I looked down at the two items on the counter: a hard pack of Camel lights and a souvenir Chicago lighter.

I laughed.

I'd quit smoking three months earlier and had managed to go my entire trip without even wanting a cigarette.

Now I looked down and thought of all that had brought me to this point. My shirt was still wet from coffee, I had no phone, I had missed a full day of a three-day class, I stank and I was six hours away from being home. I was through quitting smoking.

The end to my trip to Atlanta had begun on the plane going back to Chicago. I was to meet my connecting flight to Columbus so that I could make a class the next morning. The Airtran 727 hit bad weather and I was terrified. The clouds loomed outside the window like some kind of man-o-war with black tentacles trolling the ground for an easy meal.

The captain told the flight attendants to secure all items in the cabin and to strap themselves in. I was beside myself, unable to read anything but the same sentence in my book over and over. My fear gave way as thick clouds obscured everything- I stared out into the creamy darkness with my hand on the window.

The landing gear came down a while later and I kept wondering when we would see the ground. I almost screamed out aloud when the first thing that I saw was a woman in the bedroom of her second story home. We landed 30 seconds later, grazing the neighborhood of homes just outside of Midway airport.

Once on the ground I shuffled off to my next flight to find it delayed… then cancelled. I called my friend who lived in Chicago and he came to pick me up. We changed my flight from Midway Airport to O'Hare, got food and talked until 3 am. I gave him my nodespotting t-shirt as a 'thank you' gift and he dropped me at O'Hare at 6 am - after barely any sleep and no shower.

I was relieved to finally go home, so I ignored the nagging feeling in the back of my head and the fog that obscured the wide, open windows. It looked as if the airport was floating in the center of a cloud.

The fog forced them to bump my flight back one hour, delay it again, and then cancel it.

I was stranded in the airport again. This always seemed to happen when I actually needed to get somewhere! If I were some stupid tourist bopping from city to city I'd never be delayed.

I was miserable in line as they changed us from one airline to another, Columbus bound, flight. With a new ticket in hand, I shouldered my bag for the long walk from concourse E to concourse C. I called work, on the way, to tell them that I would not be making my class before one O'clock. I told them, however, that this was assuming that the flight I was on actually left the airport. The fog was still a soiled blanket over the runway.

I'd been awake since 5:30, I had gotten to sleep around 3 am and it was almost eleven. Coffee, I needed coffee.

After- what felt like- a mile march through the airport, I found a Starbucks. I ignored my usual hatred for that cursed company and let my tired brain and love for coffee take over. I ordered their largest, strongest coffee and listened to "Springtime for Hitler" play on the overhead speakers between announcements. I took a few sips of black heaven and was off again.

From the "mall" area to concourse C you had to take one of the many moving sidewalks belowground. I rode a towering escalator down to the long tunnel and stared at the long conveyors and the rainbow neon lights that ran along the ceiling. It looked like an amusement park ride. You must be at least this tall to ride this ride.

Coffee in hand, backpack strapped to my back and laptop bag on my shoulder, I stepped onto the sidewalk and simply leaned while children, old ladies, a man in a wheelchair, and many others walked hurriedly past me. It was if people had to run the moment their feet hit the moving surface. Ahead of me I saw that people were changing sidewalks at the breakpoint. Somehow, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with this one. Everyone moved to the conveyor to the immediate left.

I got to the breakpoint and stepped forward on the next, expecting to be carried slowly forward, but went nowhere. It finally struck me that this particular sidewalk was broken. I stepped back to change course and ride the one to my left.

As I turned to change sidewalks some running asshole collided into me. The force of the impact mashed my large coffee cup against my chest. If I had been lucky, and the lid insecure, I would only have been burned from the chest to the crotch with scalding coffee. Unfortunately, the lid was tightly fixed to the cup and the compressed sides forced the contents to shoot out of the small drinking hole out of the top. My Columbian version of "Old Faithful" spewed directly up, and scalded me from the underside of my chin, to the base of my neck and down the front of my shirt.

The man let out a semblance of "Whhoooooaaaaa!" - then rapidly changed lanes and ran down the other sidewalk.

By the time I figured out what the hell had happened he was just a blur with the end of his tie flapping over his shoulder. He was a fucking white rabbit, fucking Speedy Gonzalez.

I was stunned, and I did something that I don't think I've ever done before or since. I screamed something completely unintelligible and shook my free fist at him. "aaaarrglah!!"

He was halfway up the escalator at the end before I’d even reached the halfway point on the second line. I'm sure he didn't even hear me.

I rode the next line while staring down at my shirt. The pain from the burn under my chin was awful, the blue shirt I'd bought in Atlanta looked like some kind of brownish blue tie-dye.

Resigned, I leaned against the rail and sipped what was left of my coffee. I held my shirt away from my chest to keep it from burning my skin any more. By the time I got to the end of the conveyor it was cold and clammy.

I arrived at my gate at concourse C and sat in silence and frustration. When they began distributing the boarding passes I found that they had put me on this flight - on stand-by. They told me that even if this flight took off on time there was no guarantee that I would be on it.

I was too tired and burned to even show frustration to the ticketing agents. I took my slip of paper and sat, and sat. First they delayed the flight 20 minutes, then an hour, and then they decided that they wanted to change the flight crew so an additional hour would be added.

I gave into my desperation and realized that it was time to call my travel agent again. These people knew me by my voice now and had worked pretty hard - so far - to get me to this unsuccessful leg of my trip. I hoped they would find some way to reverse my current situation. As soon as I started speaking they jumped to work, they searched the flights leaving O'Hare.

The woman on the other end said that they thought they might have a flight leaving at - "click".

There was nothing, the battery had died on my phone.

"God damn, FUCK! FUCKITY FUCK" I became a vulgar version of E.F. Hutton. Everyone turned to face me and all conversation died. People just stared at me, listening, gaping. I'm sure I was quite a sight: dead phone in one hand, bags around me, my hair was unwashed, I stank of BO and I was covered with coffee. I had chosen sleep over a shower that morning and now regretted it more than I could describe. I just wanted to sleep; I just wanted to be home.

I picked up my shit and just left. I walked the concourse until I found a power outlet then plugged my phone in and called work.

"I'm not going to make it into class at all today." I said. "In fact, I'm not sure that I'm even leaving Chicago tonight!" I'd reached my frustration level with everything and everyone. I was done.

"Idiot," My boss said, "rent a car and come home."

I was so relieved at this that I actually smiled. I thumbed my nose at the people at my gate, walked back through the concourse, the rainbow conveyor system, past the Starbucks, and into the main entrance.

There was no one in line at the car rental counter and they greeted me with a warm smile. I had two requirements - a CD player and a 'smoking section'.

They gave me a mini-van and I couldn't have been more pleased.

On the way out I stopped by one of the newsstands and asked for a pack of Camel lights and a lighter. The girl turned and got the smokes then picked out one of the Chicago, souvenir lighters. She rang them up and smiled. "That'll be $8.75."; she said.

I looked down at the counter and laughed, amazed at myself that, for the first time that day, I felt like I wasn't being screwed.

Previous Part - I Went to Atlanta and All I Got Was This Lousy Pile of Junk

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