Wednesday, January 19, 2011

about a month ago i went to chicago. it was a christmas surprise for my brother as planned by his wife. i flew from salt lake city to detroit and had planned to board a connecting flight to milwaukee, where i would be picked up and driven to chicago. until recent years, i had never met anyone from milwaukee and was ready to see the city for the first time. when i was younger, i would joke with friends that milwaukee was where i wanted to go, because i thought the name was unusual and that made it funny. no one ever talked about wanting to go to milwaukee, and all i knew about the place were its professional sports teams. i don't think that milwaukee's name is as unusual anymore, and it's definitely not as funny, but i carry stuff like that with me and i guess seeing milwaukee would have been like tying up a loose end by fulfilling a false longing. the layover in detroit was supposed to be two hours, but because of snow it ended up being around seven. i switched to a chicago flight, and milwaukee remains a mystery.

while sitting in detroit, i thought about how airports used to have some magic to them. the obvious reason being that you were about to get on an airplane and fly, but also the way luggage appeared at the baggage claim was nothing short of magic. how did my stuff get to utah when the last time i saw it was thousands of miles away in virginia? who decides the order in which luggage arrives at the baggage claim? as a curious boy, those were questions i had. i didn't ask them because when you find out the real answers, the magic leaves. i don't know exactly when, but one time i looked out an airport window and saw men and women in bright orange reflective vests transporting bags from planes to carts to conveyor belts, and i had my answer. the answer didn't involve teleportation or an elaborate underground tunnel system. it was just the lifting and wheeling of good ol' fashioned manual labor. the magic was gone.

i thought about that as i saw the same orange vests moving around luggage, and then i looked over at a group of payphones and saw a man talking on one of them. it took me a second to realize how unordinary that is nowadays, but i couldn't help but feel that that man at the payphone knew where all the airport magic had gone to. he looked around with tired eyes as he made his call. they looked like the eyes of a man who still makes payphone calls and has his mind blown every time someone reminds him how to copy and paste on his desktop computer and that's more endearing than whatever else it is. 

there he was just resisting change on a payphone (but was he really? because he needed loose change to use the payphone, unless he had a calling card or was calling collect, right? (that was a joke, but a dangerous one, because it's not very funny)) and looking around at 50 people on smartphones, keeping themselves connected to a world he's not a part of. while watching this, an announcement over the speakers informed the airport that someone had left their bluetooth on an airplane. i thought about the phone mobility spectrum and how the payphone and bluetooth are on opposite ends. eventually the man was either done with his call or ran out of change. either way, he sat across from me and started reading a novel that all men who use payphones probably read. i couldn't read the title, because it was hidden by his payphone dialing fingers.

updates about flight delays would come over the speakers and the payphone caller would look up from his book and make eye contact. he couldn't believe his payphone listening ears. his eyes looked nervous now. i wanted to tell him that it was going to be fine and offer my phone if he needed to make any calls, but i didn't, because he might not have been nervous and i wasn't sure where my false assumption would lead. i started listening to my ipod and played music that was mostly instrumental and more on the mellow side. it kind of slowed everything down and made it all seem cinematic and more meaningful than it actually was. that happens sometimes. i can be reading something while listening to a song and every word of an email, a book, an article, or any written word becomes way more dramatic than it actually is. 
and i'm sure you've all experienced something like that some time or another, because music can manipulate emotion, for better or worse. that's why i listen to happy music whenever i write anything.  that way if it comes out sounding sad, i must have been really sad. 

i eventually boarded my flight to chicago. i wasn't looking forward to the flight, because my new seat was 6b, and i thought that meant i was in a middle seat, but it turned out to be an aisle seat ,because it was a smaller plane and i ended up having a bunch of leg room since it was right behind first class and i've heard people refer to something like that as a bonus. after taking my seat, we had to sit in the plane on the ground for about 30 minutes before we could take off because of snow in chicago, but the guy next to me was on the phone with someone and when he ended the call he told me that the person who he was talking to was in chicago and they said it wasn't snowing at all. i shook my head in a way that made it seem like i was saying "typical chicago. this sort of thing happens to me all the time," but i've rarely flown to chicago and that sort of thing only happens to me sometimes. i was kind of annoyed at that point, though, because i was wearing a lot of layers and was really warm but didn't want to remove any of the layers, because i only had a carry on suitcase that was full and the layers would have just been more loose stuff to keep track of. and it's usually just annoying when you think you're going to arrive somewhere sooner than you actually do, right?

the guy seated next to me was wearing a suit and his hair was slick and i thought he looked like he would be easy to listen to if he wanted to talk, but we didn't say much to each other until the end of the flight. it wasn't a very long flight and i was in and out of sleep most of the time and didn't wake up until we began our descent. we experienced some turbulence and the guy next to me reached for the middle arm rest, but my arm was already there and he put his arm over mine for a second and i let him pull away, because if we both pulled away at the same time it would have been more awkward. my ears began to pop so i pulled out a pack of gum and began chewing a piece, and whenever i pull out a pack of gum i feel the need to offer to whoever's around me. they've seen that i have a pack and i feel rude if i don't at least offer. i didn't think he even saw, but i still thought about it. i mean, we hadn't been talking at all and i had recently woken up from being in and out of sleep and i wasn't sure if my voice was currently at the level it needed to be to ask without sounding like i was nervous from over analyzing  whether or not i should offer him a piece of gum, plus i needed to take into account the high level of plane noise. and maybe he would think i was just offering because i thought he needed something to calm his nerves after he grabbed the arm rest the way he did, and i understand why he wouldn't have appreciated that. it became the most calculated gum offer. do i just hold out the pack of gum and kind of point at it with my head? do i say, "you want a piece?" while holding out the pack? do i have a piece of gum in my hand before i offer so he doesn't have to fumble with the pack?  i ended up saying, "you want a piece?" while holding out the pack, but he shook his head and said, "naw." he responded in a way that seemed like he'd been declining gum offers his whole life and that's an ability that some people have.

after that, i looked out the window and saw flakes of snow flashing by as they caught the light from the plane. they looked like laser special effects from a 70s sci-fi film. i couldn't stop looking out the window and the guy next to me looked over to see if i was looking at him since i was in the aisle seat. i didn't look away, because like if i had pulled my arm away earlier, it would have made it more awkward, and i don't think he realized how much it looked like we were journeying through space and time.

once the plane landed, we rode around on the ground for another 15 minutes. the guy asked me where i was from and why i was in chicago. i hesitantly told him i was from virginia, because that's what i say when i'm in utah, but i was in chicago. i also told him i was in chicago surprising my brother as planned by my brother's wife. he told me he had lived in southern virginia, but i spent almost all my time in the northern part of the state, so our southern virginia conversation didn't last long. he's originally from miami and i made some comment about how i wouldn't mind being there right then because of the weather. he smiled and said he hated the cold. i asked him if he was a miami heat fan, because they're a big deal right now, and i've also never been to miami and i only know about the heat (two meanings). he said that he is. i said that the heat were really starting to put it together, because this conversation happened a month ago and that's when they were really starting to put it together. he agreed. he lives in detroit now and works in the auto industry and talked about how things were starting to look up. i nodded. i asked him what he was doing in chicago and he told me about  how he was originally going to come to chicago because he had won tickets at work or somewhere, but he ended up giving them to a co-worker or someone like that, but for a reason i can't remember he had to come to chicago anyway. it was time to exit the plane and i helped him grab his coat and his luggage from the overhead bins and we told each other it was a pleasure meeting and wished each other a happy holiday. 

walking into o'hare airport, i was greeted by angry customers who were waiting to board the airplane i was just on. they didn't seem happy about our delayed arrival and stared at me in a way that made me feel like it was my fault. i played it cool and kept on walking, but not that cool, because a wheel on my suitcase squeaks.

my brother was asleep when we got to their place and seemed more confused than surprised, but i didn't mind, because he wakes up early and he was tired and he didn't know i was coming anyway. i get a big kick out of my brother and his wife, so i had a real fun time in chicago. one highlight was going to a donut shop on the south side called dat donut. you'd like it, it's bulletproof. going to a bulls game was the other highlight. the bulls were the team when sports were almost everything to me as a kid.  i didn't like the bulls then, but to see the united center floor, to see the championship banners hanging from the rafters, to hear the same intro music they used during their championship seasons, and to share it with my brother was something special. the bulls played the clippers, which means we saw blake griffin play, and he didn't disappoint. the kid's an animal, a beast, and a monster. and a monstar. anyone who follows the nba knows that, but really, he is exciting to watch if you care at all about basketball.  he dropped 47 points the other day and only missed 5 of the 24 shots he took, and i look forward to talking about him with a stranger from los angeles on my next flight.


kelli said...

i thoroughly enjoyed giggling as i read this post at work just now.

i just have one thing to say - one time, i was at the airport and i really needed to call my mom. but my phone was dead... so i used a pay phone.

Anonymous said...

i feel like thoughts such as these ones are constantly streaming through our head but you were able to articulate them into words.

so much vulnerability in the offering of a mere piece gum.

thanks, sodapop.

D Smith said...

My favorite thing about this blog is when I find it again 6 months later.