Friday, June 10, 2005

The Curse is Not Reversed

Last year, it seemed like every weekend we were scheduled to fly into Florida, another hurricane reared its ugly head. For all three hurricanes, we literally were scheduled to fly to Orlando and had our flights cancelled. I became convinced that I had inadvertently ticked off a gypsy and was suffering the effects of an arcane curse. I mean, come on...three hurricanes in a row? And all three plowing through Central Florida with a fury that is usually reserved for coastal areas?

This year, I figured that the curse had to be over. Surely one bad season is enough. But here I am, preparing to fly to Chicago today, and Tropical Storm Arlene is busy whipping up a windy, rainy mess.

Granted, Arlene is not a hurricane and is not on a direct collision path with Celebration. But she's close enough and strong enough to have a profound effect on our weather. According to the weather forecasters, we'll get a dose of strong, windy thunderstorms starting today and running throughout the weekend.

I don't think my flight will be cancelled, but chances are high that there will be a delay. If lightning starts crackling through the sky, Orlando International Airport will shut down their ground operations. In the Land of Lightning Strikes, it's not safe for ground personnel to be out working on metallic equipment, surrounded by metallic aircraft. And even if we just get a soaking, the heavy rains will probably mess things up by inhibiting visibility.

I'm not a very brave flyer, even in the best of circumstances. Add bad weather to the mix and it a recipe for a white-knuckled terror ride. Worse yet, since I'm flying Southwest, I will need to stake out a good position in the "A" line in order to have my pick of seats. I prefer an aisle seat towards the front of the plane for two reasons: 1) My nervous bladder necessitates at least one trip to the restroom, and I hate tripping over strangers from an aisle or window seat; 2)I only bring a carry-on bag, so the quicker I get off the plane, the quicker I can be on my way.

Only totally inexperienced travelers would dare to check luggage for pick-up at Midway Airport. Waits of more than an hour are the norm; tonight, I'll probably be back at my condo while my unfortunate fellow travelers are still praying for their bags to appear. Worse yet, the baggage handlers are a cruel breed, on a par with the dentist in "Little Shop of Horrors." They will toss two or three "teaser bags" onto the belt almost immediately. An excited murmur of expectation will ripple through the crowd, but soon their hopes are shattered. Those bags will circle endlessly, taunting the waiting throng, since they are decoys that don't belong to anyone. Any real luggage is still a good 45 minutes away from making an appearance.

On one memorable trip, the wait was so long that the impatient crowd started amusing itself by tossing various items on the empty belt. By the time any bags showed up, there were several food items (candy bars and a bag of potato chips) and a Buzz Lightyear doll making the rounds. Of course, since we were in Chicago, someone who was not Buzz's original owner tried to "claim" him, resulting in a heated dispute. Fortunately, he eventually made it back to the correct person.

Being up front in the A line is critical because the number of people pre-boarding in Orlando often rivals the entire population of Osceola county. Florida apparently attracts the world's largest number of pubescent "four year olds" (the supposed pre-boarding age limit). Handicapped people are also allowed to preboard, and every now and then you can witness a miraculous cure. Perhaps Southwest serves water from the Shrine of Lourdes, because my husband witnessed one such incident with his own eyes. A girl on crutches preboarded with her family, dragging herself along as though she might collapse at any moment. After take-off, she decided to use the restroom, and Praise the Lord! She was cured! She headed down the aisle like an Olympic sprinter. But alas, her cure was short-lived, as another family member whistled and pointed to the crutches. Suddenly her limp was back, even worse than ever, as she returned to retrieve them.

Once the pre-boarders have taken over the plane, the seat pick can be rather limited. I have no problem with hanging out in the A line for an hour or so to ensure a decent seat. The challenge arises when there is a delay, which triggers my nervous bladder. If I'm with my husband, he can hold my place in line. But if I'm traveling along (which I am today), I am torn between temporarily abandoning my bag and hoping it won't be mistaken for a bomb before I can sprint to the restroom and back or suffering my way through an unknown timespan of crossed-leg discomfort.

That may be the situation today if the storms decide to roll in around my flight time. I restrict my liquids before leaving for the airport, but it doesn't help. I think that my bladder would suck out my eyeball fluid if it had to, just to make my life inconvenient.

It wouldn't break my heart if my flight were cancelled altogether, but I can't wish for that because many of my fellow flyers probably have to get to Chicago today. Actually, I'd be somewhat disappointed, too, because I am returning to see "Wicked," the play about the college years of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz. You've got to admit that it's an intriguing story idea. Everyone fully expected "Wicked" to walk away with the Tony Award last year, but it was glommed by an off-Broadway upstart called "Avenue Q," featuring dirty-minded Muppets and their human counterparts living in a New York apartment building where Gary Coleman is the superintendent (no, not the real Gary Coleman...he is played by an actress). I was hoping that "Avenue Q" would have a touring company, but instead it moved to a permanent home in Las Vegas. Oh well, at least I'm seeing "Wicked," "Lion King," and "Little Shop of Horrors" this year.

So far, the rain in a no-show, so we'll see. I'm sure that it's saving its fury for when I climb into Canyonero and head off to 417. I am planning to park off-site, so I may be swimming to the shuttle bus.

Arlene is an early bloomer, since we're barely a week into the 2005 hurricane season. She's a surprise to some people, but definitely not to me. I thought that my curse ran out last year, but obviously it's alive and well like some bizarre version of the Stephen King novel "Thinner." Oh well, I don't mind being stuck in Florida. I just don't want to get stuck on the Chicago end!

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