“Don’t you want to feel safe?” asks Rosalind Russell. In response, Clark Gable knits his brows. “I never have. What’s it like?” * Vigorous travel is a grueling sport! One anticipates deprivation and hardship on any trip of significance. One seeks adventure! Exhilaration! One does not select air transportation to wrap oneself in a safe cocoon. No sir! Air travel exists for one and only one purpose. SPEED!
On this particular excursion, I am bound to a Wilderness Paradise with some questionable individuals. Traveling alongside me is the entire staff of that rag colloquially known as Chicago Venture Magazine. As uncomfortable as that may seem, I have no recourse. I must tolerate their companionship to reach my destination and my urge to visit the North Woods is almost too intense to bear.
We arrive at magnificent O’Hare Field–the busiest airport in the world–to find ragged lines of citizens in full commotion spilling out doorways onto the steaming pavement. Some chew their nails, others their neighbors. It takes just a few steps from our taxi to join the rabble. I always find these little conveniences such a pleasure. It is so re-assuring to arrive at a scene of anxiety and anger with hours to spare and no particular thing to do.
We inch through the line like a pig through a python. Several times I catch sight of security personnel examining various members of our group with a penetrating gaze and frightening intensity. I half expect one of them to break ranks and open fire, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
In due course, we approach the official checkpoint and I am aghast—aghast I say—that a group such as ours clears security! I must admit to a few tight moments. Bill Blair experiences an awkward time of it, fitting his body through the x-ray booth. There is that strange incident of the uniformed lady and her execrable and aggressive probe. Then we are through! Unarmed and entirely defenseless–our lives willingly surrendered to the whim of anonymous authorities. We are now free to wander the protected concourses. Free from malicious acts of maniacs, including any mischief we may perform on our own. First we must wait for that Lonagan fellow to return from a strip search.
The man finally shows himself, shirttail wagging, carrying his shoes and a tumbler of what smells like cheap whiskey. Where he found that, I do not know, but I promise myself the same pleasure at the next opportunity. I lick my lips and scan for a tavern as we head to our assigned gate amid throngs of travelers trailing wheeled luggage. How such small bags carry sufficient weight to warrant wheels is a subject for speculation. The idea of gold bars comes to mind.
Through expansive windows we note the skies prematurely darkening. This is contrary to all weather reports. We now face a more significant danger than random acts of violence. Weather. Apparently, no matter how often such events occur, it always comes as a nasty shock to one-and-all that it rains in Chicago. We can depend upon the authorities to protect us from this terrible threat, and looking around, I see anxious people, desperately clinging to hope that they might escape this fair city before the onrushing clouds envelop us. I wonder, if given a modern weather bureau, Christopher Columbus would ever have discovered the New World.
No sooner do we find chairs than a sweet voice oozes from speakers overhead, informing us with utmost kindness of a delay and change in our gate assignment. I am almost oblivious to the import of the message, dazed by the beauty of that voice until Jim Kren rudely pokes me. “C’mon, we’re movin’,” he says in Midwestern style.
Two of our party sense trouble and take action in a timely manner. Ethan Sobriety finds a connection through Calgary, British Columbia. Warren D Mink boards a plane to Fargo, North Dakota. Perhaps he plans to hitchhike from there—I do not know. We are never to see those two souls again.
That leaves eight of us. Take a good look at this regiment, sir: If you believe that Loop Lonagan is a troublemaker, my compliments to your instincts! Jim Kren is that little one with his face balled up in a strange brew of anxiety and spite. I truly wonder how long he can keep that up before the inevitable coronary. Donatas Ludditis and I wager on it.
Ludditis is a genial man who has seen almost a hundred years of good and evil. I catch a glint of humor in his eyes and believe we share a common sentiment about our situation. Except for the irritating habit of cracking walnuts with his biceps, I enjoy the company of that old goat.
That giant blocking your sight of half the crowd is Bill Blaire. His grand scale is something to behold and he always reserves two airplane seats, preferably adjacent ones. I do not mean to imply obesity. The man is huge in a profound way. I’ve seen him on airplanes before. He bows low to cram his body beneath an overhead compartment then slips in, filling every available cubic inch of space like a huge overstuffed steamer trunk. I cannot believe that serves to improve his posture.
Alexander Harbinger also stands tall but only six-foot-five. I have never seen him slouch and find that particular trait obnoxious and inherently suspicious. That and his heavy accent. Joe Perogi owns an amazing flair for conversation if you do not sit beside him too long. Then there is Jonelis, our host. The less said about that one the better. I feel generous today because he invited me on this delightful jaunt. And everybody is having such a good time.
You may ask how I, with my elegant mustaches, resplendent in my stately white suit, can possibly be associated with such people. I must admit, if I were a customs inspector, I would not permit this crowd to enter my country. These men are clearly desperate! They share a single-minded objective! They are all bound for a fishing excursion deep in the Canadian Wilderness! Our allotted time in Paradise is tightly scheduled, dearly purchased, and non-refundable! We do not take kindly to those who might cheat us out of a moment of our idle pursuit!
As the day grows old, another announcer—I believe the shift has changed—politely informs us in a mild baritone of yet another gate change. We rise and obediently shuffle to a new resting place. I find a comfortable chair and claim it. I will not relinquish it. No sir!
Ah, the comforts provided travelers these days. During the next twelve hours, mannerly messages pleasantly drift from the public address system, each repeating the status of our flight. DELAYED. Cursed is more to the point. But that leaves sufficient time to read another chapter of my book, so I slouch back in my comfortable chair. This particular novel is written by America’s greatest author. It chronicles a delightful stagecoach journey to what was then the American Wild West and I cannot help but draw parallels to our current state of affairs.
Then finally, long after dark, when it is too late for recourse, they CANCEL our flight! I see the man making that dread announcement and overhear his cussing when he clicks off his microphone. His frustration is understandable. Cancelling a flight is a cowardly act bordering on criminal. I picture him at dawn, fighting a pistol duel with whatever craven official doomed us to this fate. Dawn is not far away. Perhaps I will see it–possibly act as second!
Then a voice over the speaker requests that we vacate the concourse. Immediately. By some herding instinct, a huge line forms at the only desk assigned for re-routing this mob. Jonelis adroitly snags a loose ticket agent and leads him to a vacant computer terminal. After a half hour of rigorous and creative effort, the clerk throws up his hands. Then John whips out his enormous Galaxy Note and attempts to book a charter out of DuPage. Those airplanes are all grounded. One would think war had broken out, but all that has occurred is a little rain. I secretly dream about the joys of travel by horse.
Then I discover an enterprising establishment that has remained open throughout the chaos. Indeed, they do a brisk business—a very brisk business. American ingenuity at work! Yes sir! I am delighted to sample the fruits of free enterprise and take this opportunity to sip a Sour Mash or two. As I watch people scramble in all directions and others pile into that enormous line, I sit at the bar and order another happy round. One can scarcely expect to buy advance tickets to witness a spectacle like this!
No room can be found at the inn but the airport authorities thoughtfully set up thousands of cots, edge to edge, each furnished with a warm blue blanket. We all settle in for a fine night’s rest where the lights never dim and the public address system cycles through the same recorded doggerel—useful information regarding the smoking of cigarettes on the premises. These first-rate sleeping quarters are set up like magic within the concourse itself so we will not again suffer the indignities of the security personnel. That sir is what I call consideration! That is what I call luxury!
That night I wake to the horrible screech of rending aluminum as Bill Blaire’s cot collapses. His snoring attests to the fact that he, at least, loses no sleep over such trifles. I admire that in a man. A true woodsman, that Blaire—the Paul Bunyan of our group. That crumpled cot still resides somewhere beneath his great comatose body but I cannot see it so I cannot swear it. I nudge him with the toe of my boot. His snoring intensifies.
The police kindly keep their protective eye upon us until 4:00 am when security rousts every groggy being to attention with a commanding shout. It is a new day. As a seasoned traveler, I have already made necessary provision for my needs at the only privy in the vicinity. While the line to that vital facility grows, I march off in search of sustenance, and find it. Excellent bagels and lox, served ironically beside crisp bacon, with plenty of hot coffee. But presently, Jonelis whisks us away, back down the concourse to a waiting aircraft.
Two of our party get called by name for that flight. Then two more. We are standby passengers and Jonelis wrangles with the gate clerk as an officious woman with some sort of frequent flyer rights rudely exerts her authority to horn-in ahead of us with her entire party. That would mean the splitting of our group. I see the others flipping coins to determine who goes, who stays. But our host prevails. Another of life’s adventures conquered. We board a diminutive commuter plane and the broad shoulders of this city stack like spoons in cramped seats. Stinking in wrinkled, slept-in clothing, we finally escape this town. As wonderful as the experience has been, I am glad to move on to the next adventure. After all, we have lost a full day of wilderness leisure.
Ah, the miracle of modern flight! It takes twenty eight hours to board the plane in Chicago but a mere hour and a half to reach Winnipeg International Airport! In another hour, we clear customs. That sir is what I call FAST. That is what airlines are all about! I gaze in admiration at our magnificent craft–its sweeping lines and powerful engines–so obviously built for speed and speed alone. Yes sir! That airplane looks fast standing still!
Meanwhile, Kren and Lonagan argue over the advantages of automobile transportation. Jonelis finds a Facebook page about a friend’s son who accomplished the amazing feat of skateboarding across the entire continent. That is an awesome adventure. No officials coddling you with safety. Picture yourself winding down a steep mountain road on a longboard. Such contraptions have no brakes sir! But that is a story for another time. ** I prefer the sublime comfort of the stagecoach bounding down a rutted road. On second thought, make it a train.
At this point we learn that the airline has misplaced all our luggage. That includes gear vital to the completion of our mission in the vast wilderness, especially our fishing rods! I overhear the customs inspector utter an unkind and unnecessary expletive regarding United Airlines. That remark strikes me as unsporting after that brave entity has accomplished such a miracle–whisking us from Chicago to Winnipeg in an hour and change–and in such a painstaking cocoon of safety!
Grown men swear and gnash their teeth. After a dramatic display of emotion, our party repairs to the lobby for a meal. Lonagan leads us to a place by the name of Louie’s Lotsa Pasta. But Jonelis vetoes that, and we enjoy exquisite repast at an excellent bistro named Stellas. I recommend it! Never take the pleasures of a good Jambalaya lightly.
Just a few hours later our gear arrives and we happily retire to our hotel. With precious fishing rods clutched in greedy hands, we head toward luxurious showers and soft beds.
We draw lots and I get Bill Blair’s room. That means another noisy night of it. But with customary forethought, I have purchased earplugs. Bill drops unconscious on one of the enormous queen-sized mattresses and uses all of it. The bed does not collapse and he starts snoring immediately–tired but safe. I must admit that I find it difficult to get the whole of him in the picture.
Bill Blair on a queen-sized bed
Our bush plane will depart early next morning for a 500 mile leg further North. Perhaps I will tell you about that next time. Maybe.
* Quote from the motion picture, They Met in Bombay.
Photography by John Jonelis, except for Clark Gable, Mark T Wayne and Longboard America.
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