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February 17, 2011

I went traveling the first week of February, and arrived home frazzled, exhausted, and grumpy. As usual. Why does flying have to be such a miserable experience?

Every year the plane seats seem to get smaller, the leg room less, and the service by flight attendants crappier. When I got off the plane in Reno after six hours in the air, I could barely walk. I shuffled through the airport like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. My bad knee ached from the cramped position demanded by airline seats for anybody over six feet tall, my back hurt from sitting twisted to one side to keep my right arm from intruding into the next seat, and my neck was stiff from sleeping with my head crooked against the window.

The pain in my neck would have been worse, but fortunately my head slipped to the opposite side for a while during my nap. That was a nice change of pace for my neck, but hard on the sensibilities of the woman sitting on that side, who woke me up with strident objections to my innocent snoring and drooling. People can be so intolerant.

On the positive side, my low opinion of them being public knowledge, the lack of strip searches or pat downs by the TSA was good news. I had a birthday two days after I got back, which birthday was going to cause my driver’s license to expire, and altogether I had three different TSA agents study my license like it was hieroglyphics, spend long moments calculating laboriously in their meat heads, and then announce portentously and ominously, “You do know, sir, that your license is about to expire… don’t you?” like they were nascent Sherlock Holmes’s solving a murder.

“Yes, I do happen to know that, dumbshit, because my birthday tends to occur at the same time every year, but what I don’t know is why it’s any of your ignorant, meddling, privacy-invading business since the state of Nevada, last I heard anyway, is not manufacturing drivers licenses which explode upon expiration!” is not how I answered.

Although I thought it.

The long flight west from the East Coast left me grumpier than normal, because shortly after takeoff the stewardess served me a Coke which I immediately dumped in my own lap. Ice cubes and all. Wedged into my window seat with two beefy individuals between me and the aisle and the serving cart blocking that, there was no hope. After a brief (but satisfying) outburst of profanity, I resigned myself to fate and sat in my Coke-soaked blue jeans and cozy little Coke puddle for the next six hours.

It was an interesting experiment. Turns out six hours in a Coke puddle does not cause adult diaper rash or dissolve the skin off a man’s…

The trip east involved flying into Dulles airport outside Washington, D.C., then taking a three-hour shuttle bus ride into the backwoods of West Virginia for a week-long class. There was no specific reason the class had to be in the backwoods of West Virginia. It wasn’t about the backwoods of West Virginia, nor did it require any backwoods accoutrements as learning tools. The class could easily have been held at a Holiday Inn Express in Kansas City, Missouri… or maybe in Detroit where I’ve heard you can buy a whole city block of buildings for five or ten dollars.

What they have in West Virginia that other places don’t is a flotilla of mini-Taj Mahals built by the federal government with taxpayer money thanks to the late Robert Byrd, who served as senator from West Virginia for approximately one thousand years (or so it seemed) and was generally hailed as the greatest porkologist to ever serve in congress. Byrd was famous for using federal dollars to build shit in West Virginia that nobody wanted or needed… or even thought about wanting or needing. In West Virginia they have beautiful concrete expressways that go from nowhere to nowhere and seldom see a car, and federal buildings in places where they barely have people, and airports where there are no airplanes. Fortunately, there is a handy way of remembering the names of these places – they generally named them after Byrd. I’ve heard that you can fly from the Robert C. Byrd Memorial Airport to the Robert C. Byrd International Airport, rent a car at a counter in the Robert C. Byrd Terminal, drive it down the Robert C. Byrd “Corridor H” Interstate – straddling the line if you so choose because there will be no other traffic – to the Robert C. Byrd Post Office in an unnamed town (unnamed because there are no people living there to name it) and post a letter to the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building in any West Virginia city (they all have one) and then fly there and wait for the letter while listening to a fiddle concert across the street in the Robert C. Byrd Auditorium for Performing Arts… again, every city has one.

That’s what I’ve heard.

One of the many federal building projects Byrd brought to West Virginia is something called NCTC, which stands for National Conservation Training Center. I don’t want to pick on NCTC because they treated me very well during my stay, but I wonder if the potentates in Washington, D.C., realize that most of the American taxpayers footing the bill for this stuff are not enjoying three free multi-course, multi-choice, all-you-can-eat, daily feasts like the feds get, and most American businesses can’t afford to use the finest construction materials one can buy to build dozens of underused half-empty buildings in the backwoods, all of which seem to have ostentatious three-story cathedral ceilings and luxurious furnishings maintained and serviced by an abundant full-time staff catering to visitors’ whims.

I guess I’m proud that I managed to spend a week there without puking at the excess and waste of public funds. I guess. On the other hand, maybe I’d consider myself a better man if I was puking.

Even when a trip is done the ignominious dehumanization and debilitating inconvenience of airline flight in the 21st century remains… four days after I got home I came down with some dastardly flu bug that put me in bed for the past week. The airlines shoehorn people into tiny seats next to total strangers where everybody is farting, burping, sneezing, and coughing in cramped quarters for hours at a time, breathing the same air and drooling on the same furnishings. Face it, flying in an airplane is like taking a germ bath.

And when you end up sitting in a Coke puddle for six hours, too, you haven’t got a prayer.

So that’s where I’ve been this month.

From Reno, Nevada, USA

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