Pinball

I think that Reagan National Airport is one of my least favorite airports in the country; a close second behind LAX, whose layout is so counterintuitive and services so limited for a place that serves such a high volume of travelers bound for far-flung destinations that it is…insulting.

My advice to Los Angeles World Airports Authority?  Raze the thing and start over.

Anyway, I was headed from LaGuardia to DCA this morning.  I have experimented with driving, flying, and taking the train from NY to DC, and have come to the conclusion that they are all roughly as time consuming.  Driving takes about 4 hours and is about $200-$250 round trip (gas + tolls) plus wear-and-tear on the car, and the inevitable probability of me getting (another) speeding ticket.  Flying takes about 3-4 hours (travel time to the airport; security; waiting, boarding; flying; travel time from the airport) and costs between $200-350.  Taking the train is typically the longest, believe it or not, because there is the travel time to Penn Station, the train ride (4-ish hours) and then the poorly managed, astronomically long line at Union Station, which can take anywhere from 10 mins to an hour.  (The train usually costs about $200-300 round trip, but can cost WAY more).

This has led me to the conclusion that it really depends on a) what time I need to be somewhere; b) what my scheduling flexibility is for coming and going (i.e., do I need to be there early; late; and most importantly, have the option of leaving late, since the last flight and train out of DC leave around 10); and c) what I feel like doing.  It all takes roughly the same amount of time; takes roughly the same amount of time; brings with it the same little black raincloud of discomfort and distinctive, unpleasant sensations and smells.  (Diesel; burning brakes; jet fuel; airline food; stale sweat; the cloying smell of Tide that spilled under the driver’s seat of my car…that, of course, is another story for another time…)

I digress.  The real point was that I just don’t like DCA.  It’s another poorly organized airport.  I find the whole DC metro area to be a prime example of too many people for too few resources.  Too many people on metro; too many people on trains; too many people on the highway.  Washington is the only place I’ve ever been where there is 20 miles of gridlock…at FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.

It makes me feel…claustrophobic.  DCA is always packed and the people-flow is poor, which annoys me to no end.  There is no reason, in a terminal with fewer than 10 gates and 2 restrooms, that there should always, always be a line for the ladies’ room.

Personally, I think JFK is the best airport in the world, which is stupid and irrational, but I have gone through the looking glass with my New York state of mind.  Calling JFK the Taj Mahal of airports is like calling Albany the next Portland, but bear with me.  I’ve slept a grand total of 10 hours this week and under these conditions, am prone to romanticising life on the road.

I’ve flown in-and-out of each of the terminals at JFK; I know the parking structures, the waiting lots; I know how the rennovation of the parking structures went; I can pay for parking with my E-Z Pass if I drive (which I never do, but are you kidding me? Old news, but seriously, how great is that?!)  I know which airline corresponds to which numbered terminal.  I love the swell of Saarinen’s legacy as one approaches Terminal 5, restored.  I love the mystery and wonder of a place that is constantly transforming; constantly swirling, buzzing; that is the gateway to the city I love.

If JFK goes down; if there’s a delay; it seems like the world is delayed.  Sometimes, I think JFK is the center of the universe.

I hate being away from the center of the universe.  The pull of gravity is so strong, sometimes I fear my body will be ripped into a thousand pieces.

In light of all of these things–my travel, my recent preference for driving between NY and DC until this morning’s flight, and my sentimental attachment to ports of entry controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey–a friend asked me how I was settling in to my new apartment.

“The place is beautiful,” I said, “I am anything but settled.”

“How so?”

“I’ve barely been home since I moved.”

“This concerns me.”

“I know.”

“Well, how do you like the Upper East Side, then?”

“I like it.  It’s not like Tribeca, where you have to walk a mile to anything, everything.  Everything’s right there uptown.  There are like, four grocery stores within 2 blocks of me.”

“I mean the neighborhood itself.”  There was an edge to his voice, and I got the subtext, finally.

“Oh, you mean the Lenox Hill/Yorkville meatmarket.  They’re more like vampires than vultures, really.  It’s as if, after dark, all these lascivious bastards start trolling Second and Third Avenue for fresh-out-of-college girls.  Lots of smiling men with shiny, dark hair on the street after the sun goes down.  It’s like flipping through a Brooks Brothers catalog.”

I paused, then continued, self-consciously.  “It’s a good thing its dark and they can’t see these lines around my eyes.  I think I can still pass for 21, 22, right?  As long as you’re not looking too closely?”

“Don’t flatter yourself too much,” he laughed, “But sure.”

“But you’re doing okay?”  The note of concern annoyed me.  “You’re eating?”

“Yes!  Why does everyone want to know if I’m eating?!  I’m ordering Thai food tonight.  I’m the only person in the world who runs a marathon and gains 15lbs.”

“You just moved into a new place, alone.  You are in the middle of a divorce.  It’s the holidays and we’re all in misery.  What’s more, you travel constantly.  And you’re a distance runner.  Any one of those things would give a normal observer pause with your history.  But you–you don’t let anyone near you close enough to see what’s actually going on.”

“I’m eating!  I’m eating, and I’m surviving, and I’m okay.”

“Okay.”  I could hear his smile through the phone; we were both smiling tightly in our voices.

The truth of the matter is…JFK has the most edible food, too.  Word to you other American airports and your Gladstones lite and your faux Chinese and your endless counters of slop and goo.

This travel warrior is tired, folks.  So tired of bouncing, pinging, lighting up on command, that the simplest things have seemed difficult this week.

Perhaps driving back and forth to Washington twice in a 23 hr period on Tuesday into Wednesday was the worst idea, ever.  But that…that is another story for another time.

2 Comments

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  1. The main problem is that DCA is one of the last ‘new’ airports to be designed before the 9/11 security changes. The flow is stilted because each peir was not designed to handle the increased security screening requirements, and thus a larger portion of space is taken up with x-ray machines and the like.

    I find the architecture of DCA to be rather nice, its actually a very nice airport, and if they had designed in dedicated space for security, it would be an _excellent_ airport.

    The new terminal B at IAD is quite nice as well, once combined with the new underground security area. (Which just opened a couple weeks ago). Once the train opens in the next month or so, flying in/out of the B terminal at IAD will be a quite pleasant experience.

    Connecting at LAX is, of course, terrible, but I would argue that the lack of services is not nearly as bad as the crush of large, sweaty people at ATL on a Sunday at 4pm (which I was lucky enough to experience today). That sort of thing makes you long for a well designed, purpose built airport like DEN.

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