Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Mediocre Failure

Be careful what you write—you might just have to live up to it. Two posts ago I talked about finding the here in every here, there and everywhere. And so the air traffic controllers at Chicago Airport decided to put me to the test.

I failed.

Not a glorious, spectacular failure, but a failure nonetheless. I began by remaining nonplussed when my flight took off late from Traverse City. But with some 30 minutes until my next flight after landing in Chicago, I started to grow a bit anxious when we waited some twenty minutes for a gate to open up.  I rushed off as fast as I could when we finally stopped and asked an attendant if my next flight had left yet. She called and said to them, “We’ve got a runner.” To me,  “Go! C-22.”

So I started sprinting down the long F concourse to find the shuttle to C, boarded the little bus and watched him weave in and out of traffic to cross the 100-yard runway and then angle much closer to C-1 than to C-30. Thanks a lot. My Buddhist acceptance of “wherever you go, there you are” did not include meandering on the O’Hare runway while the seconds to my flight departure were ticking.

I bounded up the stairs— well, as much as I could bound with slow people struggling up the steps ahead of me— and took off down the C-concourse with as much speed as this old body could muster, arriving breathless at the gate. My spirits drooped ten degrees South when I noticed the closed door. Three employees there, me flashing my ticket, “Still time to get on?” while they practiced the ancient of art of pretending I wasn’t there. I asked three times. No eye contact, no response. Finally, one makes a call and says, “Sorry. They’re in lock-down.” Which means the plane is right there on the other side of the door and my empty seat awaits me, but they had closed the door and God forbid they should have to open it again.

So off to the long Customer Service line and given the ticket for my 7:00 am consolation prize flight the next morning and a pink slip with a number to call about getting accommodations. Very nice guy shaking his head— I could feel it over the phone— and telling me everything is booked solid. Except—oh, yes, one room left at the Motel 6 out in Rolling Meadows 20 minutes away. With no shuttle service.

My little paper says I’ll be reimbursed up to $75 of the room cost and the room will cost $40—well, before tax. Things are looking up. But the cab estimate is $45. One-way. Back to Customer Service and a guy who casually says, “Yes, they should reimburse you for that.” But I didn’t take his name and later reading the fine print it says “Accommodation only,” Good luck with that, Doug.

So in a cab with a $45 estimated cost and a TV screen in my face. “Excuse me, can you turn that off?” “Actually, no, because then my whole system will go down.” So I dug out a hat and put it over the screen and made the driver laugh. Having heard him on his phone speaking another language, I asked him what it was and he said “Xhosa.” And so some conversation about South Africa, I tried out some bits of songs I knew, he sang back in recognition, but totally different melodies. Well, that was kind of fun. I was starting to enjoy— say 3% upgrade—a bit of the adventure of being here.

But now we arrived in the American no-neighborhood from hell, the ubiquitous industrial park with its big blue Motel 6 sign. The meter fare said $32.00, so I was perking up thinking I beat the system. “That’ll be $51.00.” “Hm, why does the meter say $32?” “Oh, didn’t you read the sign (below the TV in the dark). Outside of Chicago proper, the fee is a meter and a half.” Apparentely a new mathematical measurement without me getting the memo— a meter and a half. With tip, $13 over estimated cost.

Then inside the dingy office to get my dingy room, thinking (see two posts ago) “Well, at least they’ll have free Wifi.” I asked if there’s a code and she said, “Yes, but it costs money.” So much for that theory. “Do you have a toothbrush and toothpaste?” “No.” “Can you call me a cab for 5:20 am and wake me at 5:00?” “Yes, we can.” Well, hooray for that.

Just for fun, checked out the TV in case there was a Seinfeld rerun to cheer me up. Instead, the usual— boxing, baseball, basketball, guns, knives, bad acting, bad news, accent on the Zimmerman trial (Really? In 2013? Have we accomplished nothing?!), the whole wasteland such as T.S. Eliot never dreamed it could be. So back to my book about Jews in popular music (quite a tale!), then turn in on a bad bed breathing stale forced air with unbrushed teeth.

Well, I could be grouchier or angrier, part of me is accepting it is what it is, but it’s far from the full-fledged spiritual victory of “one here is as good as another.” I had one day back home to prepare for a week of teaching and now I’ll have considerably less. This room is ugly and I have to wake up way too early. And there’s no free Wifi.

But like I said, not a spectacular failure. My blood pressure stayed within acceptable bounds and here I am, healthy and not too hungry and still a little bit happy. All in all, a mediocre failure at being here now. I’ll try to do better—or worse—next time.

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