I pulled up to the Northwest terminal at LAX on Wednesday morning a full two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart only to find the check-in line snaking all the way outside. It must have been over 100 yards long. My first thought was "are they fucking evacuating the airport?" before realizing no, this is just business as usual at a U.S. based airline that has laid off a significant percentage of their employees. I asked one of those employees if this was the line I needed to be standing in if I was flying to Amsterdam via Minneapolis and he assured me it was, despite the fact that everyone else in that line appeared to be heading for either Tokyo or Manila. There was a 30-strong Japanese tour group in front of me and a bunch of Filipino missionaries behind me loading dozens of boxes of medical supplies onto luggage carts. I stood and waited and sweltered in the heat, thankful that I had shown up with plenty of time to spare.
That time cushion completely evaporated in the time it took me to get through the outdoor portion of the line. It was 11:25 by the time I reached the inside of the terminal. A different airline employee asked me my destination and a panicked look crossed her face when I informed her that I was scheduled to depart in only 50 minutes. She whisked me and my luggage into the self-service check-in line.
When I finally reached the top of that queue, it was 11:35. I swiped my passport through the machine only to discover that it was now too late for me to do the auto-check in. "Please see an agent for assistance" the screen implored. But in this swarm of angry humanity, I'd need a bullhorn to get anyone's attention. Everyone was late. Everyone was fucked. The luggage tags weren't printing out of some of the machines, necessitating that the counter employees print them all out manually. Finally I got the attention of a thin, totally flustered fiftyish man behind the desk. After punching in my info, the best response he could come up with was "well, I might be able to get you on the 4:05 flight."
"No, that's not going to work. I need to get on THIS flight."
"Well, it's not my fault you got here too late."
"TOO LATE?!" I erupted. "I've been waiting in this mess since 10:15!"
"Well I can't check you in."
"Then get me someone who can, please. I'm not missing this flight."
He disappeared for about five minutes and did not return. My watch now read 11:45 and there was still the security line to get through, not to mention a lengthy hike to the gate. The other employees started helping the people behind me in line, just leaving me there, helpless and completely without assistance.
So, there were a few things I could do in this situation. I could get out of this line, cut in front of people in the next one and potentially start a riot. I could shout "WILL SOMEONE PLEASE CHECK ME THE FUCK IN" at the top of my lungs and potentially be detained by Homeland Security. Or, I could start to cry.
I chose option three. It worked.
An Asian woman who looked like a supervisor told me to follow her and I moved into my third line of the morning, something that looked like an emergency check-in line for fucked-over souls like myself. I got a boarding pass and a man in an orange vest personally escorted me to the baggage x-ray area and inspected my luggage before instructing me to go to the top of the security line and tell them my flight number so I could cut ahead.
"You might want to run" he offered as a parting suggestion. The clock read 11:55. The plane's doors would shut in anywhere from five to ten minutes. I thanked him and took off in as much of a sprint as I could muster.
I jumped the security line causing much grumbling from the people who had been waiting there but I had little time to care. Sweat dripped off my face and soaked the back of my shirt as I ran for the gate. There was a snack stand right in front of it and I grabbed a water and a protein bar... only to find that the line at the register was 15 deep! Nope... wasn't gonna get to eat anything before getting on the food-less first leg of my 14-hour journey. I briefly contemplated shoplifting the food (I was THAT starving and THAT late) but left it instead and continued my run to the gate... where there were a lot of people just sitting around. Shouldn't they all be on the plane by now?
Nope. It was delayed 40 minutes. Probably due to all the chaos and ineptitude downstairs. At least I had time now to go back for the protein bar. But this would mean that, in all likelihood, I would miss my connection to Amsterdam in Minneapolis.
I crashed into a chair and gulped down half my bottle of Aquafina. My face was purple, my eyes were red and my clothing completely sweat-soaked. I instantly pitied whomever would be stuck in the seat next to me for the next 4 hours.
We picked up a little bit of time in the air on our way to Minneapolis, landing at 6:30 PM. My flight to the 'Dam was taking off at 7, but I had no idea what gate it was at and how far away that was. As I was waiting to get off the plane, my phone rang. It was Pauly.
"Your flight is at Gate C-4. You're arriving into C-16 so it shouldn't be too long a walk" he said, reassuring me.
"I love that you're in Europe and know more about my gate information than I do" I laughed.
"You'll make it. Call me back when you get on the plane."
As I emerged from the jetway, I heard the final boarding call for my flight over the loudspeaker and took off in yet another Home Alone- style airport run. This time I ran up to a completely empty gate, and slipped onto the plane just as they were closing the doors.
I slumped into my seat in the last row of the plane, breathless again, and closed my eyes. When I woke up, this nightmare would be over and I'd be in Amsterdam. I slept most of the eight hours we spent in the air, with the exception of a two-hour window in which I ate dinner and watched Spider-Man 3 (not nearly as good as the first two). My seat-mate was an older Dutch woman who didn't speak English. Perfect.
When I saw Pauly just as I cleared customs, it was as if the previous 14 hours had ceased to exist. It didn't matter how I got here. I was here now, and I was with him.
In less than an hour, we'd be rolling blunts and playing Chinese poker at Pink Floyd's, kicking off a classic three-day bender.
To be continued...