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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


At the moment, both Free Monkey and I are on the road. He is in LA, and I am in Georgia, spreading the word of Girl At Sea.

First, the Monkey report.

FREE MONKEY is now in Los Angeles for the first stop of his World Tour. (The visit to Hank was a pre-tour stop to prepare.) You can see his activities by going to Little Willow’s site.

I flew to Atlanta on Monday night, and I am there now, sitting in the Georgia sunshine. Last night, I did a fantastic event at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, where I spoke to a an amazing reading group.

That much is good. But the getting here, friends . . . that was not so good.

I have to preface everything below by saying that I am used to traveling internationally, so flying inside the US can be confusing. I don’t mean this in a “I only fly to fancy, faraway places!” I mean this in an “I expect the worst in terms of long lines and strict security” kind of a way. I expect my body to be x-rayed, my passport to be checked every six minutes, my shoes to be blown up, and my comings and goings to be ruthlessly questioned. On international flights, they make you show up days in advance so they can do all of this. They even board you a full hour before you take off just to make super-super sure that you are belted in snug and secure so they can seal the plane and check it fifty more times.

All of which I LIKE, because I am nothing if not pro-safety.

Comparatively, when I arrived at La Guardia (New York’s domestic airport), things seemed pretty relaxed. I checked in without showing ID. The security check seemed normal enough, but then I walked through the terminal, looking for my gate, and found that it was not so much a gate but more of a dark hallway in the back with about three hundred people crammed in it with nowhere to sit. The board behind the counter was not a digital display—it was one of those old fashioned boards where they stuck up plastic numbers.

Frankly, it looked shady, like some guys had quietly backed up to an unused corner of the airport, maybe one that had previously been a bathroom or something and was under renovation, parked their plane, and tried to stir up a little business.

The problem was, there didn’t seem to be a plane. They weren’t even acting as if there was supposed to be one. The flight was supposed to take off at 7:00. It had read 7:00 on the board, but since they didn’t know when we would be leaving, they simply removed the last two numbers and left it as 7:

After about 45 minutes of standing there, slack-jawed, staring at the 7: . . . I decided this was getting a little old, so I walked around and around until I found one seat, recently vacated, in the middle of a crowded row. I was just happy to be sitting down, and I barely registered the strange objects that were across from me, which were: a pair of black high-heeled fur boots, a sealed bag, and a plastic tub marked “chemical de-icer.”

Let me just put that into perspective . . . you can’t even bring water past security. You can’t bring bottles of shampoo. I once had my lip gloss taken from me and put into a small sealed bag. (I’m not sure what that was supposed to accomplish, aside from not getting the lip gloss on my stuff.) One time, when my flight to England was delayed, I had to leave the terminal and use the ladies room. They held my passport while I did this, and when I came back, they gave me one of those full body patdowns, they examined my shoes, and took the battery out of my computer to examine it.

So, that someone had come in with a tub of suspicious-looking chemical stuff was weird. What was even MORE weird was that that stuff had been sitting there unattended for TWO HOURS. I knew this from my seatmates, who had seen the pregnant woman who had come and left it there so long before. By the time I came on the scene and collapsed into the seat, there was quite a buzz about it.

Because the only thing more disturbing than a random tub of chemicals in an airport is an UNATTENDED tub of random chemicals in an airport left next to furry boots and a scary bag.

There’s always one woman who takes control of the situation, and we had one. She went to security. In fact, she went to FIVE PEOPLE, begging them to come and take away the Incredibly Suspicious Packages.

Again, this comes in sharp contrast to international travel—or anything in England. If you leave a bag for more than five minutes in England, they swoop in with an entire team, take it away in a big machine, and blow it up. The English have a lot of experience dealing with bombers, and they don’t mess around.

But at La Guardia, they really could not have cared less. They shrugged her away.

“No one will listen to me,” she said. By now, we were all involved in the story of the boots, bag, and de-icer and everyone was waiting for news.

This is when the staff of "I Can't Believe It's An Airline" sprang to life. The guy at the desk came on and said, “Who wants to go to Atlanta!”

You know, like it was a surprise trip, and not an airplane that we all had tickets for. But everyone was so excited that there was A PLANE that cheers and clapping broke out.

It was only as we were quickly scrambled back into line (it was a big rush now, of course, further confirming in my mind that this plane was not actually supposed to be here and we were getting into the equivalent of an unlicensed taxi) that the police showed up with the bomb sniffing puppy. It was definitely a puppy—he was sort of a shaggy German Shepherd, with huge paws, clearly delighted to be at work. I don’t know exactly what he found, but he went a little crazy with delight for the de-icer. The sealed bag turned out to contain large cheese puff balls.

So if you heard any stories about weird stuff being found at LaGuardia airport the other night, I was there. And if it was some scary germ or something, drop me a line and let me know, because I was sitting next to it for a while. Unlike that guy who flew all over the world with an infectious disease, I will turn myself in immediately. I think I might like quarantine.

So we got on the plane, and I eyed the contents of my seat pocket. (I’m always hoping that some day I will find something wonderful in there, like a first edition Harry Potter or a baby bunny.) Instead, I saw that my safety card had been ripped into pieces. The only other thing in there was a barf bag.

“Who ever uses those?” I thought to myself. I am lucky enough to have a very strong stomach, and the idea of throwing up on an airplane is pretty much the worst thing I could imagine.

And then we took off, and the girl across from me barfed into her barf bag.

Things started to look up once we took off and were flying along peacefully. We landed very suddenly (everyone down! down! down! we're landing!), and then I thought things were really on the move. But they had had a storm in Atlanta hours before, and for some reason this messed everything up, and we sat on our spot on the runway for well over an hour.

When I finally got to my rental car, I breathed a sigh of relief, and then I looked down at the ground next to it and saw this, which I had to pick up and take with me:

Would you take this as a sign?

I really could not have asked for a better way into my LIST OF THINGS TO BE AFRAID OF IN THE SUMMERTIME. And this story also proves why DRAGON TRAIN is so appealing. (Dragon Train is appealing for many reasons, but now more than ever.)

That’s coming next, just as soon as I complete something I have to turn in, pretty much now. (Not a book, but another writing project.) Deadlines call! FREE MONKEY travels!

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Blogger Becs said...

I have never flown before. I always thought it would be exciting.

But I keep hearing more and more stories like this.... :o Free Monkey is lucky he's going through the mail.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never flown within a country before- just internationally- and you can rest assured that due to this hilarious and slighlty distubing tale- i never will...ever.
Did they find out what the furry boots were doing there. Ooo they could have been the real threat while the tub of chemicals was just a red herring! I saw a movie like that once:D

Whooooo for Free Monkey's travels!!


10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you turn that sign around it says "On." Take from that what you will.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous jas said...

I fly within the U.S. quite a lot (it happens when your parents are separated by a large number of rather inconvenient states). I've flown internationally, too, which is always an experience. So far, the worst I've had to go through was a time when the guards at Miami International nearly pulled apart my CD player because they thought it had drugs in it and once, at the Denver airport, I had to take the brace off of my injured wrist to get through security.
Yeah, domestic security is a little lax, which you'd think it wouldn't be, considering how many times news networks have proclaimed that there are probably hundreds of terrorists living in our midst. Either way, considering the sheer number of times I've flown and not seen a plane crash or blow up (it's quite a lot), I don't think you were in too much danger of the mysterious boots killing you.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Tobias said...

I've flown internationally twice, once to the US and once to the UK. When I arrived in the US they took pictures and prints of me (just because I'm european, which apparently equals dangerous). Traveling within the European Union is a bit more relaxing. But of course my plane was to leave a few days after they stopped some attack with fluids. So I could hardly take anything with me into the plane and my bag had to fit into something they put up. Since I brought back like 10 books (which couldn't go into my normal luggage because that already weighed too much) I was afraid it wasn't going to fit. But it miraculously fit!!! I was so happy.

When can I expect to cheer because of a certain e-mail?

11:38 PM  
Anonymous kiersten said...

i was looking at all blog posts for a top secret FREE MONKEY project and came across a certain post and since we seem to be on the topic of bad traveling experiences i was wondering if you could tell us the story behind this:
I’ve been on flights before where they have been medical problems (like the time the woman actually collapsed on me when I was trying to work on Girl At Sea), and it’s been chaos. People running up the aisles. People with no medical knowledge at all standing around, giving advice.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Little Willow said...

Free Monkey World Tour, Day Two: Take Your Monkey To Work Day

If that doesn't work:

May your next trip to the airport be calmer.

Shoes explode in the book Lost It by Kristen Tracy, BTW.

4:13 AM  
Anonymous katiek said...

wow your airport experiences are crazy. And yay for Free Monkey touring!
Oh by the way, I received Girl at Sea today and I can't wait to read it! Too bad I kinda have to study for finals...

5:11 AM  
Blogger Jez said...

All my experiences at O'Hare in Chicago have been exactly what you were expecting. My experiences elsewhere? Exactly what you got, but instead of the random chemical bin and weird shoes, there were other types of abandoned luggage. I went through Jacksonville once with a pocket knife and pair of nail clippers in my purse once, right after the big "you can't take anything on the plane" scare.

I'll remember not to fly "I can't believe it's an airline" though, thanks for the heads-up.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Ammy said...

if I'd been sitting there with the mysterious package, I would have fled the airport. Seriously.

I've flown a couple of times before (both national and international) , and it's generally a relatively uneventful experience for me.

Except for when the decision was made to go somewhere "exotic" for a holiday. I think the troubles began when we first picked out India and booked the tickets. The night before we left for an early flight, I lost my passport. I unpacked all my luggage and found it nestled between two pairs of jeans. Packing it all up again was not fun.

Then, when I arrived in India, my luggage was lost. Standing in a foreign airport with no idea where your bags are is a frightening experience. I ended up collecting them from an entirely different airport three days later (apparently, they'd been mixed up with another flight's luggage--don't ask me).

On the way back after a great holiday, I stepped out of my taxi and into the airport. Then my luggage went through the conveyer belt, being checked. Surprise surprise, I was stopped so that my bags could be checked. it was ridiculous, especially considering that the "officials" simply spread my bags along the floor of the airport and asked me to take out EVERYTHING in them. I stood there in disbelief for a moment, then tried reeling off the name of a supposed lawyer, but they were persistent in making me empty the contents of my suitcases.

So I sat there and took everything out. As it turned out, I was told to put everything back in and get on my way--there was nothing of concern in my suitcases.

Following this was a frisk over by a particularly nasty looking woman who glared at me the entire time she was checking me. It was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. I was fully convinced that she was going to murder my future children.

That's my loong story. haha. It's nowhere as interesting as the stories other people have told me, but it is an exmaple of how creepy things can get at an airport. One thing's for sure, though. I'm not going to go back to India for another holiday anytime soon. I'm going to stick to the regulars from now on.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

A few years ago I was in London and found myself needing to throw away a plastic soda bottle. I couldn't find a bin anywhere, so I reached around and tossed into the waste basket in one of the little guard booths at the Tube barricade. The guard came running up to me and started yelling that I shouldn't have done that. I asked him where I was supposed to dispose of my garbage. He said, "Take it home with you and throw it away." I told him that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. Which, of course, marked me as an Ignorant American. My friend explained later that it was because of all the IRA bombings.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Addie said...

i Wonder what was in that envelope before u found it...

3:00 AM  
Anonymous julia said...

omg the girl in front of you barfed? that is so random i fly all the time, and i have nver seen anyone barf. i've seen fat people walk in carying a seat belt xtender, but never someone barf. tht woul grose me out. anyway i hope atlanta was fun. i wanted to go, but my mom said i couldnt. cool sign too.

6:01 PM  

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