Thursday, October 06, 2005

Are we moving yet?

I’ll be home in an hour according to the pilot. But considering what I’ve already endured in San Antonio today, I’m not very confident.

First of all, I’ve endured being in Texas. Something about this state bugs me. They’re very into SIZE here. Everything is supposed to be BIG! I live in Chicago so I find it a bit obnoxious and trivial when I land in Dallas and somebody says, “Welcome to the BIG D.” If I’m in a good mood, I say, “thanks.” If I’m not, I say, “I just flew in from the EVEN BIGGER C. What’s your point?”

Even people who don’t live in the BIG D claim they do. My first job offer out of college was for a newspaper in Garland, Texas, about 20 miles outside of Dallas. I flew there for an interview and discovered the entire paper was eight pages long. One page was devoted to school cafeteria lunch menus. I think they employed a reporter to exclusively report on that. Stop the presses! They’re introducing meat loaf into the junior high!”

Two days later, the managing editor phoned asking me if I was “ready to move to the Big D.” What was he talking about? This was Garland, the tumbleweed-infested, deathly boring G. I declined the job.

Yet the size thing still persists in Texas. San Antonio isn’t nearly as pretentious as Dallas but they’re still hung up on size. I ordered a beer last night and the waiter asked me if I wanted the “regular” size or the “Texas size.” I ordered latter, figuring it would make me drunk faster and then I could pass for a Texan.

So I was in a hurry to leave Texas today when I arrived at the airport and found THE BIGGEST line I’ve ever seen at the American Airlines counter. It began in San Antonio and ended somewhere near the BIG D.

According to airport personnel, a cut telephone line was responsible for temporarily destroying the entire computer system at American Airlines. Be forewarned! At the San Antonio International Airport, a single telephone lets the check in department talk to the gate agents, the gate agents talk to the baggage handlers, the baggage handlers talk with the pilots and the pilots talk with the air control tower. There must be a REALLY long line for that phone!

Because this one severed line also caused the self service check in ticket kiosks to go kaput, everybody was forced to wait while the ticket counter personnel tried to figure out how to operate primitive devices known as “pens” and hand write everyone’s tickets. Somewhere, I thought, the terrorists are laughing their asses off at us. We knocked down their buildings and THIS is how they have improved things four years later? That’s a good one, Ahmet!

Americans, particularly business travelers, don’t do lines well. Tell a group of people at an airport to form a line and it resembles a line for about 15 seconds. Then it becomes a “group,” before turning into a “clump” and eventually escalating into a “mob.” The devastation caused by Katrina forced people to wait in lines. This occurred only because these people had lost everything. Had they been able to retrieve say, a cell phone from the destruction, they would have spent the entire time in line calling people and trying to figure out a reason why they should be exempt from standing. That’s what most people do while waiting in line – try and figure out a way to get out of it. Hey Bob, I’m in line at the airport waiting for a hand printed boarding pass. Can you download the pass on your PC, email it to my Blackberry and I’ll see if I can upload it to a printer in the airport business center. Great!

Often one line becomes several, as evidenced at most major hotels. Approach the check in desk and you’ll invariably find three or four clerks behind the counter, peering at computer screens that only they can see and which all say the same thing, namely that your room hasn’t been cleaned yet and you won’t be able to check in until midnight.

The sensible thing would be to form a single file line and the first person in line goes to the first available clerk, followed by the next person in line going to the next clerk and, you get the idea. Or maybe you didn’t get the idea because that’s not the way it works in hotels. An individual line forms in front of EACH clerk. Hey, this clerk looks smart. I’ll bet she works the fastest. So I’ll stand in her line.

Of course, that never works. The guy in front of me always seems to have about 500 “special requests.” He wants a high floor, a non-smoking king bed near the elevator, a room overlooking the pool, a wake up call, turn down service and, of course his credit card doesn’t work. Meanwhile somebody who arrived at the hotel 15 minutes behind me, waltzes up to the line next to me and checks in while I’m still standing there, picking my nose and vowing to bring a tent along on my next business trip.

Of course, then I’d have to wait in line for the bathroom and that could get ugly.