duck-shaped pain


27 November 2001
One Day, Many Forms of Transit

Wednesday, 14 November 2001

Six in the morning is a hell of a time to leave for the airport, especially when your flight doesn't leave until 11:30 or so.

Yet, I saw no way around it. The little voice on the DIA hotline and the fine print on the airport website all told me so. I needed to get to the airport three hours before my flight, in order to check in, go through the newly stringent security process and still get on the plane in time. Which means that I'd have to be there around 8:30 to catch my 11:30 flight to Newark.

The problem here was how to get to the airport from where my mom lives, way down in the south suburbs, about as far from the airport as one could be and still be in the same metropolitan area as it. Some options were clearly out. I could drive, yes, but I didn't want to pay for parking. I also didn't want to have my mom drop me off, since it would be more than an hour's drive (round trip) and would cost one of us about $8.50 in tolls to get there. Which left one option: the airport bus.

The airport bus is. in theory. a comfortable and convenient way to get oneself to the place that one needs to be: if has comfortable seats and places to stash your luggage and doesn't cost an arm and a leg like taking a cab might be, if anyone in Denver actually took cabs places. But the big downside is that although you'll eventually get to the airport, the trip via airport bus is long, slow and tedious.

Which is how I ended up leaving at six a.m. I looked at the online bus schedules and found that in order to get to the airport at 8:30, I had to get to downtown by 7:30. To get downtown by that time, I had to leave the south suburbs by around 6 or 6:20.

My mom drops me off at the light-rail station. I hurry over to the ticket booth, purchase my ticket and wait for the train. I just stand wherever, but after a few minutes I notice that everyone at the station who is not me is standing in one of several orderly and utterly straight lines. These lines would later line up precisely with the doors of the arrived train -- in all my years of riding public transportation, I've never seen such behavior. [1] My status as The One Who Was Not In Line garnered me some frowns, but fortunately, the train came, and everyone got on.

Between listening to the announcements on the train and reading the fare schedule posted inches from my nose, I discovered en route that I had paid an inadequate fare. Riding the train to and from anywhere else in the metro area costs one price, but entering or exiting the extreme south suburbs costs you more -- sort of a Littleton Penalty to keep those who belong there in and everyone else out, I guess. Fortunately, the light-rail system works more or less on the honor system, so I didn't have any trouble.

After what seemed to be forever, I finally got downtown, where I felt okay again. I was surrounded by familiar sights and frowning people who do not line up orderly for anything and all was right. I walked down to the station, since the light rail had arrived early, bought my ticket and waited for the bus to show up.

Also waiting with me was one of the most annoying couples I've come across in a long time. The woman of this couple looked familiar in a vague way, however, I was not up for searching my mental databank of Denver people at that time of the morning, just to figure out where they came from. These people were loud and whiny and had piles and piles of luggage. This didn't make them that annoying or even really distinguish them from the other airport-bound people. What made them annoying is that they kept trying to get on the wrong bus, and then yelling about it when they were told that they were trying to board erroneously.

God knows these are clearly marked buses. They say "AIRPORT" on them. Their bus letters all start with "A." The driver comes out and announces, "Airport bus!" The annoying couple, though, kept trying to board any bus that came by. The "B" bus goes to Boulder and all the yelling in the world is not going to make it take you to where you need to go, people.

So the airport bus arrives and everyone else gets on without incident, except for the annoying people who have forgotten to buy a ticket and are surprised to learn that yes, it costs money to ride the bus to the airport. It costs money to take the bus anywhere and is not a free public service provided just to these two. Lots of bitching and squabbling and finally they forked over the money. We had to hear about it all the way to the airport, though.

Three hours in advance? Ha ha. This was so wrong.

I got to the airport at the desired time (8:30), and walked over to the United counter where there was precisely nobody in line to check in. Total time here: five minutes, three of which I needed to put my name on my luggage.

I walked over to security. I encountered an impressive collection of signs and roped-off areas that warned that the wait might be gruesome, but once I got there, there was once again no one in line. I walked through the metal detectors, they hand searched my bag and I had to take off my shoes for inspection, but the total time here again wasn't more than five minutes.

Which left me with a hell of a lot of time to wait in DIA. Which is more interesting than other airports I've been, but since I'm not in the market for any Denver souvenirs, the array of things to look at is limited. So I sat down and had an expensive airport breakfast of coffee and some truly dense currant and almond granola. I listened to a chorus of many cell phones going off at once while I tried to write in my journal. And then I did several more varieties and colors of waiting before it was actually time to board.

The plane flight would have been uneventful except for two things. One, the stupid annoying people that were on the airport bus also graced me with their presence on the flight. We sat near each other, and they continued on in their respective complaint monologues, all the way to Newark. Two, the sneezy stuffy whiny woman sitting in front of me, who gave me her cold. And oh yes, I got to see a really crappy movie (America's Sweethearts) and the roll on my sandwich was stale. Other than that, nothing to report, other than some unremarkable lateness.

The plane landed and I got my backpack and found the counter where I was to buy the ticket that would allow me to get on the bus that would get me into the city, which would be the first part in getting me to my friend J's apartment. The woman at the counter complained because I was trying to pay for my eleven-dollar ticket with a twenty-dollar bill ("Don't you have anything smaller?") which, after an entire day spent waiting and walking and being in transit, ticked me off and I told her, "Sorry, I already spent my fifteen-dollar bill." She threw the ticket at me, but that was okay.

I went outside to wait for the bus, and then a thought crossed my mind, something that I had never ever thought before: Crap, I'm in New Jersey.. I had never been to New Jersey before, and what I was seeing of it at that point (the underside of a road, some buses, lots of cars in the distance) was pretty much what I expected. [2] Finally, the bus arrived, and I got on.

Since it was rush hour, the bus trip into the city took longer than expected. Which was okay, since that delayed the part of the trip I was most nervous about: going into the subway and finding the right train, and managing to get where J. lives without getting lost. I chewed down many a nail during that bus ride.

Which was unnecessary, since finding where I needed to go turned out to be the opposite of difficult. Even while toting around an unwieldy backpack. [3] I got my card, got on the right train, and got off at the right stop, and there was J.'s apartment building, just where he said it would be. There were some difficulties with the front desk person (she pronounced my name something like Miren, which is not quite close), but that was about it.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was J., but the second thing I noticed was how much his current apartment looked like the one he had back in Denver. Architecturally, they're quite different, but they both share the same patina of stuff everywhere. Except that the square footage devoted to records had decreased, replaced by comics. But it was great to see him and his stuff again -- I'd missed both.

I gave him his presents (a box of toffee and a schedule from the best bus route in Denver, the 0 [4]), we chatted a bit, and then went out to eat at a Japanese restaurant just down the street from him.

Which was both yummy and cheap -- we each had the special, which was your choice of teriyaki item (me chicken, him salmon), some tempura-ed things (some unidentifiable -- taro, maybe), a set of California rolls, some other things, and soup, for nine dollars, which was a lot cheaper than the above would be at the Japanese restaurant here. Plus, a tempura shrimp roll was served. It was pretty excellent.

After dinner, we walked around his neighborhood a bit (he lives up near Columbia University), looked at some used CDs in a store, bought some groceries, and rented a movie to watch later (Trekkies, which was great on many different levels and made me feel like less of a loser -- the aim of all great movies). By this time, though, I was completely exhausted, so we went back to the apartment to listen to CDs and just hang out.

That was day one.

[1] I've ridden trains and buses in Japan, and the act of waiting and boarding was a total free-for-all even there. This whole line thing was really creepy.

[2] No offense intended to you if that's where you're from and all.

[3] At times, I wished that I'd sprung for the wheeled version of my backpack.

[4] It is the best bus route because it's the one we both used to ride constantly to get to important places, and also because it's called the 0. Not many other places have a 0 bus.

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