A physicist friend of mine likes to talk about a Stutter Effect in life, when it seems that events pause and repeat and hesitate and dawdle and seem less than fully determined. This kind of Stutter Effect sometimes brings us awake to the fact that physical events are fuzzy around the edges, stammering on the edge of going off on another track, in a parallel reality where things happen differently.
My travel to Grand Rapids on Friday was a stuttering sequence. At my home airport, and later on the plane, public announcements were hesitant, often stopping in mid-sentence, then repeated. Content of announcements would change radically without explanation. Flight 4734 is departing for...for Cleveland at 9:05....Flight....4734 is departing...departing for Newark...Newark at 9:05.
Though the airport seemed deserted from the outside, inside is a mob scene, especially at the security check, where only one channel is open as compared with the normal three, or four. After snaking all the way up the line, I ask the TSA lady who checks my drivers license whether they are understaffed because of the sequester. "It's a strange day," she says. "People keep disappearing. I don't know why we don't have enough staff. You could ask a supervisor."
My main priority now, of course, is to get to my departure gate before my plane takes off. I take off my shoes and put them on the conveyor bet to go through the X-ray machine. I take my laptop out of my carry-on bag, put it in a bin, and set these on the conveyor belt too. My shoes go through, but then the action is paused. The same TSA lady asks me to wait with my carry-ons. "We are changing crews and you don't want to lose track of where your stuff is." I point out that my shoes are already on the other side. She is indifferent to this. I am left waiting, shoeless, for more than five minutes, standing with my bags. I am thinking about the dreamlike symbolism. Shoes, in my dreams, often speak of the soul. Bags sometimes speak of what is left behind or needs to be left behind. Hmmm. My shoes are on the other side, while I am left behind with my bags. Which reality am I in?
I finally get the signal to push my bags towards the machine. I go through the body scan and now I must hurry to get to the departure gate by boarding time. In the lounge, there are more of those stuttering, mutual contradictory announcements. When my first flight to Cleveland takes off, we are already 40 minutes late. Not promising, since the schedules layover time before my second flight to Grand Rapids is just 46 minutes.
On board the plane, there are more interrupted, stammering, contradictory announcements. It feels like nothing in our itinerary is fixed in time or space. I am reminded of Yoda: The future is always in motion. So is now.
There's a memory of Ireland in the speech of our flight attendant, Bernadette. When she brings me some Bloody Mary mix, we compare accents and I speak to her, philosophically, about my rather slight chances of making my connection if we are landing at Cleveland airport 6 minutes before it is due to take off. She brightens. "This plane could be going on to Grand Rapids! Sometimes we do." Really? Then why do I have a second boarding pass? I pull it out. No luck. I'm booked on a second plane, and a second puddle-jumper company, for my connection. "I'll talk to the pilot," says Bernadette. "I'll let you know if your connection at Cleveland is also delayed."
No word comes. Now we are descending. Bernadette announces that our plane will turn around at Cleveland and go to Buffalo. No wait. The plane will go to...to...Charlotte. Not to Grand Rapids? I feel that reality stutter. Suppose I could just shift to an alternate event track where this plane could take me to my destination instead of leaving me stranded at Cleveland airport for who knows how many hours?
Probably not a good plan. Jump one event track and you might have to face all manner of fallout.
We are on the ground. Before the door opens, Bernadette makes sure I am poised to get out first. Other passengers are obliging.
"May the luck of the Irish be with you," says Bernadette.
We have arrived at gate 14. The gate for my next flight is 17, right next door. Someone from the airline is waiting to walk me up the ramp and show me just where it is. At gate 17, another airline official beckons me on? It seems they have held the plane for me. The flight attendant steers me to a different seat than the one on my boarding pass. As I buckle my seat belt, I see it is departure time, to the minute. My checked bag won't make it, of course. But wait. We sit on the tarmac for six minutes. Then I see yet another airline person running towards our plane with my suitcase, unmistakable because of its huge light blue leather name tag.
When we take off, I realize I know the soft-faced man with a goatee and long sideburns who is seated in the row in front of me. I know the sequence of places he will discuss with the man next to him - Lake Havassu, San Diego, Asheville, Kalamazoo. I have been in the seat before, no doubt in a dream. The strong sense of deja vu tells me that things are going fine. Reality, for now, is settling down into a more definite sequence. But I'll keep in mind that events are not only fuzzy but can get crazy round the edges.
The sign on Cherry Street in downtown Grand Rapids says "AMERICAN REALITY - OPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION." Oh, wait, maybe that's American "Realty", a real estate office. But a point was made. The server who brings my lunch at the Green Well is wearing a tee-shirt that says, "The Bird Made Me Do It." When I ask, "What bird is that?" I am told, "You can make it any bird you want it to be."
The best coffee I have in town the next day is in a place whose OPEN sign is upside down. I have to get out of the hotel pool when an elephantine Midwest family does cannonballs and empties all of the water.
When I sit down in my room to write, fire alarms go off above my ear and in every room. In the hotel bar after dinner that night, a bat starts dive bombing the customers while a staffer tries to drive it away with a cushion.
Reality, open during construction.
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