Follow that up with the most comprehensively nightmarish flight home on United Airlines that was...well, let me break it down for you:
- Check in was a goat rope. And flying with suitcase and a Pelican 1700 means there's no way to avoid having to wait for a person to check you in. The three people manning the counter at ABQ were friendly and trying as hard as they could, but plainly overwhelmed by a couple of heavily-booked flights departing close together. Ours to ORD, and I think there were ATL and LGA flights mentioned.
- After an eternity at the check-in, it was off to the TSA, which would have gone smoothly if I hadn't been behind The Only Woman At The Airport, who leisurely took time to stop and continue her text conversation on her phone no matter what the line or TSA agent ahead of her were doing. Had the roped cattle chutes been wider, I'd have simply walked around her on more than one occasion. I have never before been possessed by such a powerful urge to snatch a portable electronic device out of someone's hands and fling it as far and as hard as I could.
- The gate was a madhouse, as everybody from boarding groups 1 through double-Z clumped around the counter the minute the gate attendant indicated we might possibly be boarding the aircraft soon. Never have I seen so many people so eager to go toward Chicago. When I finally got on, I had to stow my Lowepro camera bag two rows behind my seat, since the bins directly overhead were filled with the steamer trunks of folks sitting further back.
- We needn't have been in such a hurry, since the aircraft hadn't been, you know, fueled, necessitating a lengthy ramp delay.
- Meanwhile, I got to know my seatmates. They were nice enough folks and would have been ideal seatmates had they let us sit in the grown-up chairs. As it was, United's "Economy Plus" seats provided extra legroom, but no perceptible advantages in width. I am rarely the smallest person in the room and used to having to try to keep from intruding on people's space on airliners, but in this case, I was the slender waif of row 8. Unlike Delta's "Economy Comfort" seating, which comes with free drinks and Sky Priority boarding, United's "Economy Plus" comes with grief and an NFL nose tackle in your lap. I lost the Battle of the Armrest, but planted my knee resolutely at the frontier between seats E and F and prepared to ¡No pasarán! my meager remaining territory to the grim death.
- The flight to IND got moved from gate B21 to gate B3 causing me some consternation when I ambled over to the former five minutes before boarding was to commence, only to find myself having to OJ my way across the terminal to the latter.
- The United gates at O'Hare have numbered cattle chutes for each boarding group in an attempt to make this more orderly. Which was great except that they started funneling us into the jetway before the wheelchair crew had gotten their passengers settled. Which meant that we all stood stock-still in the jetway for ten minutes rather than out in the gate area. Yes, I timed it. I was growing increasingly petty by this point.
"And why not?" she huffed.
Patience lost, I replied "Because if this %&^er spins off the runway and catches fire, I don't want to break my neck tripping over your $#!+ trying to get off."
Eyes big, she plopped it on the seat between us instead.
Then the man of the group...or, rather, the chronologically oldest male member...finished running up and down the aisle looking for a place to stow his bag and was guided to his seat, which was the one currently occupied by Ms. Largepurse. She moved next to me and the dude settled into a sulk in the aisle seat, pulling his hood over his head and doing the worst "I'm so mad at you I'm going to sleep rather than talk to you" at the Missus I've ever seen.
Fortunately, the flight was brief. Unfortunately, the dude kept up his fake-sleeping sulk on the ground at the gate. "Hey, can y'all have your family spat elsewhere? Some of us want off this plane," was more dialogue than I wanted to have, but proved necessary.
How I knew I was back in Indianapolis:
Fortunately, I happened to glance over at the regular baggage carousel just in time to see my Pelican 1700 tumble down the chute and into the scrum from the ORD flight. I cleared a path with elbows flying and grabbed it before someone else did. Apparently United gives you those baggage claim checks just for show. Delta, US Air, and American at IND usually handed the case over with the solemnity of changing the watch in a Minuteman silo, and only on seeing ID and/or baggage claim stubs.
So I got home at close to midnight and then went to work at the gun store the next morning. Saturday passed in a fog and then the sleep deficit caught up with me last night. I woke up this morning to feed the cats and then I climbed back in bed, intending to wake up and watch Meet the Press. Instead, I have only vague recollections of Ted Cruz saying something and then pundits wondering if the Hillary campaign had risen from the dead, and then it was noon and there were infomercials on. I guess ten hours of sleep is what the doctor ordered.