Okay. I cannot do the electronic check-in for my overseas flight. I find that hard to believe. But then again, it’s been at least sixteen years since I have left the country, so what do I know?
Fine, then. Okay.
Get to the airport. That’s pretty easy. It’s a day after Christmas, and I ask my driver if he thinks a lot of people are going back to work this morning.
“Most should,” he says. “But then, again, a lot of people are still off.” He pauses. “Of course, I’m always surprised when there is any traffic, on a day like this.” Another pause: “But that’s LA for ya!”
There is a layer of pink feather clouds, hanging above LAX. It’s pretty, in an exhausted sort of way. A few silver jets sparkle in the sky as they ascend diagonally. What an ambition of the human spirit! A civilization is a succession of wills.
I get out at the curb within the first meter of my terminal’s ground. A giant Lincoln town car attempts to cut me off.
“Just run me ova’, why don’t cha?” I mouth out to its driver with a bluetooth in his ear. Be it the black, floor-long winter coat or the tightly wound nerves (and both are quite suitable for the Eastern European winter), I suddenly feel every bit like the New Yorker I once was before defecting to this coast.
He sees me, doesn’t as much as wave.
A giant line of exhausted passengers outside — kids in silly Christmas sweaters and adults with wrinkly faces — who are waiting in front of the terminal’s sliding doors is just a small preview of the havoc I’m about to endure inside. I do not really know on what grounds I’ve previously assumed that just because United has its own terminal, the flow of today’s events would be well practiced and smooth.
The lines inside are hideous. I find the international portion of the airport and read its awning, “International One Hour Cut-Off.” Someone’s ought to proofread this company’s syntax.
Breathe. I still have almost two hours.
I walk over to the Self Check-In Machines. One carry-on, a winter coat and a laptop. To lug one’s baggage through life is a hideous choice. Forgiveness, no matter how hard, is lighter.
“These are for passengers with only one carry-on,” a short woman on a walkie-talkie grumbles and then proceeds her way.
“Yes,” I watch her get back to the talkie. “I am. Indeed. Just that. M’am.” She is no longer interested.
“TAP HERE TO BEGIN.”
“ENTER CONFIRMATION OR E-TICKET NUMBER.”
I find a six-digit combination in my printout. That should do the trick.
“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”
Okay. I try another number. Another random combination on the paper.
“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”
You’ve GOT to be kidding!
Okay, okay, okay. Stay chill.
With the most mellow smile that I can manage at this hour of sunrise, I approach the first visible uniformed personnel. And in the background, I suddenly can hear a few hollering infants and some foreign tongues.
I wait my turn, approach the woman. Explain the situation.
“You have to call?” she tells me in her thick Asian accent.
“Excuse me?” (Okay. Be kind. It’s wiser, lighter.)
“You have to call — the company?”
Oh, fuck it. I assume my place in line. The young man in front of me is calm and utterly consumed by his iPad. On his cart, I see a guitar with a lime-green bandana around the handle and one piece of carry-on. Like me, he has forgiven. A couple of hippies with mounts of luggage on their cart are making out ahead. An Asian couple is demurely standing by and holding the handle of a tiny bag, not deserving to be called “a suitcase”.
“And don’t forget the tag?” the Asian attendant hands me two tongues of paper. Apparently, she only responds with questions.
“Thanks for your help,” I say. Mmm-hmm. I’m glad she’s saved the day with these.
I’ve got less than thirty minutes to make it through this line. We’re moving slowly. The grumbling woman with a walkie-talkie reappears. I notice that underneath her United blazer, she’s wearing a summer dress. She, right away, begins to create order.
“Sir! You cannot stand here!” she is demonstrative when speaking to a smartly suited Indian man who, just like me, is carrying no luggage.
“My flight leaves in an hour,” he sings in a way that’s expected from his heritage. “And your ticket machines are broken!”
Okay! So, it was NOT just me! I glance at the now baffled Asian attendant. It feels a little better to know I’m not a solitary idiot, afraid to ask for help.
“Somebody’s GOT to help us!” the Indian businessman continues singing, as if echoing my thoughts. “Somebody’s got to do their job!”
“I’m doing mine just fine, sir!” the walkie-talkie woman grumbles and listens into her gargling apparatus. “Anyone — to Mexico?” she hollers in a moment.
A few timid hands appear above our heads. Their owners are ushered into the line behind the Indian man.
My check-in finally happens, and it happens exactly an hour before my scheduled flight. Ivy — the mellow attendant who takes orders from the walkie-talkie woman in a summer dress, before she serves me — has done her job quite quickly (although she does appear to have typed a whole of a dissertation in order to issue my boarding passes.)
And in the next hour, I do remember Ivy gratefully when our entire gate is transferred to another one, where we, again, proceed our wait. When, finally, we begin boarding:
“As you may have noticed,” a voice comes over the speakers, “we’re experiencing mechanical difficulties. We’ve dealt with three different mechanics and shall be in the air as soon as we are done with our paperwork.”
Okay. Stay positive. Stay grateful and stay kind.
I have about fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight.