2004-02-15 - 9:11 p.m.
Returning A to the JFK airport has brought on whole new discoveries in the NY mass transit system...I have discovered the brilliant "Airtrain" that goes from Jamaica (Queens) to JFK. The train takes about 15 minutes and costs $5 each way. This is FAR SUPERIOR to sitting in a traffic jam on the Van Wyck Expressway, and is one-fifth the cost of taking taxis each way. This stands as the greatest discovery of the month (well, next to the discovery of locally roasted fair trade shade grown organic french costan rican coffee for $6 per pound).
My trip with A to JFK somehow reminded me of my first hapless visit to this airport back in 1974. As far as my six-year-old's memory holds, there have been large changes...(airtrain, for example). My first visit "happened" one summer when I was visiting my grandmother in Baltimore.
I flew from St. Louis to Baltimore on Allegheny Airlines in a DC-9 airplane, as an unaccompanied child. When my grandmother returned me to the airport some 3 weeks later, there was a small mixup..Instead of St. Louis, I wound up on a plane to New York City.
This was back before the days when unaccompanied children flew with dogtags around their necks and were scanned before being sent through the security checks. In fact, this was before the days when Gates were labeled with flight numbers and destinations. In fact, the flights to NYC and St. Louis were essentially going out of the same gate only on a V-shaped ramp - one end to St. Louis and one to NYC.
This was my first experience with my grandmother's inability to listen to directions. I remember now her asking me which way we should go to get to the plane. I said that the announcement said we should take the right end of the V. We did. We arrived at the end of the gate to find open air - no personnel, no plane. Just tarmac below us, across which we could see the other plane. So we just assumed that we had gone the wrong way, and we ran up the ramp and around the corner to the other plane - the plane to New York. OK, there is the small problem of my grandmother's inability to listen to directions, but this was compounded by airline incompetence. When she and I arrived at the airplane door, the stewardess announced in a loud, friendly voice, "Oh Yes!! We've been expecting Karen!" It was only halfway through the flight that it became clear to me that there was a problem, thanks to the 10-year-old boy sitting next to me (unaccompanied minors talk to each other). He announced confidently and authoritatively that under no circumstances was this plane going to land in St. Louis. Ever. Somehow this never disturbed me - I figured that it would all be worked out and I would get home.
As the plane landed, I overheard the stewardesses (they were still called stewardesses back then) talking in slightly panicked voices, confirming the boy's story. I was in the wrong place. But somehow I don't ever remember feeling worried, but rather that it would all work itself out. The stewardesses in the meantime fed me for the entire three hours that I was stuck in JFK. I don't remember much of the airport - just that it was big and dark, with big arched windows just like St Louis, and an adult choir in the center singing Christian songs (I was a newly-converted born-again thanks to my grandmother which is why I recognized all of the music - but that is another very long involved story). So after a hamburger, fries and two ice-cream floats, I was finally delivered home to St. Louis at about midnight, and returned to our little farmhouse at some time early in the morning (erherm, and...regailing them with tales of the wonders of my Savior.)
It was only later that I learned that my father nearly punched the uniformed man standing at the gate when his six-year-old daughter didn't appear at the appointed time and on her appointed flight. I had given my mother's name as my guardian and they were not at liberty to tell my father anything. Fortunately she returned to the gate before he caused anyone any bodily harm.
This story seems so implausible in this day and age. Gates are labeled, grandmothers don't walk you down to the plane door, let alone walk you down to the WRONG plane door. No one even looked at my ticket when I got onto this plane back in 1974. Tonight I said goodbye to A shortly beyond the Delta Airlines check-in counter. (come to think of it, their "signage" or lack thereof rivals 1974...but I will give them the benefit of the doubt given that they are remodeling). I stood there outside the security check and craned my neck to watch A remove all bags, scarves, coats, shoes, and then get frisked on the other side before she disappeared down a long corridor, undoubtedly off to her next security check where she would be questioned about the coke that she drank at the airport an hour before.
JFK is a different place, as is the rest of the world of air transport. In some ways it is easier and more convenient than ever to visit remote parts of the world, but now we have to say goodbye to our loved ones at the curb, and be sure to leave the toenail clippers at home.
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