23 April 2015

I Don't Think That Word 'Adventure' Means What You Think It Means

For most people, travel is an adventure.  Seeing new places, trying new things, and learning about different cultures is exciting.  I'm no different...I love all those things too and wish I could spend every day exploring the world and squeezing out every ounce of life and joy and discovery it has to offer.  The problem is that I tend to have as much or more adventure just trying to get to my intended destinations than when I'm actually there.  While I've never had a truly traumatic trip anywhere, the fact remains that something still manages to happen nearly every time I go anywhere near an airport. The cumulative effect makes me look like Pigpen from Charlie Brown, only surrounded by a cloud of disgruntled TSA agents rather than one of dirt.
You know you're hearing the theme song right now.
( Image © Charles Schultz)

This past weekend was no different.   The plan was to fly to Georgia for a big SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event on Saturday to support two dear friends who were heavily involved in the event.  In spite of carefully planning how much time I needed to allow for check-in, I still nearly missed my flight--in part because the economy parking lot is located in approximately Luxembourg (which I didn't realize in advance, this being my first time to park at the Philly airport), and because of a slight delay while TSA felt up my ankle to make sure my sock and airport pants were not packing tiny AK-47s.

After running OJ Simpson-style--complete with untied sneakers--to my gate at the very end of the concourse, I arrived just in time to board.  There I soon discovered that my Delta "Comfort+" aisle seat was neither comfortable nor plus.  I settled in as best I could, only to spend the next 15 minutes getting whacked in the head and shoulder by an endless parade of baggage like some sort of ginger piñata. Seated next to me was Hoggy McHoggerson, who had already selfishly commandeered both armrests before I arrived.  Hoggy proceeded to spend the entire flight with his elbows digging into both me and his other seat-mate while he happily snored away, oblivious to our discomfort. Once everyone was seated, we watched an unexpectedly amusing safety video full of sight gags and snarky humor (my favorite!); for example, we were ordered not to smoke on the flight, which caused an apron-clad guy sitting in a plane seat and holding a steak on his leg to slam down the lid of a smoker grill in the aisle in disgust.

Guess which one was me?

In spite of a late curbside bag check, my suitcase managed to make it onto the flight, though the brand-new address tag with updated info I'd just put on it hours before was mysteriously missing.  Hopefully it just got torn off in transit rather than stolen by some creepy dude collecting addresses.  I grabbed my bag off the carousel and went to collect my rental car.  Alamo tried to shaft me with a compact car instead of the mid-size I'd paid for, but the garage clerk was cool about it and directed me to pick from a long line of silver, red, and white cars.  So naturally I found the single blue vehicle hiding behind the others and quickly grabbed it (red clashes with my hair). After adjusting all the mirrors and such, I messaged some friends in the off-chance one could meet me for dinner en route to my hotel. As expected, none could join me, though one said I might be able to assist another friend and told me to stay near the phone.  Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself "I'm currently doing 70 mph down Hwy 20 in Atlanta...how far away from my phone could I possibly go?"  She messaged back all the details and the next thing I knew, I was barreling down the highway towards Joann Fabrics in a Hail Mary attempt to acquire quilt binding before the store closed so this other friend could finish a garment for Saturday's festivities.  I arrived a few minutes after closing but luckily managed to slide in and purchase the required trim before the door was locked.  Quite pleased with my successful conquest, I then went across the street to grab a very late meal at O'Charley's, one of my favorite restaurants and one which is sadly non-existent in the northeast.

I was bound to succeed.  (See what I did there?)

After dinner, things began to get really interesting.  I tried to contact my friends to ask if they wanted their trim that night, but the location of the event was in a rather isolated state park with very poor cell reception and I couldn't reach them.  So I made the executive decision to go anyway, driving past my hotel to deliver said trim.  When I got to the state park I found a big gate rolled across the road to prevent entry after 10 pm.  I may have uttered one or two terms of sailorish vocabulary displeasure.  Then I thought, "Well, I can just walk to the campground, deliver the trim, and make somebody drive me back up to the gate afterwards."  I walked around for 5-10 minutes, decided absolutely nothing looked familiar, then headed back to my car.  Unable to get a strong GPS signal or double-check the address online, I drove all around the state park trying to find the correct campground, eventually ending up right back where I'd started--in front of that big-ass gate.  I sighed, got out of the car, and proceeded to walk around the gate and down the hill towards the campground to find my friends.

To complicate matters, it was raining (and apparently had been for several days); the warm spring weather and heavy, misty rain created a deep and eerie fog which encompassed the entire state park.  Also, as in most state parks, there wasn't much in the way of ambient lighting at night so between the rain and the fog and the remoteness of the location, my surroundings were pitch black...and I do mean black.   I couldn't see squat, which might explain why it was so difficult to get my bearings.

Where movie co-eds go to DIE.

With nothing but a sad little travel umbrella, spotty GPS, and my iPhone flashlight to keep me company, I walked about a mile down the road looking for the event campground only to come out by some cottages overlooking a lake.  Unfortunately, the relevant campground does not overlook a lake...that would have been too easy.  So I turned around and started the long hike (mostly uphill) back to my car.  As I walked in the silky darkness and incessant rain I kept thinking to myself that it was a damn good thing I don't scare easily since my current situation was a Friday the 13th movie just waiting to happen. Oh, and did I mention?  I was doing this late at night...because walking all alone around a very dark, very secluded park's woods in the rain and fog at midnight seems like a sensible thing for a woman to be doing, right?

Meanwhile, the next day one of my oh-so-helpful friends informed me that, as it happens, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives actually WAS filmed in that very state park right around where I was walking...in pitch blackness...at midnight...alone.  So were the movies Poison Ivy and Little Darlings.  Turns out she worked at the park back when those were being filmed.  Only I would be ridiculous enough to channel a horror movie in the exact same location where said horror movie was filmed.  That's just how I roll.  Yup.

"Oh, Gingerrrrrrrrrrr..."

Needless to say, I made it back to my little TARDIS-blue Volkswagen Jetta without being assaulted by any random hockey mask-wearing dudes. Giving up the whole enterprise as a bad job, I headed back to my hotel to check in.  There I found the doors locked and a sign up that read "No Vacancy."  A couple more colorful epithets may have escaped my lips...possibly...okay, probably.  I rang a doorbell to call the desk clerk to let me in, learned that my room was still waiting on me (phew!), and was even given a much-needed bottle of water for free.  I went upstairs to shower off the sweat and the rain (because clearly I needed more water pouring over me), only to find that the sliding shower doors were stuck.  Eventually I got one jammed door shifted enough in its track to open the other door so I could get in the shower.  Afterwards, I got on my laptop to check my messages quickly before going to bed, only to discover that it had picked up a virus and was busy popping up windows and downloading random programs as fast as I could delete them like some syphilitic 18th century prostitute.  Exhausted and lacking the requisite cybercillin, I slammed the lid shut and went to sleep.

No more computer viruses for me!

The next morning I finally located the correct campground, trim in hand. In spite of the 4-hour sewing extravaganza that ensued, during which I applied the binding I'd plundered to one garment and helped yet another friend finish an outfit of her own in a wildly unrealistic time frame, the rest of the day was calm and I had an absolutely wonderful time visiting with and catching up with my besties all weekend.  Lots of food, fun, and laughter (and also a few tears) were involved, and I even received some excellent swag:  A brilliantly badass friend gave me a book on dressing Italian Renaissance-style, another lovely friend gave me a sweet little green shoulder shawl she'd knitted ("I thought it would go with your hair"); I plan on pinning it together with a broach and running around everywhere pretending to be the kickass Claire Fraser, who has a hot ginger Scot waiting for me her at home.  Yet another dear friend made me a knitted crown so I can now be a self-rescuing princess, which is especially useful since the chances of me ever getting a crown in the SCA are about as likely as my freckles growing together into a permanent tan.  But I'm okay with that.

As anticipated, my trip home was not without its own bumpy ride--literally.  Monday morning I stopped at a few favorite shops in town before heading to the airport amid dark and stormy skies which the radio informed me were because of a tornado warning in the north part of Atlanta.   However, the airport is to the south of the city, so I arrived without major incident.  After returning my rental car (bye, pretty blue Jetta!), I headed into the always-crowded terminal of the Hartsfield-Jackson airport.  I quickly checked my bag but had to wait quite a while in the security line, primarily because of the doofus in front of me.  By the time I was able to leave the herd of people in line and shuffle up to the actual security scanners, the doofus, moving slow as Christmas in molasses, had divested his belongings into 4 different grey bins (most people use one or two), not counting an enormously over-stuffed black backpack.

Next his royal doofiness decided he needed to bypass all the body scanners for a personal pat down, only to get yelled at for forgetting to remove his belt first.  I escaped through the scatter scanner while they were bellowing for a male agent to come and feel him up.  For once I didn't set the scanner off, in spite of the metal brads on my jeans or wearing the exact same sock brand that nailed me on the previous trip.  While I collected my things, zipped up my laptop bag, and put on my shoes another agent yanked aside the doofus' big black backpack and my paper bag containing the jelly beans and fudge I'd purchased on my way out of town (as well as a necklace, pair of earrings, and my tablet).

The TSA agent asked if the bag was mine; thinking she had said "flat bag," meaning my paper one, I said yes.  Apparently she had meant the doofus' backpack and proceeded to get pissy with me because I'd said it was mine then said it wasn't. When I apologized for mishearing her and tried to explain my error, she got even more pissy and defensive to boot.  Presumably she thought I was in league with the doofus and trying to pull a fast one...I don't know.  At any rate, she put up her hand to shut me up and forced herself to shake off my verbal assault argument explanation (apologies can be so offensive), then grabbed the doof's backpack and started digging slowly through it.  She plopped aside big wads of dirty clothing (have some pride, dude--fold your crap), then tossed a grocery bag of dirty socks and undies in front of me.  I confess to being secretly glad she had to put all the guy's nasties back in his sack when her pitch made them fall out.  Next the agent pulled out three boxes of Schlage door locks--the kind with the combination buttons instead of a keyed lock.  At this point my friendly neighborhood doofus started getting twitchy; he tensely asked the agent if she had to open the boxes because he "wouldn't be able to sell them if the cardboard was damaged."  Since, you know, Home Depot never has dented boxes ever.  You'd have thought those boxes were filled with meth or state secrets the way this guy was sweating and fidgeting.  Meanwhile, the agent looked at him like he'd grown an extra couple of heads, barked out "YES" and proceeded to break open the tape seal with her pen.  Three boxes later she was satisfied the contents were indeed door locks, then set them aside to swab his suitcase with one of those little PH paper terrorist test strips, walking three aisles over to get the results...naturally.

By this point I was starting to twitch because this ludicrous charade was taking forever and I was about to be late for my plane yet again.  What made it worse was knowing that my bag would have taken approximately 90 seconds to check, but I still had to wait the 20 or so minutes for her to deconstruct Sir Doof's bag first.  Finally she finished and started to pile his clothes back into the backpack, at which point the doof tries to reach over to help her so he can pack it the way he wants.  The agent freaked.  That little move nearly got him arrested for trying to breach the sanctified air around a government official's table...I mean, how dare he interfere with an official government investigation by overly-enthusiastic TSA officials??  Also, and I say this with love, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING BRINGING 3 BOXES OF SUSPICIOUS-LOOKING METAL BOXES WITH COMBINATION/DETONATOR BUTTONS THROUGH SECURITY??  Seriously, dude--WTF???

Once he backed away, the agent shoved his bag aside while he received the TSA Grope Special™("all the junk-touching with none of the dinner or movie").  Instead of immediately getting my bag to inspect next, the agent meandered over to the line to stack up a bunch of discarded bins, chat with her colleagues, pick up a couple more bins, and finally bother to pull my paper bag over to the inspection table.  You'd almost think she was dawdling to punish me for disagreeing with her earlier.  The agent set aside my tablet, poked suspiciously at the jelly beans (they might have been made of explosive cherry gel, you know), then pulled out the box of fudge to examine more closely even though it had the name of a well-known candy vendor on it.  Because terrorism.  She opened the box, inhaled the chocolatey goodness, and ultimately decided perhaps it wasn't candied plutonium after all.  She put the box back in my now-torn sack, pushed it at me, and said I could go.  The jewelry boxes she never even opened...apparently fudge is way more threatening than metal objects.

Weapon of Mass Confection
Also? Best. Fudge. Ever.

Sometimes I wonder if TSA has my picture, emblazoned with an admonition for agents to screw around with me, posted in various airports around the country.  When I mentioned this, one of my friends suggested it's because I have an IRA dopplegänger somewhere stirring up trouble.  Another friend suggested maybe it's a redheaded prejudice thing (and people wonder why I have a hate-hate relationship with TSA).  All I know is that it's always something, every damn time.  I have no idea what the deal is, but I would like for it to stop.  I just want to fly in peace.  Is that really so much to ask?

After the very time-consuming Doofus Debacle, I jumped on the tram and once again zipped down the concourse to my distant gate, pausing only to use the bathroom and grab a bottle of water and a quick burger from 5 Guys, as well as to waste another 5 minutes explaining the meaning of the word "schlep" to a cashier ("Schlup?"  "Schlap?"  "Ohhhhh--Schloop??") who was just fascinated to learn a new word. I reached my gate and wolfed down the burger just before boarding began.  This time my seat was farther back in steerage with the rest of the serfs, and was significantly more comfortable than the Comfort+ seat I'd paid a couple of extra bucks for to avoid sitting on top of the engines last time; somehow that just seems wrong.  My seat-mates were quiet and nonintrusive college girls who allowed me to lean away from the baggage going down the aisle so I didn't have turn into a custom Delta bobblehead.  As a result, the flight was much more pleasant than my previous one, at least until we hit some major turbulence near Philadelphia, which also happened to be under a tornado watch.  Perhaps I should change my name to "Ginger Stormbringer, Terror of TSA."

Don't screw with me, TSA...I have a crown and I'm not afraid to use it.
(That goes for you, too, Jason.)
Still, I wouldn't change a thing in spite of torn tags or tornados or TSA trials because it means I got to see my "sisters from other misters"--women who love and support me unconditionally, even after only knowing me a scant four years.  Women whom I likewise love and support, and for whom I would even traipse around undead serial killer-infested woods at midnight...because that's real friendship right there. Right?  RIGHT??


  1. I enjoyed this waaaaaaay more than I should lol...........I've always assumed I was the only one who had airport horror stories! Shannon

    1. Oh, please...TSA and I exist to torture each other, and not just because I'd like to tattoo the amendment regarding civil liberties and unreasonable search and seizure to my chest for the scanners to read. Can you imagine us traveling to the same airport together? It would probably implode. :)

  2. This gave me the laughs I so greatly needed! We must catch up sometime . . . it's been really interesting lately.

  3. You are an absolute treasure. I LOVE that picture of you!