waking up at 3:00 for a 6:00 morning flight is hard. if i slept at all it was only an hour at most. the 3:30 taxi arrived 10 minutes late, but this early in the morning there was no traffic so it wouldn't make any difference. i had my messenger bag which held my laptop and then the heavy metal briefcase which held the work machine. my driver looked like gordon from sesame street, bald with a bushy moustache. he was taking me on the longer "scenic" route: it took us several minutes of circling just to get out onto the main drag (already $4 to travel a distance he could've easily done in 100 yards had he just gone straight) and we went through boston to get to logan airport instead of taking the shorter route down cambridge street via lechmere. i wasn't in any mood to complain and remained silent throughout the trip.
when i spoke again it was when we arrived at logan airport to let gordon know which terminal (E) he should take me for southwest airline. i paid $40 including tip. i was there before 4:00 and there were only a few people in the ticketing area. since i already printed out my boarding pass and had no luggage to check, all i had left to do was to wait. i made my way to the security checkpoint but realized too late that it wasn't even opened yet. i wandered the area a little bit before finding a seat. the security checkpoint finally opened at around 4:30.
i haven't flown in a while so i was a bit rusty when it comes to all the procedures one needs to make in order to quickly pass through security. i forgot about my belt and removed it at the last minute. since i was traveling with 2 laptops, i had to take them out and put them into individual trays. when i walked into the body scanner i forgot about my watch; that didn't concern the TSA agents as much as the wad they detected in my pocket, which led to a separate pat down. turns out it was my bundle of credit cards and cash.
i had more than an hour to wait before they'd allow boarding. next time i probably don't need to arrive so early. i sat right across the glass partition looking into the line of people waiting to get their security screening on. everything was pretty quiet until the final half hour, when the line quickly ballooned to about 40 people. at the rate they were moving, anyone at the end of the line would miss their 6:00 flight.
they began boarding 20 minutes before departure. i feel like i've taken southwest airline before but i don't ever remember their unique seating system. apparently southwest has done away with assigned seating. what they have instead is a number on your boarding pass which tells you the order that you board the plane. once onboard, you basically pick whichever seat you want. i had a high number - A24 - out of A, B, and C with 60 seats each. i picked a window seat in the 3rd row - probably the most frontmost part of the plane i've ever sat.
the plane was empty enough that at least everyone had a seat in between each other. i shared a row with a woman who kept getting up to go use the bathroom. she was reading the millionaire next door by thomas stanley. as for myself, i was listening to a breaking bad podcast. we were chased by the sunrise but eventually it overtook us. before i even had a chance to try and get some sleep, we were preparing for our descent to chicago, arriving at 7:50 central time.
arriving at midway airport, i used the bathroom first before making my way outside to the taxi stand. a woman waved me over to the next available cab. "mccormick convention center, southern entrance," i told my driver, a rastafarian-looking man. he wasn't sure where i meant but started driving anyway. the price of gasoline got us talking after i saw that a gallon of regular was $4.69 in chicago (it's about a dollar less in boston). i would've guessed that my driver was caribbean but turns out he's nigerian. when he first arrived in the US he lived in new york city, but he came to chicago to visit a friend, met his future wife at a party, and ended up staying here for over a decade. he loved traveling, and been to other parts of africa like chad and cameroon. he also loved chinese food ("my second favorite, after nigeria food") and was due to visit china this winter until a friend's wedding changed his plan. he told me that there's actually a big nigeria population in chicago, and where to go to get good nigeria food (apparently the cuisine is very spicy and eaten with hands).
not counting the times i've passed through the o'hare airport, i'd been to chicago once before - sort of. it was that time i was coming back from my southeast asia trip (2005). i missed my connecting flight back to boston due to a flight delay. it wasn't just me, there was a bunch of angry people on the phone calling or speaking with an airline agent directly, trying to secure the next flight out. i ended up getting a spot on a plane leaving the next morning. that meant having to spend the night at the airport, a first for me. the airline wasn't going to put me up in a hotel, but gave me a food voucher as a concession. instead of eating at the airport though, i decided to make the most of the situation and go out and see the city (i'd use the voucher to get some breakfast). the only problem was i had a lot of luggage; even though my largest bag was already enroute to boston, i was still had a lot to carry, including my travel backpack. i left the airport and took the train to chinatown. i remember the chicago chinatown was very small. while eating in a restaurant, a family looking for hotels asked me where i was staying when they inferred that i must also be a fellow traveler from all my bags. "i'm sleeping at the airport tonight," i told the woman. after i finished eating, i returned to o'hare, didn't have the energy to do anymore sightseeing while burdened with my luggage.
we arrived at the mccormick center at 9:30. i paid $35 for the fare which included tip and an airport surplus fee. mick left me a text message (i hate those; i don't have texting services on my phone so i end up paying 10¢ a message) telling me to come upstairs to the 2nd floor. nobody hassled me, maybe because i looked like i worked there with my industrial steel suitcase. by coincidence, as soon as i got to the convention floor, mick saw me and handed me convention id badge which gave me unrestricted access anywhere in the convention center.
mick gave me a quick tour of the place. the event was the biennial international manufacturing technology show (IMTS), and we were doing work for the show runners themselves, setting up their main exhibit. it was held in the mccormick center, which is the largest convention space in north america. the IMTS is so large that it takes up all 4 buildings. we were setting up in the south building, but i caught a glimpse of the north building. since the show doesn't start until next week, everyone was busy setting today (so they wouldn't have to work over the weekend). at times the place seemed like a construction site, with forklifts and cranes and the beeping of carts ferrying construction guys and material. it was nothing like i'd seen before.
so i started setting up the kiosks. mick told me the 2nd kiosk laptop had gone missing (thankfully the insurance would pay for the theft) but the exhibit company we were working with had many extras to spare. we were running the laptops off of large 40+" samsung touchscreens. it took me but 15 minutes to get both kiosks up and running. the only other thing i had to do was set up a few more touchscreens with presentation mode browsers pointing to some corporate website. there really wasn't that much work, and i was sort of surprised when mick asked me to come down to chicago for the day. i was hoping to be done by late morning at the most and then have the rest of the day to go explore the city of chicago.
that wouldn't be the case unfortunately. although i was prepared on my end, there was a lot of technical glitches on the hardware side. some of the touchscreens wouldn't work with the laptops. the browser kiosks still didn't have wired internet access (we used the convention wifi temporarily, but it was slow). and another vendor doing their own interactive send a couple of mac minis which didn't work with the touchscreens altogether because there weren't any OS X drivers. so the hours ticked away as we were waiting for the IT/hardware guys to fix these issues.
at exactly noontime the place cleared out - the union workers disappearing for their lunch break. mick and i had a late lunch downstairs at the convention hotel cafe around 2:00. by that point i knew i wasn't going anywhere.1 my flight leaving chicago was 5:50, so i should be going to the airport no later than 4:00. that's the problem with business trips: as much as i'd like to think it's kind of like a paid sightseeing outing, i'm really here to work, so the job comes first. so after lunch i tried to make the best of my situation: if i couldn't see chicago, at least i could see some of the convention exhibits. chicago i can always revisit, but when will i ever get a chance to come to another IMTS?
so i went to the south building, followed by the north building. i realized this was also a great place to network if you have that sort of business savvy. basically everyone is here to sell something, so that spirit of commerce can create job opportunities. earlier i saw mick talk with some company executive who was impressed with the touchscreen kiosk we built. "i think i just got a new client," he told me later.
the place was so large, there was no time for me to see the west and east buildings before mick called to let me know some machines had arrived for me to work my setup magic.
the issue was one of the companies sent us mac minis instead of pc's for the interactive they built on their own. in the interactive business, i occasionally run into clients who choose macs; this is one of the few occasions where i prefer a pc instead. for the client it's more cost effective to buy a windows machine because they're much cheaper; for me it's easier because a lot of the hardware drivers are pc only. fortunately after some online sleuthing i discovered the touch screen manufacturer (not samsung, a third party company) had linux drivers that were compatible with OSX. unfortunately, the programmer who worked on the machine locked out the computer and it took a while to track him down by phone. when we did get him, he seemed reluctant to give us the password, which didn't even work. i like what he did with the interactive, basically a script that opens up an opera browser and points it to a particular website. not only was the browser in presentation mode, but i think he locked it somehow so a user couldn't leave to go to a different website. it was pretty ingenious; unfortunately, it wouldn't work with our hardware. what we wanted to do was fairly simple so finally we decided on plan B, which was to drop the mac minis altogether and serve up the website from pc laptops, which was what we did for another exhibit.
but all that wrangling used up all my remaining time. by then all the union workers i befriended were already gone (so i wasn't able to say good bye). i finally left at 4:00, mick almost pushing me out of the convention center because he didn't want me to miss my 5:50 flight. in hindsight maybe it would've been better if i could've stayed the night in chicago - better for me (sightseeing!) and better for mick - but neither of us thought what i had to do would require more than a day's worth of work.
anyway, back outside, i was hoping to see a convoy of waiting taxis but there weren't any. feeling a bit nervous, i dutifully waited in what appeared to be a naturally-forming line. a security guard saw what was happening and came out seconds later to let us know he called a dispatch to send more taxis. we all nodded in appreciation. having almost never taken taxis, i didn't know what was the protocol. the spendthrift in me wanted to ask if anybody was going to midway airport and if they'd like to split the cost. but all these people were charging their companies anyway as a business expense, so they didn't care.
when it came my turn to get into an arriving taxi, i told the driver (a young middle eastern man) i wanted to go to midway airport. from his body language i could read he seemed reluctant, but he took me anyway. it was kind of a nightmare, as it took nearly 45 minutes in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic to get there. we didn't speak during the whole trip, i was a bit tired (slouched on the backseat), my driver was probably angry from having to endure this congestion. when we finally arrived, i paid my fare (gave him a big tip) and asked, "is it always like this?" he told me that he just came from wrigley field, and admitted he was reluctant to come to the airport because he know he'd get stuck in more traffic. i thanked him and wished him a quick trip home.
2nd time around through airport security and i was already a pro. i had my shoes and belt off, my pockets emptied, my laptop in its own separate bin. unfortunately i decided to wait in the longer line, so it took a little while, had nothing to do with my own preparedness. i still had 40 minutes before my flight, until they made the announcement there would be a 30 minute later (6:20), for reasons unknown. undeservedly frustrated, i decided to wander the airport. i made it to the other end of the concourse before i heard the announcement for final boarding for my flight. i quickly raced back to my gate (A15). my southwest line number was A30, but they were already boarding the B group. when i showed the flight attendant my boarding pass, he playfully chastised me, "A! where have you been! we're boarding B's now!"
i figured all the good seats were taken because i arrived onboard so late, but to my surprise, there was an empty window seat in the 2nd row. i couldn't believe my luck and quickly grabbed it. in the aisle seat was a silver-haired woman who seemed very distinguished and was busy working on a crossword puzzle. i took out my kindle and continued reading 1491. our flight attendant (the same guy who boarded me) was a flamboyantly funny and sassy gay man. not sure if he does the same act, but his safety lecture was riotously funny. "people, you are allowed to smile. it's friday!"
the theme of my flights seem to be outrunning the sun. in this particular case, flying into the shadow. from my window i could actually see the terminator AKA the twilight zone, the moving line that separates daytime from nighttime. i don't remember ever seeing it before and was kind of shocked to see that it was a clearly visible line of darkness on the approaching horizon.
we arrived in boston around 9:10 (8:10 chicago time). turns out the delay was because there was some serious thunderstorms in boston, so either the flight leaving boston was late, or maybe we purposely left late to arrive after the storm.
i may not know my way around midway airport, but logan is my home, and i made a quick beeline to the silver line bus stop. the rain had stopped but i was caught off guard by how humid it was, and everything was still rain soaked. the bus into south station was still free. from south station i grabbed the red line to porter square.
i grabbed a spicy lengua burrito from anna's tacqueria before coming home. the day seemed so long, it felt like it was 2 days in one. i took a hot shower and relaxed to some dinner.
1 had i had the chance to actually visit chicago, the one thing i would've wanted to see would be the cloud gate sculpture, that chrome jelly bean. if i just saw that i would've been happy to return to the airport and call it a day.