Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Brave New Travel (or A Tale of Two Airports)

The Hollywood family was able to visit family in Ottawa (the capital of Canada) during the Christmas break from school.

Back in my pre-seminary days, I did a lot of flying. Boy, air travel sure isn't what it used to be! All of the new security measures - some of which surely are necessary and others of which are simply silly - add to the stress and strain of getting from point A to point B.

Anyway, what follows is an anecdotal account of my experiences in two airports. This is hardly a scientific survey, and it is completely subjective - but I know what I saw and what I felt. It's presented here for what it's worth (and it is indeed worth every penny you'll pay for it!).

We had a fairly long layover at Chicago's O'Hare airport. This enabled some time for observation. It dawned on me just how out of date everything about O'Hare is. The airport looks like an old rundown shopping mall from the 1970s. It appears bland, and almost Soviet-drab. Many of the seats at the gates were in need of repair. The stores are terribly understocked and utterly uninspiring. Signage is confusing, and communication is wanting. Our gate changed twice with no notification from the staff. It was hard to find airline personnel to answer questions. I found almost every staff person in the airport to be cold and/or ambivalent.

Worst of all, was the Orwellian Drone that repeated over and over in an almost sci-fi monotone informing us that the security level was orange (whatever the heck that means), and that we were to report any suspicious behavoior to the Chicago Police or the Transportation Safety Administration. Of course, cops and TSA officials were nowhere to be found, and the Orwellian Drone didn't mention any special phones or kiosks where said reports could be given. Maybe there were telepathic sensors imbedded in the walls...

And yes, I've been in the tunnel many times that flashes the bright colors and plays a strange cacophanous rendition of Rhapsody in Blue - but not this time. While I always enjoyed the novelty of that tableau, which could have come out of Blade Runner, there is still something rather soulless about it - the antiseptic white walls imbedded with pastel lighted cubes and the Lifeless Robotic Voice (perhaps the grandfather of the Orwellian Drone) reminding us perhaps ten times a minute that the "moving walkway is coming to an end, please look down." The travelers might get the impression that they're being herded into a giant grinder at the end and being made into food. I don't know if that "musical" tunnel between the terminals is still there or not, but it is about the only thing memorable about O'Hare to me.

The thing that I noticed most in the current layover was the look of the travelers. They were far from joyful. They were stressed out, sad, angry, on edge, tired, bewildered, and just plain worn out. Many of these people were on vacation, but were anything other than rested and looking forward to their destination.

There is nothing in the Airport promoting Chicago, nothing that would even give you a clue where you are. Nothing but confusing signs, unhappy people, and the ubiquitous Drone.

If the O'Hare Airport were a character from Saturday Night Live, it would be Debbie Downer.

Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans (to be precise, the City of Kenner) looks and feels different. There are bright colors all over the place - often selected from the gaudy Mardi Gras palette of purple, green, and gold. Happy and upbeat jazz music fills the air, letting the traveler know this is the Big Easy, and travel should be pleasant, if not outright fun. Signs and smells announce that gumbo and jambalaya are readily available, not to mention coffee! Palm trees and historic pictures of New Orleans musicians greet the traveler who strolls from gate to gate or to baggage claim. Yes, there are announcements about security, but not every five seconds, not in the Orwellian Drone, and they tell the traveler specifically how to make a report!

The shops are bright, inviting, and proclaim the glories of New Orleans. Local civic pride swells from the ever-present fleur-de-lys, the Saints gear, and the LSU tiger merchandise, to the souvenirs depicting Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and Mardi Gras. Signage in the airport is clear, and may even have things like alligators and crawfish on them. There are colorful posters showing our local zoo and various activities and festivals in the New Orleans area. The workers at the airport were overall very friendly and helpful.

You can see it in the faces of the travelers. They smile. They have a spring in their step as they make their way through the airport.

What a difference from the dour and cold O'Hare. Was I in Chicago or East Berlin? The billboard outside Armstrong Airport advertising the Sugar Bowl said it best: "It's good to be back home."

13 comments:

Peter said...

Well, remember that you yourself had long layover in Chicago, and it's never fun to have a long layover. O'Hare's got good restaurants, including a place to get good Greek food - - Chicago style. I've never had any trouble with the signs, but maybe that's because I'm used to it.

As for the "Orwellian" security, yeah, that orange alert stuff is pretty ridiculous. I'm sure the Feds try to make an airport a hyper-example, simply because so many folks use it.

For most folks, O'Hare is only a stop on the journey. It's not usually the destination. Thus, there's not the joy of arriving in hopping place like New Orleans. Folks are tired, like you were, and I usually am, knowing that I have more flying to do.

And finally, the little guy usually tries harder. I say, God bless New Orleans. And, for purposes of civic pride, I should note that when you arrive in Fort Wayne, you receive a free cookie. Wish you could fly up to the Symposium and receive one!

Favorite Apron said...

What great descriptions. I hope you kept the travelers around you laughing with your Orwellian drone comments.

Father Hollywood said...

Peter:

Last time I flew, my layover was at Hartsfield (Atlanta) - which is Delta's hub (and I used to live in Atlanta before coming to seminary). The two airports (O'Hare and Hartsfield) have been neck and neck in terms of traffic. And yet, I never saw Hartsfield as a "Debbie Downer." Hartsfield runs like a top, and I never found it drab and dour like O'Hare. Of course, Hartsfield has the trains that whisk you from terminal to terminal, which takes a load off the feet. I always found the shops and restaurants in Atlanta to be classy and professional - but of course, Chicago is not in the same league as Atlanta as a world class city (which is funny because midwesterners used to ask me if we had running water in Atlanta yet, meanwhile we were having the Olympics there...).

Yes, I am a cookie monster, so I wish I could go to symposia to collect the spoils of visiting Fort Wayne (not to mention the Thrivent coffee mugs and LWF tumblers). But alas, we can't go this year, so we'll take solace in shorts and sandals (it's in the mid 70s today)and hope for a Saints' win tonight.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Apron:

We tend to keep our smart-alec comments to ourselves. One thing the Empire has no sense of humor about is disapproval of its Security Measures. In fact, Grace opted not to bring a Chronicles Magazine on the trip considering we would have to come back to the U.S. through Customs. We just decided even the small risk of "ag" (aggrivation) over such a publication was not worth it.

Isn't that sad? We've been through U.S. Customs enough times to know what to leave at home.

It was almost shocking that we were actually cracking jokes with the Canadian Customs officer on the way up. The same banter would have landed us in a small room for interrogation on the Southern side of the border - since obviously a 40-something Lutheran pastor and his wife and two-year old are at risk to highjack the plane to Cuba for cigars and home-made salsa...

The other thing that was humorous (which we discussed in hushed tones lest Someone In Authority might overhear us) was the "most wanted" poster of terrorists as we were going through customs: all young Middle-Eastern men, without exception. Which, of course, explains why little old ladies from Pasadena have to keep their shampoo in a three-ounce bottle zipped into a clear one gallon ziplock bag, remove their pumps, and have a TSA officer feel them up. Yeah, makes sense to me.

I have little hope that common sense will prevail for a very long time, if ever.

To quote Peter's father: "Now you've got me all upset again!" ;-)

Peter said...

Ok, that bit about Atlanta being a world class city is too much! Have you ever stayed overnight in Downtown Atlanta? Nothing but tumbleweeds. Chicago, on the other hand, is wonderful: museums galore, shopping, pubs, the works.
Btw, have you read Clancy's "A Man in Full"? (with Atlanta as its backdrop) What do you think?

Peter said...

Btw, congrats on the Saints big win. Maybe you'll face our Indianapolis Colts. Then we could place a bet. Say a Po Boy vs. a Hoosier Pork Tenderloin. (Yeah, I know I'd be getting the far better end of the deal.)

Father Hollywood said...

Peter:

Tumbleweeds? The last time we had those was 1865 (of course, both Atlanta and Chiacgo were destroyed by fire - only one of them being accidental, unless Mrs. O'Leary's cow was a Southerner...). :-)

In fairness, Atlanta's glory is not "downtown" - as it is not an old city like Chicago where everything radiates from the hub of downtown.

Atlanta started completely over after the war and reconstruction, became a booming railroad center during the late 19th century, and became a giant in the 1980s and 90s with computer technology. It is much more spread out, more along the lines of, say, Toronto. There are hubs rather than a "downtown."

As far as museums go, of course, that's all Chicago has - since its glories are in the past. It's part of the rust belt. Companies and people leave Chicago to relocate to Atlanta. How many people are eager to move to Chicago (or anywhere in the midwest) when they retire?

I lived in both Chicago and Atlanta - my impressions aren't from any novelist, but rather personal experience (and of course, this is subjective and completely unscientific). I do love the way downtown Chicago looks - especially at night. But Atlanta makes a strong visual as well rolling in on the well-maintained interstate with huge screens, bright lights, and skyscrapers of its own. Plus, no salt in winter to rust out the cars, mild weather year round, an American history dating back to 1776, and battlefields in the vicinity. Atlanta lacks the "Second City" Napoleon complex that seemed to dominate Chicago culture.

I found the culture superior in Atlanta. In fact, I was shocked to find Chicagoans to be generally much ruder than New Yorkers (I did not expect this, having grown up in the midwest myself).

By contrast, the local culture in Atlanta was much more genteel, race relations were far better, and government was much more conservative. You can actually find pro-life Democrats there! And the GOP was generally an embarassment to the national party because they were so right wing.

Also, when I lived in Atlanta (things may be different now), it was mind-bogglingly cutting-edge. It was booming with technology and prosperity. As I mentioned before, it was the site of the Summer Olympics in 1996. The Airport announcements are made in multiple languages - reflecting the international commerce in Atlanta.

I moved from this world-class cutting-edge city to Fort Wayne, where at that time I couldn't even pay for gasoline at the pump with a debit card.

Again, these are just my observations. Your results may vary!

Father Hollywood said...

Pete:

Yes, that match-up could happen - though I think it far more likely for the Colts to make it than the Saints (I'm a man of little faith - even though *you're* the one named after the guy who tried to walk on water but sank).

The team has been a great source of joy for our city, a rallying point for people to come together as a community, a symbol of coming back and beating the odds. Also, the restoration of the Super Dome is huge. You would not believe what it looked like right after the storm. It looked as though it had been bombed. There was talk of bulldozing it. It too has become a symbol of renaissance.

But if our teams both make it to the Super Bowl, indeed, let's bet. The Fort Wayne pork tenderloin is tasty indeed! I'll even throw in some Cafe Du Monde coffee if the Colts beat the Saints! But shouldn't Baltimore be involved somehow?

Peter said...

For a proud Confederate to like Atlanta's culture better is only to be expected. And, of course, no need for salt in a warm weather climate. But, given time, global warming will handle that problem. In the meantime, you can't beat beauty of the city by Lake Michigan. Not to mention the architecture. You're right, though, Chicago is an old city, like New York, Paris, and Rome. But, then again, a lot of the older building just happen to be more impressive, and interesting to look at.

And,there's nothing wrong with a second-city mentality - - it produces a lot of comedy and some humility. Heck, Canada's whole existence is based on being a second banana, and they've done ok.

Ah, well, enough of this. I'd be happy to visit Atlanta. And probably would be happy living there, if I could afford it. Still, if I wanted cutting-edge, I'd go for Seattle, I think. And, talk about beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Now don't discount the Fort Wayne night life. I have heard they have quite a few -uhh- clubs.

Perhaps good 'ole Pete-y should throw in a dance on someone's lap to sweeten up the deal????

Father Hollywood said...

Peter:

Actually, most Confederates loathe Atlanta. John Shelton Reed once wrote that Atlanta is what a quarter of a million Confederate soldiers fought to prevent! ;-)

It has been inundated with Yankees, and much of the Old South has been attacked by very ignorant folk. However, even Yankees learn a thing or two living there. Children still say "yes, sir" and "no ma'am" and you can actually find men opening doors for ladies.

It's not a totally lost cause, though most of my Confederate friends would disagree.

All I'm arguing is that I'd rather live (and serve a layover) in Atlanta than Chicago. Then again, I'd rather live just about anywhere other than Chicago.

I worked in New York and Cleveland - and loved both of them. I also lived in Philly, and did not enjoy it as much (though the history element was without equal!)- though I still rate it above Chicago. Again, this is only my opinion - I know plenty of people who disagree - but I really loathed my time in Chicago. I found her to be a decrepit old windbag.

Father Hollywood said...

Cowardly Sem:

There is one saving grace about all the strip joints in Ft. Wayne - since they don't have enough imagination to come up with new names for them (instead opting to call them all the same name only with a Roman numeral afterwards).

And that saving grace is this: since the Fort doesn't require the study of Latin, at least the students can learn to count to (whatever they are up to these days) in Roman notation.

Maybe the "cookie" Peter says they give you at the airport is really a token for a "show" at one of the area "establishments."

Somehow, I don't think all the signs boasting "Pole Dancers" have anything to do with Slavic folk music.

But then again, we shouldn't be so harsh on Fort Wayne. There's plenty of family entertainment there, like the Hooters near the mall - not to mention the monster truck shows that come to town. And any time the students need a few bucks to pay tuition, they can probably find a place to sell plasma or pawn a guitar.

It is the one place where a fella can live in a trailer (like I did for three years) and be considered an aristocratic social climber. ;-)

Peter said...

Hey, I love the "Old Windbag," and, there's no reason to get nasty about Fort wayne. But still, Viva Atlanta!