Yesterday was the first time I'd been to an airport since I quit skydiving a few years ago. In fact, the last 300 times I've taken off in airplanes, I haven't landed in them. I've never liked the idea of landing in airplanes. That's when they crash.
But, there I was, at the Burlington International Airport in Vermont, waiting for my partner to return from a trip to Vancouver. I knew I had serious damage control ahead of me because she's a smoker, and would land (I smoke, too) feeling like she'd just been through six hours of dry waterboarding in a cattle car.
I arrived at the airport six hours early, allowing ample time for the hundred miles I had to travel across New Hampshire and Vermont, which is impossible to do. Like my homemade woodshed, there isn't a square corner in the whole of the Green Mountain and Granite States. Even four-way stops always have a fifth option roundabout.
I was also giving myself time to navigate the customary hindrances and hazards one expects to encounter in such a North Country winter trek — icy roads, unmarked detours, “local” traffic and overturned cows — none of which on this trip, of course, presented themselves. Only when one is running late do such things happen. This will teach me to be tardy the next time I want to be on time.
So, there I was with six hours to kill, and using the first of them spiraling around the claustrophobic helix of a three-story parking garage. This was startling enough, because nothing in Vermont should exceed two stories and not have an attic.
But, it's also a mandatory fixture for any airport adding “International” to its name, which also authorizes them to charge 30 bucks for a pocket-sized box of gift shop chocolates. I know that our cultural climate has changed in the last few years, and the word security has now come to mean insecurity, but I didnt expect the reaction I got from the airport police when I asked one of them if and where I could smoke.
I might as well have asked where I could get bigger shoes because the bomb I had in my earth clogs was numbing my toes. I did tell them (in an effort to get them to lower their guns) about my inbound partner, whose lungs by then were probably emerging on their own, and monster blobbing-up the flight crew.
This didn't help. Sensing incarceration, I tried to distract them and ease my anecdotal blunder by asking them just what, exactly, was the “suspicious activity” that a voice on the public address system kept telling me to immediately report, should I witness it. Just what kind of activity was considered “suspicious”? At this point, I was only trying to avoid being shanghaied on the next flight to Guantanamo, but my life's calling to what Mark Twain defined as “literature of a low order,” got the best of me.
“Would jumping around in the terminal on TWO pogo-sticks qualify as suspicious activity,” I asked?
Right about here, I'm duty-bound to offer some FREE ADVICE FOR AIR TRAVELERS: Airport (In)security guards are not the best audience for auditioning new comedy material.
One cavity search short of the most intense scrutiny since Britney Spears drove to a Jiffy Mart later, I suppressed my own nicotine craving and made my way to the Observation Tower. There, I had a commanding view of the airport, and could listen to the air traffic controllers on the overhead speakers.
Now, we've all heard the one about the guy who fell off a forty-story building, and as he passed the 20th floor, someone leaned out the window and asked him how he was doing.
“Okay so far.”
With that in mind, I looked out over Vermont's tallest garage at the incoming and departing flights, and found myself shocked to hear an air traffic controller's informal instructions to an approaching pilot: “Let's get you down to four thousand five hundred (feet) and see what happens.”
SEE WHAT HAPPENS? Reflexively reaching for my Marlboros and my ripcord, I remained there only long enough to also hear: “Sorry to keep bugging you, but I need you to lose some altitude.”
That clinched it, and I returned to my truck sucking-in a few calming gulps of that intoxicating nicotine/car exhaust combo, expecting to be engulfed any second in a Canadian fireball.
When my partner did finally arrive, after apparently escaping the 4500-foot international coin toss, I told her to keep her cigarettes out of sight until we crossed back into New Hampshire or Cuba via Canada, whichever came first.
We're okay so far.
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The ground's the limit for North Country Humorist B. Elwin Sherman. Please contact him via his website at: elwinshumor.com. Copyright 2008 B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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B. Elwin Sherman's Humor — Books/Columns