International airport in Chicago, Illinois. ORD is the headquarters of United Airlines and the second-largest hub of American Airlines.

O'Hare was built in the late 1940's on a site called Orchard Field (hence the abbreviation ORD), which at the time was used for assembling Douglas aircraft. It was subsequently named after Edward "Butch" O'Hare, a fighter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II. It opened in 1955, became international in 1958, and took over Chicago Midway Airport's scheduled services in 1962.

In terms of plane movements, it is the Busiest Airport In The World: if you're counting by passengers, that honor belongs to Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. The situation was actually reversed during the 1980's and 1990's, with Chicago leading in passengers and Atlanta leading in planes.

The airport has a whopping seven runways (compared to four at Atlanta and two/three at Heathrow), but the current configuration is very inefficient, as they criscross each other so that only three can be used at once. A $6 billion plan is in the works to demolish three extraneous runways, extend two of the original runways, and build four new runways so that the airport will be able to operate seven runways at the same time, enough to handle 1.6 million aircraft a year (compared to 800-900,000 now). O'Hare is notorious for delays and cancellations (especially in Chicago winter conditions), and these delays often keep aircraft from serving other routes in other areas, so the expansion should help on-time airline performance across the US.

Terminals

Terminal 1: Used almost exclusively by United. Lufthansa uses United's departure gates. It is divided into Concourse B, a single long rectangle parallel to the access road, and Concourse C, a satellite concourse parallel to Concourse B.

Terminal 2: Used by United, Continental Airlines, Air Canada, US Airways, America West Airlines, and Northwest Airlines. Shaped like a Y: the two branches of the Y are Concourse E and Concourse F.

Terminal 3: American's home turf, shared with Delta Airlines, Iberia, and Alaska Airlines. Also shaped like a Y, but the branches in T3 are called Concourse H and Concourse K. There are also two shorter piers sticking out of the terminal called Concourse G and Concourse L. Concourse G is connected to a circular building called—get ready—the Circle Building, which has some of O'Hare's best restaurants. Trivia: Terminal 3 is where Macaulay Culkin became separated from his parents in Home Alone 2.

Terminal 4: The old international terminal, in reality little more than a bus terminal that held international passengers until they could be bused out to their planes on the tarmac. T4 was converted into a CTA bus terminal and train station in the mid-1990's.

Terminal 5: The new international terminal. It handles all international arrivals into O'Hare and most international departures. Also used by Spirit Airlines and Sun Country for domestic flights. It has only one concourse, Concourse M.

The terminals are all linked by an airport train called the ATS.

Web site: www.ohare.com/ohare

We drove down the ramp leading to the parking structure. Police were blocking the ramp; they asked us what we were doing there and received a chorus of "Cars! Getting!" in reply.

After twenty-four hours of driving, after a day spent waiting for a rental car in a city clogged with people trying to get home, that's about all the five of us could have given them.

The police waved us through and we continued to the dip in the ramp, just before it bifurcates into the maw of the enormous parking structure.

Here, another blockade. Many other rentals were clustered near a wooden barricade, all lit by the oscillating yellow glow of various emergency vehicles. Police and airport security personnel milled about, chatting idly with other travelers as they emerged from their vehicles.

I pulled the car up to the barricade and jumped out, as did my passengers. I looked up the ramp and saw people walking along, trailing their luggage behind them; they seemed so small, like ants crawling slowly up a gigantic mountain. The building was completely dark. As people reached the entrance they faded to black. No one was being allowed to drive in, of course.

Not today.

My passengers emptied the car of their luggage and started walking the ramp to their cars. I jumped back in and drove away, to return the rental.

I pulled into the Enterprise lot, opened the door, and got out. I lit a cigarette, and started walking towards the corner of the lot, towards the terminals and runways.

I looked up at the starry sky.

None of the stars were moving.

Many were twinkling, but none of them were moving; none of them were blinking red and green.

Then I heard the crickets chirping.

I looked around, and saw a small tree planted alongside the lot, on the boundary with a competing rental company. I heard birds singing in this tree. I heard the wind.

"I can't believe this," I said quietly to myself. I was standing just a short distance from one of the loudest, busiest, fastest places I'd ever seen, and it was utterly silent and still.

September 13, 2001. That's when it really hit me. Loud was silent, stars were still. At O'Hare.

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