Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chapter 5: The Cross Country Flight

Newark airport was a mob scene. Crowds pushed onto the people mover between terminals and the lines at the ticket counters and the security checkpoints snaked unnaturally through the corridors, making easy movement through the terminal impossible. I thought that this might be normal, until I finally made it into the gate area to find that most flights were delayed due to weather. Including mine. A harried gate staffer announced that our flight was originating in Chicago, and had not left the ground yet. We would be at least 3 hours late leaving Newark making our estimated departure time between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. Passengers were not happy, but they seemed to take the news in stride.

What really got people edgy was the fact that here, beyond security, we were like caged animals with nowhere to go. There was only one eatery, a TGI Friday’s that was not built to handle a terminal full of hungry and thirsty passengers. There was a line at least 20 deep of people (with their bags) waiting for a seat. Anywhere. At the bar. At a table. People sat with strangers just to get a beer or burger or something. The wait staff was overwhelmed. I made several attempts to get in, but each time I ended up leaving the line to walk around the terminal or sit and wait. On my last attempt I was invited to sit at a table with a few other people, so I did.

I’m not the kind of person who’s comfortable with strangers, but I wanted a glass of wine. Each traveler at the table was taking turns telling the others where he was from, where he was going and in many cases, why. I am always amazed at the personal questions people will ask total strangers. Questions about marital status, family situations and employment, your brand of cell phone service, how much your laptop cost you, and more. I am even more amazed at people’s willingness to answer such questions. I’d rather talk about the weather and how the airlines just might improve service.

And the food. Ugh. I didn’t eat, but I watched in amazement as normal looking adults devoured huge plates of mega-burgers, gloppy barbeque sandwiches, greasy fries, and other gastronomical horrors that they would never have had the opportunity to order had they not been delayed in this particular terminal with access to this particular restaurant. It was as if our travel delay was an excuse for these otherwise responsible parents, professionals, and, by their own admission, Martha Stewart devotees, to regress into teenage mall rats.

After my second glass of wine, our flight was announced. Once everyone was aboard the plane, the captain announced that he had good news and bad news. This is never a good way to begin a flight. The good news was that we were going to push back from the gate in about five minutes. The bad news was that ground control had stopped all departures. We were going to park somewhere on the tarmac and wait for something to happen. There’s nothing I hate more than sitting on an airplane that is not moving. Well there is, but not on this particular night. The flight attendants calmed us down a bit by serving wine (yippee!) and other beverages.

During our thirty minute wait, I listened to the ground control tower talking to the flight crews around the airport on United’s nifty “From the Cockpit” audio on Channel 9. Ground control was lining up planes to leave, telling some to start up their engines and others to cool their jets, as it were. You could tell these guys were just a little stressed. Our captain finally got clearance to start the engines and we rolled onto the taxiway. We were number 22 for departure. I could see planes taking off through the window as we inched our way toward the end of the runway. We were now number 17 for departure. Then we were number 12. Number 7. Finally, it was our turn, and four and half hours late, we took off.

The flight was smooth and calm, I ate my airline meal (and I noticed that the people who ate at TGI Friday’s also ate their airline meals), and settled in. We landed in San Francisco a little after 1:00am. Baggage claim took forever as did the airtrain ride to the rental car terminal to rent the car. The rental car terminal at 2:30 in the morning was just a bit eerie, but everything worked out fine. I called my friend Cheryl to let her know I was on my way. I got there around 3:30am. She had left the key under the mat and gone to bed. She had also left a note saying to feel free to log on to her computer to send Ken an e-mail, which I did. She got up briefly and we said hello, then it was back to bed. I crashed in the guest room pretty soon thereafter.

Oh, I almost forgot about Sarah Jessica Parker!

When I checked in for the flight back in Newark, the woman behind the counter said, “Do you know who’s in the first class cabin with you this evening? Sarah Jessica Parker!” I said, “Wow. Does she know I’m in there, too?”

“I’ll be sure to let her know,” she answered. I don’t think she followed through.

I really only know SJP from an early movie (L.A. Story with Steve Martin, in which she played a bouncy character named SanDeE*). I’ve never seen Sex and the City, although I have seen a lot of its advertising. At any rate, there she was one row behind me and across the aisle. Her hair was perfectly straight, no curls, and her tiny body was obviously made for TV. She wore very little or no make-up. She was not glamorous. She looked a little like the French tennis player Mary Pierce. She wore black.

I didn’t chat with her. Although, had I known that our friend from Alabama, Evelyn, knows SJP personally, I certainly would have introduced myself with great Hollywood-esque finesse as a close acquaintance of hers. Then we would of course have had coffee together – half-caf non-fat mocha-ccinos – and explored our common interests. I would likely have been invited to her home back in New York where she and her husband, Matthew Broderick, would regale me with show business tales while we sipped fine champagne. What would I wear? Something black, to be sure. But I digress.

SJP was traveling alone, apparently. I noticed this at baggage claim in San Francisco when she loaded her cart with 3 or 4 large suitcases, not to mention the 3 or 4 very small ones, all by herself. With such a small body, you’d think she could get everything she needed into one carry-on. Go figure. No one had met her at the airport. Our flight was 4 hours late, but still, you’d think a big star like that would have someone to help lift her bags onto the cart. Perhaps doing it herself is what keeps her trim. Oh, the life of a star! I would have given her a hand, but I think you’ll agree that applause was not appropriate at 2 a.m. in baggage claim.

I wondered what her connection to the Bay Area was. I was to find out the following week while having dinner with friends in San José. One member of our dinner party mentioned that SJP was appearing at Macy*s Union Square in San Francisco to promote her new line of clothing or fragrance or beauty products. I’m not good with details, but I did notice how the star that Macy*s uses in place of an apostrophe is just like the star at the end of the character’s name that SJP played in L.A. Story: SanDeE*. Coincidence? I think not. Cue Twilight Zone theme music.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

1 comment:

Pour your heart out! I'm listening.