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The Tribulations of Modern Travel

March 29, 1987|Zan Thompson

Some people say it's deregulation. If that means what it sounds like--that things no longer work in a regular manner--maybe they're right. Anyway, air travel has become so unpleasant that after a few trips across country, going over Niagara Falls in a barrel sounds like an acceptable mode of travel.

Generalizations are always dangerous but that has never stopped me before. Except for a dream trip on Aer Lingus last fall, the other trips have been like going across country in a cement mixer . . . in full operation.

The trip home from Houston was not a real rouser. In spite of asking ahead for a window seat so that I might put my curly little head against the window with a pillow and make it all go away, I was in the middle. Why does it seem that when you are in the middle seat, your neighbors have four elbows each? I have traveled enough to have earned a genuine plastic tote bag and I have yet to place my elbow on an arm rest.

If you are a frequent flier, or even one who only goes to 20-year reunions, you are familiar with the giant, rocklike rolls airlines serve on those pitiful little snack trays. They are about the size of a big French roll but they're so cold you could get freezer burn. I have had two caps in the front since the 10th grade when a taller girl knocked out my two front teeth with her elbow, which had about the same degree of hardness as an airline roll, therefore I am not foolish enough to gnaw at a snack-tray roll. Inside its gray, cold depths were slivers of turkey, quite a large stack, each tastefully cut so thin that you could read the fine print on your airline ticket through three slices. There was also a Granola bar that I skipped for the same reason. It was frozen. There was a little cup of tortured lettuce and a plastic envelope that was impossible to open, even when you pulled where it said Open Here. So I punched a hole in it with my car keys, which caused the bright orange stuff inside to squirt me and the man on my right, who was already surly.

I knew why. He seemed to be working on his income tax return and was really not pleased to have the fine spray of orange crankcase oil on all his papers.

The young woman to my left had apparently won a lifetime supply of potato chips, which she crunched from a sack she kept between her feet on the floor. She crunched clear across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Before I left for Houston, I had paid a driver to pick me up because with my knee, which is now made of Lego blocks, I cannot climb the step of the shuttle bus that used to trundle me from dear old Lot VSP in the airport complex.

There was no one there to meet me. I wandered pitifully around gazing into the eyes of unaccompanied men and smiling, hoping to find my driver. I am sure a number of them thought I was a little long in the tooth for the line of endeavor it might have seemed I had chosen.

Then I tried to use the telephone that takes your credit card. Trust me--it doesn't. The screen kept saying things like "Card Not Accepted. Insert again."

I went to the baggage carrousel and looked again for the absent driver. When I had accosted several men who ran to their mommies or wives, whoever were closer, I gave up. I found my very own skycap, a pretty good trick right there. He walked me out to a taxi stand and I crawled in.

When we got to the street that adjoins mine, I asked the driver to stop at Jurgensen's market so I could cash a check. They did cash it, bless their hearts, though I walked through the door at one minute before 6 p.m--their closing time.

The cab bill was $65 and I tipped the driver $10. What did it matter then? I was home. Then I called the driver service and they were sorry and said their driver had been at the wrong gate at the airport. When I told the driver service man what the cab had cost me, he said, "That's far too much. It should be just over $40." I looked at a pink slip a young woman had given me when I got in the taxi and, sure enough, it said "Glendale/Burbank/Pasadena $40/$42."

On the bottom of the pink slip was a telephone number to call in case of a problem. I figured I qualified. I dialed and reached the operations manager, a pleasant gentleman whose name was Oruc Selcuk and he told me everyone called him Turk. He also said that I had been overcharged and that the full fare--all $65--would be coming to me right away. It did the very next day. My friend Oruc has been here from Istanbul for 21 years and I am very glad he came. He also wrote a gracious letter apologizing for the overcharge and saying that the driver had been chastised. And the driver service returned my money, too.

And that was that day of air travel and ground travail. Let's hear it for Oruc Selcuk, a savior and a gentleman. May his tribe increase.

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