have. Made it to Heaven, and Thank God!

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