(This is my first post in almost 3 months. I'm still alive, just haven't had anything to say.)
My flight from Houston to Missoula, MT by way of Denver was scheduled to begin boarding at 3:16PM at gate 30C. I was assigned to Boarding Group 3 so was in no hurry to get in line. I sat and patiently waited until 3:16 arrived. Nothing happened except the LED sign behind the agent’s counter changed from Denver to Orange County without even the gate agent being aware. A mob of travelers soon had his attention and he was on the phone to find out what had happened to the Denver flight. It had been changed to gate 33C. No big deal, only two gates away. Our mob immediately began moving to gate 33C, only to run into another big mob moving from gate 33C to gate 30C. Bedlam ensued but was short lived. At gate 33C passengers that had already boarded the aircraft were still deplaning and heading to gate 30C. I also noticed through the windows that the baggage that had been loaded on the plane was being taken off. A similar scene was occurring at gate 33C. I remember thinking how glad I was that I had no checked luggage. Once all of the baggage and passengers were sorted out and on the appropriate aircraft I learned the reason for the change. Someone sitting in an airline office somewhere apparently had an “uh-oh” moment just before the Orange County flight was to pull away from the gate at 2:54PM. Someone just happened to realize that the Orange County runway was too short for the “equipment” (I wish they would call it an airplane or aircraft) originally scheduled for Orange County. The decision was made to swap the aircraft with the one scheduled for Denver, as it was capable of landing on the shorter runway. Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if that “little fact” had not been noticed.
With the aircraft being slightly different, the seating assignments were not all as they should have been. I, however, was still in a window seat right behind an exit row (very bad as the exit row has more foot room at the expense of the row behind it, in which I was sitting). Also due to the equipment change the flight attendant read most of the required emergency procedures incorrectly. The number of exits and their locations was wrong along with the exit rows. She finally realized what she was doing when she pointed to exits, which did not exist where she was pointing. All of this swapping around of planes, passengers, and luggage was time consuming and the aircraft did not take to the skies until 4:50PM, a little over an hour late. I was not worrying about the tight connection I would have in Denver because I was still wondering if the pilots knew how to fly this piece of equipment or did they swap pilots in addition to the equipment. And if they swapped pilots, did they know how to get to Denver?
As it turned out, the pilots did seem to know how to fly the particular aircraft and also knew how to get to Denver. In fact they made up most of the lost time enroute. I would still need to rush between gates to catch my connecting flight to Missoula. We pulled into gate 34C and began to deplane. I walked over to a set of monitors to find the gate number for the Missoula flight. Gate 89C. About a 15-mile walk I believe. I could have qualified as an Olympic walker as I scooted around slower traffic to get to gate 89C. I believe they do this on purpose so that you will be too tired to complain about anything once you are finally aboard your next flight.
After I arrived at gate 89C and was catching my breath, I noticed a middle-aged man in shorts, a short-sleeve casual shirt, sandals, and a baseball cap loudly interacting with two small children while the mother looked on smiling. The man played silly little games with the children, laughing along with them. He was being quite obnoxious. That’s when I realized that the man had apparently left the bar only recently. No wonder he was laughing and cutting up with the children. I assumed that the mother and children were his family and that he was simply keeping the kids from becoming bored and restless while waiting for the flight.
Finally, the boarding process began and as I walked towards the jet way I noticed a sign that read, “Check your carry on luggage here.” Oh, no. The plane was a small, cramped, regional jet with undersized overhead storage. Only small pieces of luggage, such as coin purses, could be carried on-board. I had to quickly repack to make sure my computer and camera equipment were not in the bag that would most likely be bounced onto the aircraft.
Once aboard the faux-airliner I discovered that I had a window seat, which like everything else on this aircraft was small and cramped. I squeezed into the seat and lowered the armrest between the two seats. When I looked up the aisle I saw the obnoxious man following the family up the aisle. The mother and children passed my row but the man sat down in the aisle seat next to me and raised the armrest between us. It was not his family after all.
The man introduced himself to me, and about half the plane if they were listening. His name was Dennis, he told me, as he vigorously shook my hand. He asked if I had ever been to Montana before, to which I answered in the negative. He had never been there either, he told me. The sweet odor about him confirmed that he had indeed been drinking, which he subsequently confirmed by volunteering that his morning flight had been cancelled and he had spent the interim, which was most of the day, waiting for this flight in a “shitty little airport bar” drinking vodka and cranberry juice. Dennis was loud and talked a lot. He was extremely creative with the “F” word and was able to use it cleverly in almost every sentence that he spoke. Each and every time he had something to tell me he would lean towards me, invading my personal space, and slap me on the shoulder to get my attention. I was polite and answered his many questions but with as few words as possible. I did not want to encourage the man. Apparently he did not believe me when I told him I had never been to Montana before as he repeated the question at least four or five times during the flight. Without asking, I learned that Dennis would be 48 years old in two weeks, he was from Wisconsin, and he had been working for an energy company in Lubbock, TX for the past several years. Dennis had never been married and at the moment was between girlfriends. He worried that the government was watching him through the TV, Internet, credit cards, and his cell phone in preparation for seizing his guns. Because of this, he planned to retire in two years, at the age of 50, and move to Montana where he would live “off the grid” to foil the government’s plan to take his guns. In preparation for his move to Montana, and his planned obscurity, he told me that he had purchased 35 acres of land, sight unseen, “14 miles from the middle of nowhere.” He had made the purchase and placed a down payment over the Internet. He was now on his way to Montana to close the deal with $20,000 in cash (the only way he did business he told me), which he was carrying in his backpack (he did not show it to me). I asked him if it was oceanfront property but he didn’t seem to catch my joke. The property, he told me, was beautiful (he could tell from the internet photos) and included 19 fresh water springs plus an abandoned silver mine. He repeated this several times as we winged our way toward Missoula. When he learned that I was on my way to Missoula to attend a one-week photography course he repeatedly invited me and the entire class to come out and take pictures on his property. I informed him each time that I would not be able to do so as the class was already planned and was very structured.
At one point in the 90-minute flight I feigned sleep, only to be hit on the shoulder every time he wanted to tell me something or ask me a question. I finally gave up attempting to ignore him but continued to only provide abbreviated responses. I never asked for additional information but he usually provided it anyway.
After what seemed like an eternity the plane landed in Missoula. Dennis informed me that he was picking up a rental car at the airport and offered me a ride to my hotel, which I politely declined, telling him that someone was picking me up (I lied). As soon as the plane stopped at the gate, Dennis grabbed his backpack with the $20 grand in it and sprinted up the aisle from the middle of the plane to the front where he was the first person to exit the aircraft. I guess he could not wait to see his property. As I rose from my seat I was surprised to hear applause from the passengers seated for three or four rows around me. They were glad to see Dennis gone but were congratulating me for the patience I demonstrated while being forced to sit next to him and interact with him for the entire flight. Now if I could just avoid him in the terminal.