When my daughter and I landed in Washington D.C. we had no idea that oncoming storms were about to render Dulles International Airport a homeless shelter for the night.
By the time our connecting flight was officially cancelled I was already cued up at the United Airlines customer service desk watching the next available agent type a novel on her tiny keyboard just to re-book us on the next available flight to Atlanta—at 8 a.m. the following morning.
Maddie grabbed a few of the limited number of airline blankets and tiny bags of peanuts tossed out to the masses like consolation prizes and set up our camp in one of the coveted rows of seats in gate C-18 that was located near an electrical outlet for phone recharging.
As I made my way down the concourse in search of food, I passed several hobo camps of makeshift tents and sleeping pallets constructed from luggage and blankets. It reminded me of some sort of post apocalyptic Mad Max situation where we bohemians would do anything to procure “the juice.” In this case “the juice” wasn’t gasoline but actual juice, or anything of sustenance that could be found.
The only places in an airport terminal still open for business at 1 a.m. are 1) Dunkin Donuts and 2) snack kiosks. The first option offered little more than sugary-sweet lard rings and high-powered caffeinated drinks, both of which would ensure we’d remain completely conscious for the rest of our ordeal.
The snack kiosk was our only hope. But by the time I found one it had already been ravaged and nearly cleaned out by the other campers. Within the remaining rubble I found an overlooked package of snack crackers, some beef jerky, Skittles and a copy of the latest Entertainment magazine with Louis C.K. on the cover. Score!
Back at the camp, I proudly shared our bounty with Maddie like a papa bear returning to the den with a freshly mauled gazelle or beaver—whatever it is bears eat. Anyway, once fed, we decided that sleep was the only activity that would make the night go by a little faster.
Laid out across four or five row seats I closed my eyes, but the stimulating surroundings meant napping wasn’t going to happen so easily. The whole environment reminded me of the FBI’s sleep-deprivation tactics used to drive David Koresh and his followers out of their Waco compound.
First of all, the place is lit up like a bar at closing time. Fluorescent light boxes on the ceiling every two square feet made the place glow so brightly that you couldn’t even see your own shadow. Then there was the noise.
The sound of an airport terminal when you take away the chatter of daily inhabitants is a potpourri of vacuum cleaners, loud TV news broadcasts and a soft-rock, radio-free intercom system that contained Kenny G’s entire catalog—and nothing else. But even Kenny himself couldn’t top the random FAA-regulated announcements.
My favorite? “May I have your attention please. An alarm was deployed and is being investigated by the fire department at this time. We will keep you informed of further instructions. Thank you for your patience and cooperation.”
Air travel can be way overrated, or underrated, depending on your most recent experience with it. When cancelled flights, lost luggage and layovers get in the way, flying suddenly becomes overrated. But when you think about the fact that we have the ability to catapult a couple of hundred people 35,000 feet in the air from destination to destination at 500 mph—air travel might be one of the most underrated feats man has ever accomplished. At least that’s what I pondered while stranded for the night at gate C-18.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are just that.