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Rita Howell’s Column

Trips to airport provide sensory sensations, even after long wait

Airports have always fascinated me. I love to go there, even when I’m not flying anywhere myself. Need a ride to catch a plane? Call me.

The sights, sounds and smells (Cinnabun, anyone?) in an airport combine to provide me with such a sensory picnic that I get excited even if I’m not going anywhere.

In an airport people are generally happy to be either going somewhere or getting back. Couples embrace to greet each other or say farewell. Smartly dressed business travelers stride purposefully pulling their wheeled luggage. There are women clicking along in high heels and college students trekking by in flip-flops. I saw a lady going through the security line with a chihuahua.

Since September 11, things have changed at airports. Before terrorism, I would routinely accompany whoever I had brought to the airport, usually my parents headed to my dad’s Army Air Corps reunion. I’d walk with them all the way to the gate. I’d stand there after they boarded, waving out the window. I couldn’t see them. Chances are they weren’t even seated by a window. But I’d still stand there and wave until the plane taxied out of my view.

Of course, now you barely get inside the front doors of Memphis International if you don’t have a ticket. Last week, I had a ticket.

Rupert and I traveled to Charleston, S.C. for son Thomas’ graduation from Navy Nuclear Power School. We were scheduled to leave Memphis on a noon flight and arrive in Charleston at 4:30.

You remember last Thursday? It was the day Mr. Dave Brown on Channel Five talked himself hoarse keeping people informed about all those dangerous storms that kept blowing over from Arkansas.

John Howell had drawn the honor of taking us to the airport. Due to a complicated set of circumstances, we were not flying back to Memphis, so we did not need to leave a vehicle at the airport.

On the way to Memphis that rainy morning, traffic in our northbound lane slowed and finally stood still. For about 40 minutes we sat there south of Hernando, realizing that we were probably going to miss our plane. Emergency crews got the overturned 18-wheeler moved out of the way, but not in time for us to make our flight. John dumped us out and headed back to Batesville and we pursued our options. We could wait for another flight at 3 p.m. (it was noon) or we could pay $1,200 for tickets on another airline and catch a 1:40 flight. We decided to wait.

How do you kill three hours in the Memphis airport?

You eat barbecue and watch Court TV.

The sun came out and I was glad we were delayed.

The plane left on time and we got to Atlanta about 5 p.m. The plane to Charleston was set to leave at 9:30.

How do you kill four hours in the Atlanta airport?

Well, it’s a bigger airport and there are more possibilities.

There was chocolate. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company has a branch in Hotlanta, concourse C, if you’re ever there. There’s coffee from Seattle. There’s a T.G.I.Friday’s, but it was  crowded with travelers who were just glad it was Thursday. So we ate Philly steak sandwiches served by Jamaicans.

I found a kiosk where they’d rent you a portable DVD player and movie for $15, but I decided shopping was more fun. I bought a purse and Rupert bought a belt. We played with gadgets and browsed through books and walked a lot because we’d eaten our way through two airports and needed the exercise.

Finally we boarded the plane for Charleston after conferring with Thomas and getting his assurance that he would be at the airport to pick us up at 10:37 p.m. instead of 4:30 as originally planned.

It seemed the last leg of the journey took about ten minutes once we were in the air. As we dragged our bags off the baggage claim conveyer, it occurred to me we could have driven the distance from Batesville to Charleston in less time than it took us to fly there that day.

But look what I would have missed.