Saturday, July 24, 2010

Getting to Argonne

This story, like most great literature, begins on a Monday. (true, it's not always obvious which day some works start on, but Anna Karenina probably starts on a Monday, because that's when the most trains run, and the Scarlet Letter surely does, what with Monday being the traditional day for public shamings)*.

I took the M60 to LaGuardia (which, you may recall is also how Portrait of a Lady begins)**; I was flying on Delta Airlines, so I got off at the Delta terminal... but the Delta Shuttle, which flies from Laguardia to D.C., Chicago, and Boston, leaves from a separate terminal, the Marine Air Terminal. Laguardia doesn't have any of these newfangled Airtrans, so I had to pretty much hitchhike between terminals. No problem. An enterprise car rental shuttle was driving by, and I hitched a ride. So far so good.

According to wikipedia, the Marine Air Terminal 'remains the only active airport terminal dating from the first generation of passenger travel in the United States'. Most readers have probably been to buildings built in the 70s or 80s that were made to look ultra modern. The Marine Air Terminal was clearly designed to look modern in the 30s, and it's still in use today! The effect is bizarre, like being in a sloppily done period piece.

There was only one line to go through security and it had about ten people in it. The woman whose job it was to look at people's ID's and make some marks on their tickets kept admonishing those of us waiting not to cut in line, and at one point called the security over to keep a closer eye on everyone. Later, I walked through the metal detector and my bags headed through the x-ray machine. To save my adviser on meal reimbursements, I had brought some peanut butter and bread. The airport staff confiscated the peanut butter; They said it was a gel. I was annoyed, but in their defense, terrorists are well known to love peanut butter. The security guard very visibly threw it into the trash. I think he didn't want me to think he was going to eat it later, but I wasn't convinced. Frankly, he looked like a peanut butter thief.

So now I had a loaf and a half of bread, but no peanut butter. In a classic 'lemons out of lemonade' situation, I used my available resources to get back at TSA for their stupid regulations. That is, I decided to take out my bread and start eating it plain. The airports hate this because it makes their classy airport waiting area seem more like a bus terminal.***

Wait! I can't lie to you readers. In honesty, I ate the bread because I was starving and $10 seemed too much for an unappetizing veggie wrap. And it's worse... I ate it two pieces at a time so that people would think I was just eating a sandwich, which is still socially acceptable airport behavior. I wish I hadn't, though.

So then I waited. The waiting area for my flight was originally designed to be a hallway. All the seats were in one, very long row. After an hour had passed since the scheduled boarding time and absolutely no announcement had been made, I realized the seating arrangement was probably designed to keep passengers from rising up as one and storming the airplane in frustration.

Finally we got on the plane and then onto the tarmac. We mostly just sat there, but every forty five minutes the captain would tell us to buckle our seatbelts so we could take off. Everyone would murmur excitedly. Shortly thereafter, we would be told that air traffic control had again closed air space heading west. After three hours of this we headed back to the gate; Our flight was canceled. I was tempted to check in the trash on the way out... maybe my peanut butter was still there? I refrained.

I went home, went to bed and awoke early for my rescheduled flight. A lot of the previous days passengers had been rescheduled for the same 9am flight, so it was basically a reunion. So I had to greet and smile at the people I had chatted up the day before, even though I would have been far happier to never have seen them again.

A favorite past time of gays is to try and find all the other gay people in a public place. Some, like male flight attendants**** and Lindsey Graham, are pretty easy to spot, but others, like Chief Justice Roberts, blend in. Anyways, there were two gentlemen differing by about ten years in age, sitting in the waiting area, who I definitely had my suspicions about. These were confirmed when I ended up sitting directly behind them on the plane. They spent the whole flight wrestling with/shoving each other playfully. This is what my mom would call 'horsing around' and it's pretty annoying if you're the guy who constantly has the seat in front of him shoved into the book he's trying to read.

Speaking of male flight attendants, at the end of the flight, ours came back to talk about gay neighborhoods in Chicago with these two guys. I was so annoyed, because I wanted to talk gay with some one and instead this guy was talking to these jerks who had disturbed my whole flight. A constant frustration for me is that I'm not really picked up on anyone's gaydar. I guess everyone sometimes wishes they had a t-shirt to express how they often feel; Mine would say: "I'm gay, too", or maybe in this specific instance, "Why do flight attendants talk to jerks when I'm gay too?"

From the Chicago Airport, I got to my beamline without much difficulty. Later in the afternoon, I called my collaborator from Penn State (whose flight had arrived 4 hours after mine) to give her a phone number to call a taxi. She didn't have a pen so she couldn't write it down. There's no reception at the beamline so I didn't call her again for several hours, at which time I found out that she had tried to take public transportation to Argonne and gotten lost in downtown Chicago. At that time she was walking toward Argonne from a bus stop a couple miles away. I asked her if I should try and walk and meet her, but she said no. Soon thereafter she got picked up by a random guy in a car, who luckily turned out to be a beamline scientist. He told her she had been walking in the wrong direction and brought her safely to the gate. It made me feel better that I wasn't the only one who had trouble.

Anyways, I think there are a few lessons in all of this. First, Argonne's hard to get to, but you must try if you want the best x-ray data the US has to offer. Second, it isn't so bad to be miserable if your collaborators are as well. And finally, if you ever have to choose between a flight and peanut butter, choose the latter... it's more reliable.

*I've been practicing writing paragraphs that are mostly just parenthesis. If you like then give it a shout out.

** If you've never read it you don't know if this is true or not.

***Sure, it was whole wheat bread; Wonder bread would have been more effective. But the bread did have high fructose corn syrup in it.

****I once sat next to a woman on a plane who got free flights because her son was a flight attendant. During the course of our conversation she casually mentioned her son's wife... I was really surprised/confused, which my facial expression clearly showed, but luckily she was looking the other way at the time.

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