Time is not only money, it’s negotiating power.
I comprehend this dimension — of time. Sometimes airlines have extra seats and they drop the prices at the last minute because $200 is better than $0 and that seat is flying across the country anyway.
But last week I got on the wrong side of that deal.
My trip planning fell as the last domino that started with the abortion issue. Without getting into left/right politics, let’s just say that my husband’s travel schedule is at the mercy of the federal government’s budget, which is in turn at the mercy of politics.
When things get iffy, that is, when the possibility of not having a federal budget next month begins to teeter, as dominoes are wont to do, my schedule at the far end of the line of calendars also gets wobbly.
Ultimately, because of the demands of canine care at home, I had to schedule my flight kinda at the last minute; I had to decide whether to pay $800 more or make a stop in Dallas, Texas for four hours.
Yup, what follows is the fascinating lifestyle to be found at this hub of airline travel in the second largest state in the union. And the least likely state to be in that union. Welcome to Texas.
I love a good in-flight conversation so being seated next to the tall, good-looking Jeff Bell from False Church, Virginia is just fine with me. FAHN. The veteran airforce pilot now works for the Navy developing fighter jets like the F35, with an intelligence and curiousity that rides that fine line between being bored with me and being interested in everything else I could think to ask him.
He is heading out to do some hiking in Big Bend National Park, vacation. There he looks forward to shooting some stars, with his camera. He shows me the app on his tablet that helps him identify constellations. Just hold it up, he demonstrates, lifting the thin black device over the seat toward the roof of the plane. The compass wheel on the screen spins crazily and stars, connected by thin red lines, appear.
By the end of the flight I learn that seated next to me is the man who can explain to me how to navigate with a sextant, something I’ve wanted to learn since I first read about Captain Bligh in the Bounty Trilogy. But alas, I learn this at that moment when the entire theatre of the airplane is pinging, as people turn on phones and download texts and voicemail. I am too late.
But if this is the kinda person Texas attracts, I’m eager for my four-hour layover to begin.
I disembark to the spacious terminal where the line to the women’s restroom snakes out and around the corner directly to the source of the problem, Starbucks.
I find a restaurant with exceedingly expensive dining options and lean my carry-on against the window. On the other side, among the men with headphones and lighted batons, I spot this:
As I finish the priciest pile of Romaine I’ve ever devoured, my waiter, “Mack,” chats amiably about why everything at the airport is so expensive.
“I used to think it was because of the captive audience,” he says. “But now I know better.”
“It’s the rent,” I suggest.
“Not only that,” he agrees, but everything has to be screened. But yeah, he confirms, the rent is $67 per square foot … and the kitchen is really small so we have to store everything downstairs.
He comments that Virgin America and Southwest paid millions of dollars for each gate. I look it up. This new terminal, opened almost precisely one year ago, cost half a billion dollars. Beyond comprehension.
I point outside to the Southwest plane-pushing cart out on the tarmac and it’s hard-to-read humor.
“Oh there’s another one that says ‘I’m a little Pushie,’” Mack says.
Mack and I recall the early days of Southwest’s promotional attitude, when anyone who smoked in flight would be asked to step outside. When any delay was attributed to the luggage bashing machine being on the fritz. Joke after joke.
Those were the days when flying was still scary, before 9/11, when it was just understanding the physics that made it scary, the counter-intuitiveness of strapping into an aluminum tube and launching oneself through the air at 500 miles per hour. Again, beyond my comprehension.
I pay my bill, extricate my luggage from the tiny table and wander through the airport.
A shop advertises boots and other cowboy necessities like refrigerator magnets, sugar-free mints and of course, what self-respecting Texas airport shop doesn’t stock horses?