Last week, while turning in a kidney for a tank of gasoline, I pondered the upward spiral of fuel prices. With the price of gas rising to record levels, the cost of using my car to commute, take the kids to soccer, or driving around the yard chasing squirrels just isn’t as economical as it once was.
As I watched the gas pump click maniacally away, I further reflected on the advantages and drawbacks of alternate modes of transportation.
To be sure, car pools offer the best bang for the buck in that several can ride for the price of one. But, they’re only good up to a point because, as economical as they are, you’re still tied to the schedules of your fellow commuters. This, of course, pretty much negates the benefits of a four hour lunch break.
And don’t get me started on Jerry the nosepicker from IT. The man examines his nasal gleanings as if they were lost Incan gold.
Trains aren’t bad. But, they don’t exactly offer door-to-door service. Unless you work for Amtrak.
What about the bus, you ask. Two words: bus people. Seriously, do I need to say more?
Air travel. Now, there’s a slick way to go. Although, if work is only ten miles away, flying isn’t terribly cost-efficient. Even Batman doesn’t use his plane to pick up milk.
Still, something about flying has always appealed to me, despite the fact that TSA makes me feel like I’m at a strip bar. And I’m the stripper.
Travel by air remains a classy way to go, in a luxury liner, “Titanic” kind of way (probably an unfortunate comparison).
Recently, I needed to fly to the Midwest aboard one of our nation's leading airlines (before they filed for Chapter 11). I figured how bad could it be? I relished the opportunity to climb into a metal tube to zoom through the air with a hundred of my close personal friends and their respiratory ailments at 36,000 feet.
Airports have oodles of bells and whistles which cater to the needs of the traveling public. While there, I can gorge on a dizzying variety of goodies, from "Cinnabon" to "Aunt Annie's Pretzels"-although, on the day I traveled, ole Annie was fresh out of pretzels. Kinda thought that was de rigueur for a pretzel shop.
While there, I could get a neck massage, buy a ball cap for $35.00, and get my shoes shined. Although, since I thought Kiwi would ruin my sneakers, I passed.
Anyway, after having applied for a loan for a cup of coffee, I settled in for what I thought would be a short respite before zipping off to my destination.
As I drank my coffee, I observed at how far we’ve come in customer service. Not only did the surly counterman help me maintain cat-like reflexes by throwing my change at me, his grunts made it plain where I could find sugar and creamer. Plus, I knew that without that little piece of plastic around the cup, I'd have had third, instead of only second degree burns on my hands. Shoot, I'll spend $5.00 for that any day!
I also marveled at the public address system. What a boon to mankind that a disembodied voice can caution against leaving our bags unattended, walking on the runways, or using the down escalator to go up.
But, I was unnerved when told to have an "awesome" day. Talk about pressure! What if I had just a "good" day or, heaven help me, a "so-so" one?
Then, when I was urged to have an "awesome" winter, I thought I'd go into cardiac arrest! I don’t need to live under the gun like that until Memorial Day, know what I mean?
Finally, our time to board the aircraft came. Finally! Escape from "Speaker Guy."
Unfortunately, we were denied entry, due to some unknown problem.
A seasoned traveler, I'd seen my share of aircraft problems, some of which were serious enough to scrub flights. Fortunately, most glitches can be fixed by doing little more than jiggling a wire or shooing the raccoons out of the intakes.
In any case, I was relieved the crew thought so much of our safety. Being nosy, I listened in on the gate agent's conversation with the pilot and learned that the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) was on the fritz (NOTE: NOT an anti-German epithet. So, relax, you thin-skinned krauts).
Well, I proclaimed to those unfortunate enough to be within earshot, anyone who's been around airplanes as long as I have knows how bad a faulty APU can be. Still, I was convinced our wait wouldn't last long.
But, as minutes dragged to an hour (during which time I was exhorted to have an "awesome" year), I suspected something more insidious than a bad APU was in play. Could it be a bad engine or some flaw which could fail catastrophically in-flight? Maybe the navigational system had failed ground checks? Or, shudder, the lavatory?
Hoping to gain insight, I eavesdropped more intently. Imagine my surprise when I learned the real reason: the flight attendant needed lunch and decided to hoof it to the Food Court!
Hmm, seemed like a perfectly good reason to hold up one hundred people. Imagine what damage an under-nourished toss of a bag of pretzels could do to someone’s eye!
After much grousing and a near-mutiny, we managed to get the gate agent on the public address system, "One ham and cheese hoagie to Gate F39-Stat!"
Sarcasm unnoticed, our famine poster girl, now fully sated, eventually strolled up and we were cleared to board.
Pulling away from the gate, I felt uneasy. And, not just because of that gremlin sitting on the wing.
As the flight attendant began her safety brief, she barked, "If there's anyone on this airplane who doesn't know how to fasten his seatbelt, get off now. You're too stupid to fly."
It wouldn't be an awesome flight.