Scarlett’s Letter September 21, 2013

Do you ever feel like you’re on an episode of “This Is Your Life”? Or maybe “Candid Camera” or “Punk’d”? That’s how my day felt from the very beginning.

After checking out of my hotel early this morning, I headed to the Glasgow International Airport. It’s still dark, of course, that is pretty much my travel M.O.

I did a “dry run” last night. I knew approximately where the airport was from my arrival, but since I was being driven to the airport to retrieve my rental car after dark, after a very long day and a whole bunch of beer, I thought I’d better figure out exactly where it was. I remember the nice lady, an employee of Silver Airlines, telling us as she turned off the “highway” that there was only one sign indicating the airport was up a certain road. And, technically, after passing said sign a time or two coming back from a couple of the out-of-town restaurants I visited, it was just a picture of an airplane, no arrow, no words. Just an airplane. So, it is up to the driver to figure out what to do with that vague bit of information. In my first attempt in finding the airport, I actually approached from the other edge of town. I stumbled upon another airplane sign and ventured up the road that turned closest to the sign. And, indeed I found the airport. In all its majesty it stood there, perched next to a runway tinier than the very narrow road I’d followed up the hill. The entire facility was surrounded by very tall chain link fence. I drove the road along one edge and another road along another edge, but didn’t actually find the entrance to the airport. Nor did I find the other road, from the other edge of town, the one closest to my hotel and the one I’d hoped to use this morning. I ended up turning Andy’s rent-a-Buick around in some dirt driveway because I was on the beginning of what appeared to be a very long, narrow, dusty road to nowhere. I found my way back whence I came and drove to the other edge of town. I accidentally passed the street proximate to the airplane sign, but only because the airplane sign is only on one side of the road, the opposite side of the road than I was on, and so, not visible from the direction I was currently traveling. I made a U-turn, or, as we used to call it back in high school, “flipped a tit”. I approached from the other direction, now, and turned right immediately after passing the airplane sign. I ventured up the hill and found myself one “driveway” down from the dirt driveway I’d turned around in a few minutes earlier. Apparently the first “driveway” I passed was actually the road I was looking for. I find street signs so incredibly helpful, especially near airports. I should alert someone in Glasgow to this fact.  I turned left and ventured down the road I have now been down twice before in the last ten minutes. This time, however, I spot the tiny paved path, barely wide enough for a car, that is, apparently, the entrance to the Glasgow International Airport. And, it is. I am so glad I have decided to kill thirty minutes driving in circles and back and forth and back and forth tonight, rather than tomorrow morning. Heaven knows I don’t want to miss my flight. There is only one flight to Billings each day. With luck.

I make it to the airport without a hitch this morning, again grateful I successfully completed the reconnaissance mission the pervious evening. The airport is a bustling hive of activity. There is a TSA agent and someone behind the counter, I presume, who will be able to check me in, as this is not something that can be done online with this airline. I am also hoping to have both of my suitcases checked to the same destination I am traveling. I approach the counter and the nice lady addresses me by name. How did she do that? As I gathered, as other passengers arrived, it was by the process of elimination. I was the only “out-of-towner” taking this flight today. I very efficiently produce my California Drivers License and wait. A minute passes as the lady types very slowly with one index finger on the ancient keyboard. I strain to look at the monitor, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those old monochrome green monitors, but I actually don’t want to know. I would find that a little unsettling. I really, really want to get home. I only have a one-day weekend ahead of me and I really need to unpack, do laundry and pack again before Monday morning rolls around.

The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.
The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.

Another minute passes. She has stopped typing for a bit and has pulled out a four inch thick three-ring binder and is flipping through page after page, each page ensconced in a plastic sleeve, I’m guessing, because they are so frequently used the paper may wear completely out on a very frequent basis. I lower the forty-pound computer backpack off my shoulder and it meets the ground with a soft thud. Note to self, look up that chiropractor my friend recommended and schedule an appointment for some time in January when I may be home for more than just a Sunday.

She pokes deliberately at the keyboard some more. It has been five full minutes. At least. Not a word has been spoken. I’m trying to make a pleasant face. She seems really stressed out and I don’t want to end up in Egypt with my bags in Detroit. I can’t think of anything worse. Except for maybe staying here. She consults the binder again. Then jabs at the keyboard again. She has begun to narrate her actions and keeps talking about an “entry” that needs to be made. Is it her fist day? I’m trying really hard not to leap over the counter and push her aside. Certainly I could hack my way through whatever entry she has to make. I’m pretty good at computers and software and shit. I refrain. I shift from one foot to another. Ten minutes have passed and another passenger has entered the “terminal”, well, let’s just say, room.

At last she produces two luggage tags. I’m encouraged! I ask her if I’ll have to claim my bags in Billings and check them in with Delta as I did on my trip here. She told me, brimming with pride and confidence, that she was able to check them all the way through to Sacramento. At this point, I would have preferred to see my bags in Billings, to touch them, to lay hands on them and to check them again, with Delta. I’d be willing to pay extra to do so! And, Delta, truthfully, is not my favorite airline, not one I’m willing to say, with confidence, that I trust. But compared to what I’m witnessing presently, I’d trust Delta with the national deficit and the national defense, if I had to choose between the two. Dubiously, I take the claim tickets to my two purple suitcases that hold, pretty much, everything I need to survive a week on the road in the manner I’m accustomed to. And, if they were lost, I’d be hard pressed to remember exactly what all of those items are.  A cool plastic bowl, a couple of those roll up plastic cutting boards in ultra cool colors, my uber-sharp, high quality paring knife, my wine bottle opener and my beer bottle opener from the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (definitely not easy to replace), my clothes, of course, my cute purple and pink blow dryer and pink and brown straightening iron, not to mention that elusive circumference curling iron I’ve had sine the 1980’s that I’m SURE is no longer made. You get the idea. Screwed. I’d be screwed if it were all lost, forever, in Detroit, by some keyboard jabbing incompetent.

She is still poking at the ancient keyboard, violently. My bags have a ticket to fly, I do not. She consults the manual again. Finally, she makes eye contact with me and explains her dilemma. For whatever reason, she can’t get my boarding pass to print. I wonder if she can email it to me, but based on the antiquity of the equipment, I’m guessing, “no”. Two more people have entered the room, I mean terminal, and have taken seats to wait their turn to have their tickets printed. It has now been a full thirty minutes. She picks up the phone, dare I look? Is it a rotary dial phone? No, it is definitely an old school, perhaps first generation, touch tone phone. I am mildly relieved. She jabs violently at the keys on the phone, looking first at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone, then at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone. Someone picks up the line, apparently, because the ticket agent begins to narrate her keystrokes, all of them, in detail. She references the information in the three-ring binder in her detail, and, after about ten minutes of one-sided dialog, there is a pause. The pause is followed by more violence against keyboards followed by a “nope.” More jabbing. “Nope.” More poking. “Nope.” This continues for another ten minutes. I’ve taken my Kindle out and am three chapters into that book I’ve been meaning to start. The ticket agent suggests, finally, “I can just hand write her a ticket.” Yes. Let’s do that. And I’m so glad I allowed my customary hour for check in and checking bags, in spite of the size of this airport. Stick with your schedule, either way, you’ll probably end up reading a book while your wait.

The ticket agent writes out my boarding pass, painstakingly, left-handed, and hands me two copies. She explains that she’ll collect one copy from me when I board. Okie dokie.  I take a seat. And in three minutes, flat, the other four passengers are all checked in, bags are checked and they have their computer generated, printed boarding passes. There are now three TSA agents and one comes around the corner and wheels my somewhat road-weary purple Samsonite suitcases into the secured area. I approach the security desk. Once issued your boarding pass and having checked your bags, you usually head for security screening. Nope. This is a new ball game. I am told to take a seat and that I will be called when they are ready to screen passengers. I couldn’t help but notice that the security agent who told me this is, literally, elbow deep in the larger of my two suitcases. He has in one hand my beautiful fuzzy, leopard print Jessica Simpson slippers with the black glitter bow and, in the other, my computer tool kit for those on the road repairs I’ve had to do while on the phone with my company’s tech support crew. I hate those. The calls to tech support, not the slippers. I love the slippers and, frankly, I’m more than a little uneasy with the fact that this large, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. is fondling my J.S. slippers. He nervously sets them down, blushes, and tells me to take my seat in the waiting area, which, by the way, is well out of view of whatever he is doing. I am told that they will call us when they are ready for us to proceed through screening. I’m wondering where the two women TSA agents are, shouldn’t they be monitoring this guy, like when you have a pelvic exam? The doctor always has the medical assistant in the room while things are going down, as like, a witness. I’m pretty sure this guy should have a witness for whatever he’s doing to my J.S. slippers. Ew.

I, reluctantly, take a seat in the waiting room. The other passengers consist of a few men and a woman. One man looks like a guy that stepped right out of a Wrangler commercial. When I was a young girl in 4H, hanging out with all those cowgirls and cowboys, back in junior high, we used to say “Wrangler butts drive me nuts”. I think it’s a viable ad campaign, but one Wrangler has chosen to avoid, for whatever reason. The woman is interrogating the other two; one is an “oil people”, the most feared and most talked about breed around town. There are lots of “oil people” around Montana these days and they are to be blamed for anything and everything from climate change to any unsolved crime or odd occurrence, including the penny increase for gas at the pump. In fact, I could probably pin blame on this “oil people” person for my boarding pass not printing properly. I’ve got my own troubles, and my own profile, to deal with. The other guy is a railroad worker. The hotel I stayed at was full of railroad workers and “oil people”, and riff raff like me.  The local lady seemed to like the railroad worker guy and had a pleasant and lengthy conversation with him. He was from New Mexico. She was simply going to Billings for a bridal shower or some such thing. The rest of us were on to other destinations outside of Big Sky Country. Except for Mr. Wrangler. He never spoke a word and was never asked a question. But he got a boarding pass and made it right through security when it came time.  A man of mystery in his legendary jeans. Personally, unless riding a horse, I prefer Levi’s, both for wearing and for admiring. Wranglers have no raised inside seam, which for riding horses, or bulls, is very nice. Levi’s do. That’s the technical difference. Aesthetically, I think it’s just personal preference.

I hear a tape gun. I hear a tape gun. I have moved five times in five years, I know the sound of a tape gun. I have to say, with absolute certainty, I have never heard a tape gun in an International Airport before. I hear tape being spooled from a tape gun for seconds upon seconds upon seconds. I’m thinking they’ve spooled out about eight feet of tape! What in the world? My stomach sinks. My suitcase. The larger, and more expensive of my two purple Samsonite suitcases has a busted zipper. A busted zipper on every compartment except the main compartment. The zipper pulls are busted on the main compartment, but the zipper still functions. I just can’t lock the main compartment. I’ve gotten over that fact years ago. I swear by Samsonite. I’ve had these suitcases for most of my five and a half travel intensive years with my current employer. I have been shopping for a new large suitcase a couple of times, but have held off. Until the last zipper busts or the wheels break off, I’m going to keep getting my money’s worth out of this bag. No one every opens those other compartments, ever. The broken zipper is like an unspoken rule. Like rules of engagement. Like “Dude, if you open the compartments with the broken zipper, you can’t close them again and the poor lady (obviously, the bag is purple) is going to have to shell out $400 for a new suitcase”. A few minutes later, Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. comes rolling around the corner with my suitcases. The larger of the two is bound and gagged with several wraps of packing tape. He fails to make eye contact with me. For now. I whip out my phone, open up my calendar and schedule “suitcase shopping” between 12:00 and 1:00 on my only day off for the week. That should allow just enough time to get the new suitcase home, and packed, before going to bed at 4:30 PM because I have to get up at 12:30 AM for my next flight away from home for the next work week. I then open my notes app and begin drafting my letter of resignation. For the five hundred and twelfth time.

We are, at last, summoned forth to approach the security desk. I am, as usual, first in line. I can’t help it, it’s just me. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. takes my California Drivers License and my hand written boarding pass. He studies it for several seconds longer than is necessary, then asks me to step aside. Meanwhile, my computer bag with two computers and every necessary cord and peripheral and my purse with my credit cards, my iPad, my iPhones and my Kindle, and every hope of ever being able to reach people back in civilization, slowly proceed through the scanner. Let us not forget my perpetual and somewhat rebellious experiment, my bottle of eye drops in my computer bag and my bottle of mouthwash and tube of toothpaste in my purse, both thus far undetected, unchallenged, though every airport through which I have travelled for four of my five and a half years of frequent travel.

I am asked to step aside. The locals look at me like I’m a terrorist. Yes. Of course. The next 9-1-1 is going to originate out of Glasgow, Montana and I’m the Muslim extremist, Al Qaeda perpetrator du jour. I have brown hair, large brown eyes, large features and I’m “not from ‘round here”. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E.  is conferring with keyboard abusive ticket agent lady. I’m fucked. She’s explaining how the computer wouldn’t print out my ticket and he’s explaining that he needs to be able to verify my ticket and my destination. Neither is listening to each other, they are just explaining, loudly, simultaneously. Everyone is staring at me like I’m “the evil” George W. Bush described. Meanwhile, our flight is now, officially, late. I’m such a bitch. I made a flight late. Because, obviously, I’m a frickin’ terrorist. With purple suitcases and fuzzy, leopard print slippers. God, I hope he didn’t touch my matching glittery, floral V.S. undies and bras when he ransacked my suitcase. The slippers were bad enough.

Ten minutes later, a resolution is met; keyboard abusive ticket agent lady wrote, in pen, my name on the ticket she prepared. It was absent that key piece of information beforehand. I’d noticed. I didn’t want to be rude and mention it and I thought since she was just collecting one of the two pieces of paper as I boarded, it probably wasn’t that big a deal. Well, it was. Now that my name was on the ticket, in still wet blue ballpoint pen ink, and the name, miraculously matched my California Drivers License, I was okay to board the plane. I ran. I casually observed that no fluid was leaking from either engine, that I could discern, and I boarded. I was in the back of the plane. We were all in the back of the plane. The local lady strikes up a conversation with me, asks me what I was doing in Glasgow. I tell her what I tell everyone, the best way I know how to describe what it is I do; I teach CPAs how to use software. She smiles and says, “Oh, so you worked with Richard this week!” Yes. I did. Not Richard, exactly, his daughter and a couple of other folks. She knew. She has known Richard, and his family, for, well, forever. I’m in. I’m O.K. And, more importantly, I’m on the plane. And it doesn’t appear to be leaking.

The pilot/flight attendant comes aboard and asks us all to take seats up front until we make our first stop in Wolf Point. Then we can take our assigned seats again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and try not to think of the impetus for this request and follow instructions. We take off a few short moments later. At Wolf Point, we land and are allowed to stay aboard. A few other passengers board, we all assume our assigned seats and we take off for Billings. Never have I been so excited to be headed for a metropolis such as Billings, Montana. We make it there post haste, as fast as those two little prop engines can manage. I exit the plane and my only worry in the world is; where the fuck are my bags?

I have a couple of hours to kill in Billings. I exit the secured area and hang out, not too suspiciously, but, maybe, lurk, around the baggage carousel, just to see if I spot any unclaimed purple suitcases. I don’t see them. Detroit. I’m certain. Or Egypt, as I seem to be on course thus far. I go to the restaurant on the “outside” of security and have a miserable breakfast and a bottomless cup of coffee.

Yuck. At Billings International Airport.
Yuck. At Billings International Airport.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

Our plane arrives, we board, we fly to Salt Lake City and there I wait. I have enough time for a couple of excellent, local beers and the worst airport food I’ve ever tasted. Mind you, the best airport food I’ve ever had has been at SLC, I just didn’t think I had enough time to go that far and make it back in time for my flight to Sacramento. I compromised. I regretted it. After my nasty bar fare and my Polygamy Porter and my Evolution Amber Ale, both by Wasatch Brewery, and both very enjoyable, I made my way to my gate for my final flight. As soon as I approached, found a seat next to an outlet and plugged in my iPhones, the gate agent announced that the flight to Sacramento was oversold and they were looking for volunteers, who would, of course, be compensated with travel voucher. My instincts kicked in, my fight or flight instinct, no pun intended. Like Wild Bill Hickok, who, by the way, is my fourth cousin, I unplugged my devices, stashed them in my purse and was to the counter before anyone could even blink. Yes, survival of the fastest. I secured myself a seat on the later flight to Sacramento and had in my hot little hands a $400 voucher, which, and I made sure, will work on Alaska Airlines and $18 worth of dining vouchers. I now had hours to kill and vouchers to spend, I was off to find the ladies room and a voucher worthy venue with power outlets.

I only got as far as the top of the escalator and was sucked in to the undeniable force that is Vino Volo. I kind of missed the step involving the ladies room. I sat myself down at the bar and ordered the “California Kings”, my usual, though the selections vary. As I waited for my wine to be poured it occurred to me, crap, well no, not crap, but I did really need to use the loo. My wines arrived. I tried my best to savor them, but I really had to go. I guzzled my three three-ounce pours, quickly paid my tab and ran for the ladies room. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that there was a whole new side to Vino Volo; beer. Vino Volo was now Vino Volo Winery and Ale House. I ran. I peed. I returned. I still have five and 7/8 hours out of six to kill. I took a seat at the other bar, the “ale house” side. You can have wine or ale at any spot in the venue, I was just a little embarrassed to go back to the same seat. For all the difference it made, I had the same waiter. I ordered three tastes, for free, three ounces each, which I savored with the spicy edamame. Based on my tasting, I ordered a large glass of the Desert Edge Brewery’s Latter Day Stout. So good. I enjoyed this robust brew with a fab spinach salad, for dinner. Because I had now been at Vino Volo for an embarrassingly long time, I cashed out and headed towards my gate. Still way too early, even by my standards, and, after verifying that the Sacramento flight was appropriately displayed on the monitors at the gate, and, finding no available seating, I headed to another bar adjacent to my gate, and had one more Polygamy Porter. For the road. Or the air. Or whatever. I will miss Montana and Utah brews once back home. Not that I’m going to be home long enough to even open a beer. Still, I’m seizing opportunity while in the midst.

 Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I'm ready to go!
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I’m ready to go!

I enjoy my porter. I board my plane. I fly to Sacramento. I make my way downstairs and to the baggage carousel. I’m the first there, of course. That’s just me. Before the carousel is even spinning, and I’ve made a restroom stop along the way. I can move pretty fast, as evidenced by the $400 travel voucher in my purse! I look at the Delta baggage claim office and what to my wondering eyes appear? My two purple suitcases, waiting for me. They’d caught the original flight and were waiting for me, tape hanging off of them, zipper compartments gaping open. The only think I truly cared about in those zipper compartments was my travel yoga mat, which was, happily, tucked snugly within. I grabbed my bags and headed to the bus, to my car in the economy lot and then an hour and a half down I-80, home. Tomorrow; one routine followed by another. Lather, rinse repeat, then unpack, launder, pack, repeat. And so, the rhythm of my life. For now.

Comments are closed.