If you want to claim to have visited a city you need to have seen a monument, a church, or even a trendy restaurant. Pictures not required, but a plus. Time really isn’t a make or break factor. Whether it’s a few hours or a few days, a visit is a visit. But, what is a visit? What’s the minimum required criteria to count a city visited as a visit? For example, if I have a business trip to Vegas and I spend the whole time, scout’s honor, in the convention center then does that not count as a legitimate visit? Maybe it makes me a dork for not checking out a casino, but I can still mark Vegas off on my log of cities visited right?
Doesn’t meeting natives matter? I mean, if you want the true flavor of a place you better get to know its people. What’s that corny old cliché “do as the cannibals do”. I’m about to make a plea for counting Atlanta International Airport as a city visited because of extenuating circumstances. Now, a savvy globetrotter wouldn’t let me get away with marking this off as a city visited. And I certainly wouldn’t consider it either except for what happened.
Two years ago, I was off to Oregon on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Forecast was grand and I figured I would arrive at Portland PDX by nightfall. When I got to LaGuardia Airport there were some rather long lines at Continental’s terminals. No biggie. Been through that before. But, when I had been bumped from 3 flights I was beginning to get a little miffed. You can only stand so many of those crummy Duty Frees. After much whining and anxious pacing my flight finally took off. They showed “Nacho Libre” for entertainment and I must say Nacho needed more salsa. I leafed through the Op-Eds, a really snazzy short story collection by Pete Fromm called “Night Swimming”, and once in a while plugged in my free headphones [they were gratis back then can you believe it] and breezed through the crappy stations by my armrest, settling on one-hit wonders from the 80’s.
Despite the fact that we were making headway through the relatively cloudless sky I had the unsettling feeling we might miss the connecting flight. I needed to be fresh the next morning so I hoped if we did have to catch a later one it wouldn’t be, you know, too late. I snapped my finger to Human League. I think I was pissing off my seatmate whose pores were emanating some really yucky herbal stuff. Tit for tat. By that point, it was also occurring to me the idiocy of flying a plane Southeast to eventually circumnavigate it Pacific Northwest. But, did I bitch about logistics? Not a chance. I munched on my pretzel nubs, sipped ginger ale and slipped back to an eighth grade dance where I was “Walking on Sunshine”.
When we touched down in Atlanta I was feeling like a little bit of Mylanta. I decided against picking up any; didn’t want to waste any time scoping it out at the gift shops so I grabbed my carry-on and trekked it over to the connecting terminal. There was a huge line and it didn’t take long before it snapped into a hullabaloo.
“What the hell are you saying?” a hefty, flat-topped woman said.
The cute customer service rep splayed her palms out as if prepping for a born-again benediction. I sort of wanly smiled at her. She licked her fuchsia lip gloss and the hefty woman caught a glimpse and punched the counter. She left her bags on the floor and I think went for the ladies room. Who knows?
When I got to the counter the cute customer service rep swung open the side door and made an early exit. A lanky ruddy-complexioned fellow handled my gripe. He seemed rather blasé, picking at his fingernail.
“Don’t you have any deals worked out with the other airlines?” I said.
“No more flights until tomorrow.”
“Get me on the earliest.”
“Whatever? We’ll do what we got to do. Where will you put me up for the night?”
“There’s a few decent motels nearby. Shouldn’t run you more than $150, $185 tops.”
“Travelodge is close enough.”
“Wait a second, you botched my flight and I have to pay for my room?”
That was the deal all right. Not all right. My lanky pal scratched down a phone number to get me out of his hair. The number looked like Sanskrit. I called from cell and was put on hold twice.
“Can anybody help me?” I said.
“We can offer you a seven-dollar meal coupon.”
“Great. That should get me a MoonPie and a coke.”
I didn’t want to tell the gal on the phone that I’d learned the expression from a cheesy article I read in the flight magazine— locals said it when they called somebody a cheap date. She wasn’t tickled by my brand of humor.
“For crying out loud, I’ve wasted all day,” I said. “What if I cancel my trip and go right back home?”
“That’ll be a seventy-five-dollar cancellation charge.”
“Isn’t that nice.”
“But, wait a second. I’m checking into something.”
I heard her plick-a-placking at her keyboard.
“You were stalled at LaGuardia yes?”
“Well, actually there appeared to have been some mechanical failure.”
“Frankly, I could care less what the problem was.”
“But it matters in this case.”
“Mechanical failures are the airline’s obligation. Cancelled flights no.”
“So what are you telling me?”
“How’s one-hundred dollars for your troubles?”
“Not too shabby. But, I think the motel will cost me a bit more.”
“Can’t do anything about that, but I can credit the money into your next Continental flight.”
I took her up on her generosity. Really, I was only waiting for somebody to own up to this snafu. I had no intention of setting one foot out of the airport. I took my one-hundred dollar voucher and my seven-dollar meal ticket and searched for some grub. Pretty much everything was shut down by then, almost midnight.
I bought a lukewarm roast beef sandwich and a watery fountain coke and ended up forking over three of my own dollars. I had ample reading material and a brand new marble notebook to get me through the long haul. My eyes fluttered a bit, but I only dosed for five minutes.
Six-forty-five I boarded my flight for Portland, on one of those small planes that lets you feel all the turbulence with an exponentially-heightened jolt. I looked around for any of the familiar faces from the day before to share in the misery. No luck.
To date, I still technically haven’t seen Atlanta aside from the airport, but I’ve recapitulated this story too many times now, more than any mentionings of Cleveland, Evansville, St. Louis, and Fort Lauderdale which I’ve actually set foot in, beyond the airports. Nothing memorable happened to me in those places so they have almost crept out of my memory.