Last year comedian Louis C.K. went on Conan and made it impossible to complain about flying without getting slammed by a heavy chorus of people quoting a vulgar funny man’s compelling lesson on humility.
But here at Crooked Copy, we appreciate cliché humor almost as much as Bill Clinton likes Super Size McDonald’s (Nailed. It.), which is why we will engage in seasonal travel bitching with a slight twist: we hate the trip to the airport more than TSA pat downs, runaway ticket lines and idle runway queues.
Flying out of Chicago gives you a brief glimpse at the wisdom of central planners.
The city’s largest hub is O’Hare International Airport, so named for Butch O’Hare, the WWII fighter ace set straight by his father, a Capone accountant turned devout Catholic turned deceased mob turncoat. Officials believed the best way to honor O’Hare’s bravery and sacrifice was to create an institution in which everyone could curse his name.
In the 1980’s other herders of the masses crafted the O’Hare Blue Line extension, the city’s longest Elevated Rail line (the “L” for short). It was dreamed up as an artery to relieve the traffic congestion which plagues the 15 mile drive to the airport from downtown Chicago. It works to a degree.
Traffic is still backed up to St. Louis, but judging by ridership the roads are safer. You won’t see much facial hair on a Blue Line train, meaning you have removed young men and all women from the roads. Airport workers, stewardesses, vendors, TSA–anyone who isn’t a pilot, really–make up the other half of commuters. So we have purged a large percentage of potential drivers more interested in filing their nails than your ticket.
It is tempting to encourage airline workers to drive. Maybe if they spent more time on the highway, they’d finish up their phone calls in the comfort of their vehicles, rather than when you’re at the counter missing your honeymoon flight to Tahiti. Then again, putting counter maids on the road would also increase chatter from blowhards at parties saying, “you know you’re more likely to die on the way to the airport than…”
So I-90 was cleansed of its more rogue elements, leading to…increased traffic and decreased ridership. A safer highway raises its appeal to professionals and families, who make up a large percentage of fliers because they can afford it. A six-figure consultant likes baggage fees because he gets more sky-miles out of them and families see them as a steal because stuffing six-month-old Junior into the luggage is cheaper than the seat airlines would make them buy.
The L has its advantages; it unites riders by allowing them to enjoy their coping mechanism of choice. Young people, aerophobes and the homeless can all come together to silently drink and avoid eye contact during the 45 minute trip through the city, a luxury drivers can ill afford because cup holders have gotten too small and Chicago doesn’t allow tinted windows.
So, the Blue Line encourages a good time, a temporary high to get you to the gate relaxed and at-ease with your fate. This is good and well on paper; but in the real world, 13 percent of Chicago’s population is of Irish or German descent. These people developed two distinct styles of dance designed for optimum head stomping–particularly for those who frisk a little too close.
Not everybody has seen Louis C.K.’s rant, which means there are still those of us ready to explode the second the airport’s sliding doors close on our roller bags. The combination of frayed nerves, bitter haste and long security lines can prove a lethal cocktail for fliers. The holidays are the unruliest time of year for airports and alcohol is to blame, according to anyone with common sense. Normal humans who would wish you “Happy Holidays” for the sake of inclusiveness on the street enter the airport as they would Thunder Dome except now with the L, they are as high as Tina Turner and drunk as Mel Gibson.
The aggravation can start before you get to the airport. For one, you are dealing with the city’s equivalent to the TSA. Try asking a transit worker for help loading your gigantic bag onto a cramped train; did you do it yet? Did he laugh? Were you charged with manslaughter or homicide?
City workers don’t owe you anything, which is why they often say “not my job.” We hire government workers to ignore us and move trains as quickly as possible. If there are people on them, that’s just an added bonus. If those people are mostly homeless, it is not because they are sleeping or lazy; it’s because the driver never stopped long enough to let them out.
The doors on the Blue Line are designed to strand people on either side of them. Every rail line in Chicago has four-feet-wide doors, which part in the middle to allow the homeless safer loading and unloading of their net worth. Not the Blue Line. In order to discourage vagrancy, planners evidently thought it best to put a metal divider between the two doors, perfect for separating you from your luggage when your bag clips the bar and the doors close. The divider gives the Blue Line four more handrails for standing passengers per car though. The poles are connected by waist-high horizontal railings, designed to flip you over in optimal fashion. How you handle that is up to you: Mighty Ducks or Mr. Bean, tempting choices until you realize that Goldberg is a janitor and Mr. Bean became Johnny English.
What started out as a routine exercise to dodge traffic jams has, in essence, left you bagless, bruised, belligerent drunk and sitting next to a TSA agent, who’s sizing you up to see if you’ll look good naked.
Skip the train this Christmas season. You’ll never hear a taxi driver say “not my job,” and he’ll let you drink, as long as you give him a nip.