First, The Whining

Greetings from the twelfth circle of hell, one Dante missed on his little tour: the airport at midnight. I’m waiting for the red-eye to IAH, which is going to be a serious red-eye, as the stupid flight is only three hours long, but it’ll nonetheless be 6.30 5.40 am by the time I get there.

What makes this so hellish is not simply the fact of the red-eye, but that everything in the airport has closed down. Everything, that is, excepting the four flights that all leave shortly after midnight. Everything, that is, including the TSA.

Four plane loads of people were, when I arrived, being funneled through one security lane. Everytime there was a problem, the entire thing ground to a halt. The line inched forward for the first twenty minutes I was in it.

And then, just as I rounded the next-to-last switchback in the line, somebody had the genius notion that it might speed things up if they open a second lane! In a matter of moments, the line went sweeping forward. It was enough to make me think that my karma was on the upswing. I chose my lane, knowing full well that I’d chosen incorrectly, because I always choose incorrectly. There is no other way to choose.

I was a matter of inches from the table where I’d have unloaded laptop and shoes and all else, when the works ground to a screeching halt again. The lane I was in, predictably, was snafu’d, and as I watched the folks I’d been just behind in line zipping through the other security checkpoint, one of the TSA guys hung the “closed” sign on our metal detector. A cluster of other TSA guys stood squinting at the monitor. And I’m thinking, why aren’t they just pulling the bag out and opening it, if they can’t figure out what’s in it?

One TSA guy turns to our lane and tells us to work in with the other lane. Fortunately, another TSA guy simultaneously said, no, go to that lane, which had just opened. And he even oversaw getting people into that lane in roughly the order they were in in the lane that had just closed.

As I finally, finally made it up to the table, and then toward the metal detector, the airport cops arrived. A very, very pregnant woman, traveling with a child of about two, stood across the table from the police, trying not to cry. On the table was her little boy’s carry-on bag, and the two toy guns he had in it.

Just now, about twenty minutes later, she passed me on her way to her gate; she seemed fine, if harried and late. I’m really curious whether the cops confiscated the toy guns or not. I feel for her — uncomfortably pregnant, traveling alone with a small child, speaking very little English — but I’m exasperated, too. Who, in this day and age, would attempt to pass a gun-shaped object (much less a really awfully convincing one made of shiny metal with faux-wooden grips) through airport security?

We all made it through, though, and I’m now waiting for this flight, writing the first bit of anything on my fabulous new Powerbook, which did indeed show up as promised. It was a hair-raising day, waiting to see if FedEx Ground was going to show or not, and they kept me hanging until the last possible minute. But all’s well that ends well, both in package delivery and airport traversal. Now if I can just sleep some on this flight…

[UPDATE, 5.56 am CDT: Flight #1 got in significantly early, which is both good and bad. On the down side, the snooze I was having got rudely interrupted sooner than I expected. On the other hand, I’m now in the airport, sucking down the coffee and the free wireless. This should be an interestingly delirious day.]

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