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Sunday, April 11, 2010

PCA/ACA Conference: Day One (Travel 101)

(A little overdue, but so be it.)

Day one of my trip to the Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference in St. Louis, Missouri proved to be rather informative. First, I learned a few things about air travel:
  1. No matter what airport you go to, you will not get on the plane if you show up anything less than 35 minutes before your flight takes off. It doesn't matter if your airport is the smallest airport in the whole United States, or if there are only a handful of people there, or whatever. You won't get on the plane.
  2. If you are a self-professed liberal or atheist, you will get searched on your way out of any conservative city. They'll be nice about it and tell you that it's random, but when it happens every single time, you start to wonder. (I don't know if this one is actually true; it probably isn't, but it's entertaining nonetheless.)
  3. The people who make subway systems want you to get lost. Instead of putting a lovely map up there that flat out tells you which train to get on and where to get off, in the most simple and easiest way to understand, they have confusing maps that tourists might find rather daunting.
And that's what I learned. Now for the first day:

The trip began in, you guessed it, Gainesville, FL, where I was uncharacteristically late by 10 minutes (meaning that I still had 25 minutes to board the plane). There was nobody in line, nobody in the security line, and one fellow at the counter who had nothing else to do. It was still my fault, but I found it rather irksome that I had to pay $50 to change flights (one that was 2 hours later and yet still got me to St. Louis at a decent hour). Why did I miss the flight? I wanted a hard copy of my final paper in my hands for the big day, just in case one of those journal editor types showed up and wanted me to submit it. It's smart business is all. Anyway.

After changing flights and paying the ridiculous one-way checked-baggage charge (don't get me started again), I went and sat around for two hours, staring at my bag on the mat in front of the TSA scanner gizmo. Why was I standing there? Because, like a good citizen, I didn't want to leave the blasted bag there and have the whole bloody airport in an uproar all because the TSA guy who was supposed to scan the bag didn't want to be out and about doing his job.

After my bag was checked and everything was in order, I got something to eat, waited for an hour and a half, had the distinct pleasure of hearing a baby scream bloody murder for fifteen minutes, and then went through airport security, where I was summarily executed...I mean searched. The cool part about being searched is that you start to learn about all the cool technology we have. Did you know they have a little machine that can check if there are traces of explosives or the contents that make them on your person in a matter of seconds? All the guy has to do is wipe your hand with a dry baby wipe and put it in the machine and that's it! Cool? I think so!

An hour later I was in Atlanta, one of the two cities you can go to if you're in Gainesville. The other is Charlotte, but I've only ever been there once, I think, and I distinctly remember it being unmemorable. After another two hours, I landed in St. Louis. There I discovered that not only is it easy to get confused on the train system (the Metro Link, as they call it), but that trains at night are bloody scary. There's a story here, I promise.

So, I got a ticket and got on the train and decided to sit right under the little map for the two routes in St. Louis. It wasn't until the train had already set off to lands unknown that I discovered that my chosen seat was three rows away from a slightly mental man. This man proceeded to have a full on conversation with himself in the manner that you might expect of someone on drugs--this was not a the normal crazy person kind. The odd thing is, I kept looking back at him and seeing one of my friends from school, who used to smoke pot and had the exact same look on his face.

Some moments later, a rather rowdy bunch of youngsters (boy am I getting old) hopped on and started making weird remarks and giggling to themselves. I don't know if they were laughing at me (probably the only person of my kind to ride the train that late at night), at their friends, or at the crazy guy, but I spent a good deal of the time avoiding eye contact. If you've dealt with young people before, you know that looking them in the eye is like asking for death. They have a way of eating into your soul like a parasite and sucking the life right out of you. That's why parents age. Look it up. It's in the Bible.

At some point on this trip the conductor decided to phone it in on the announcements. Her voice went from being clear and concise to muffled and incomprehensible. And that's where the confusion began. About eight stops in, I got confused. I've never been to St. Louis, and so having your one lifeline (i.e. the conductor) turn into a mumbling stranger is a great way to have your brain get lost in all the flashy lights and passenger nonsense. I ended up getting off the train, thinking I had missed my stop, and then realized I was on the right train all along, and headed the correct direction again...only this time there were quite a few shady characters on the train. Shady characters make for unpleasant trips, particularly if you're loaded with luggage. Luckily for me, a hockey game released it's prisoners...I mean patrons and all was well.

So, after all of that, I finally made it to my hotel room and spent a couple hours working on my presentation for the paper I was presenting the following afternoon. Day one done, and much more interesting stuff to come!

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