Philaminneapolis: My Day of Going Nowhere
As I begin to write this post, I am sitting at Starbucks in the mall concourse of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I have been in Minneapolis since 12:48 pm, when my flight from Seattle finally touched down after circling for approximately 30 minutes waiting for Air Force One to depart with President Obama onboard. While the President’s reason for being in Minneapolis was moving (see his full speech to local veterans here: LA Times – Obama American Legion Speech), his departure caused a lot of problems for me.
The initial problem was my 40-minute layover…I was playing with time to begin with. Thanks to the President’s timely departure, I missed my connecting flight to Philadelphia by less than 5 minutes (and completed my exercise for the day by sprinting in vain from G22 to C13). Along with what seemed like half of our plane, I tried to find an alternate flight later in the afternoon, but if there was any chance of snagging a standby spot on flights heading to Philadelphia – or NYC, Boston, and Newark for that matter – Hurricane Irene took care of those days ago. We never stood a chance really – this is not the week to have business travel go awry. And so I found myself with a 10:00 pm return flight home to Seattle, and suddenly 8 hours of unexpected free time in Minneapolis.
So what to do with myself? This has never happened before to me, let alone when I’m traveling solo. I felt like I was in some sort of Midwest Limbo. Do I hang out with the bored teenagers in the Aurora Borealis Arcade? Join toddlers at the digital red umbrella installations that scatter when you dance in front of them? Take Bossypants and find a corner to hide in and sulk?
No, I don’t. Instead I decide to visit the one place more surreal than an airport – the mall. Only a $1.75 train ticket and 20 minutes later I was at Mall of America – the largest mall in the United States by number of stores. Side note: it just so happens that the largest mall in the United States by square footage is King of Prussia, the location of my current project. So I’ve got that going for me. Mall of America is less of a mall and more of an amusement park – literally. The huge center atrium is an actual amusement park, roller coasters and funnel cakes included. There is also an aquarium (what?) and a LEGO store guarded by a full-scale LEGO dragon and pirates. It was clear that the entertainment portion of the mall rather than the retail drew the majority of the Tuesday afternoon crowd. My work-related “research” consisted of reviewing several projects I had previously worked on but never visited – other than those few, the store selection was nothing more than what could be found at a typical suburban mall. Having visited my projects and eaten a quick Chipotle lunch, I quickly grew disinterested and overwhelmed by the spectacle. Life-size version of Spongebob Squarepant’s pineapple house = awesome. H&M #1 of 3 = boring.
I returned to the airport sore from the luggage on my back and my ears ringing with the shrill voices of hundreds of children. I had only been at the mall for two hours. So with four hours still to go, I settled into the deserted F13.
Each time I travel, whether for business or otherwise, I am always bothered by how unpleasant air travel has become. Everything is a struggle, whether it’s being unnecessarily chastised in the security line, leaving your laptop, iPhone, jewelry, etc. exposed on the conveyor belt while waiting your turn to be painstakingly ushered through the body scanner, or racing to be the first person in Zone 4 to board the plane, just so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag. Everyone is stressed and tired – gate employees, flight attendants, travelers, and the striking thing is that no one seems to empathize with anyone else. At least once every trip I witness an unsavory view of humanity; normally rational people turn into calculating, impatient pushers and shovers, and employees switch off their instinct to sympathize with travelers’ plights. This is not an enjoyable experience for anyone involved.
But what I found on this trip, of all trips, is that people can reach a place where they see each other. I was surprised by the way random people sought to better my situation. The older gentleman at the Delta Help Desk was very patient and sincere, and found the flight I am currently on, heading towards home. At Bloomingdales, I was offered a free makeup session and Aveda hand massage (I didn’t accept due to perceived post-sprint greasiness, but it was a sweet gesture). The handbags ladies at Nordstrom chatted away about all sorts of topics, just to keep me company. And a co-worker who happened to be on the same flight home bought me a much-needed beer at the airport lounge.
Now in-flight and approximately an hour away from Seattle, I realize that all of the frustration and confusion, the copious use of several choice obscenities, and the aimless wandering ultimately led me nowhere. After 20 hours of travel, I will end up right where I started at 4:00 am this morning – at home. And at the end of a very long day, that makes me happy.