I hadn’t planned on visiting Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport; but there I was waiting for a connecting flight to Omaha. If I hadn’t missed my flight to Omaha from Fort Lauderdale I would’ve been waiting for a connecting flight in Denver. I was at Houston Intercontinental three years ago but only saw the Subway terminal train’s dark tunnel as I was shuttled to terminal D. I had a few hours to spend in terminal D waiting for my Air New Zealand, fifteen hour, non stop flight to Auckland. I’ve always believed an hour or more of waiting time at an airport is good for a couple of terminal walkabouts. The first terminal D walkabout was over in the blink of an eye; terminal D was sparse and small, and had very few windows overlooking the tarmac. I ventured part way into a walkway but turned back, fearing it would lead to a security check point. After finding a lonely coffee kiosk I headed back to my departure gate with a large coffee, accepting that I’d spend the next couple of hours without any terminal distractions.
I’ve always been seduced by an airport’s activity; planes landing and taking off every few minutes, public announcements creating an air of mystery and intrigue, and people hurrying between gates and terminals with careening carry-on wheelie spinners add to the fascination. And terminal walkabouts have always provided observations that demand creative thinking for an answer.
Urinator into mobile phone: Sorry mate, what’d ya say?
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is about twenty five miles from Boca Raton; a straight shot down I-95. If you leave Boca at 6:30a.m. and cruise at the seventy five mph speed limit, you’ll be unloading your bags at 7:00a.m. As soon as we merged from the Boca on-ramp the I-95 traffic came to a crawling stop.
It was interstate gridlock; I could’ve walked in five minutes the distance we moved in the first hour. The navigation app showed a traffic jam to the I-95/I-595 split. I became fixated on the dashboard navigation app and the time to your destination display. Time to destination was 8:00a.m. After five minutes real time, and moving a hundred feet, time to destination was 8:30a.m. My Omaha flight was scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at 9:30a.m. At 9:30a.m. we were close to the I-595 split. I watched as a plane started it’s slow climb into the blue hazy sky and disappear into the horizon; I’d missed my Fort Lauderdale to Omaha flight.
An hour later I was booked on a flight to Omaha with a stop over in Houston. I learnt from the airline customer service agent that an earlier news report had warned of a fatal accident on I-95 in Pompano Beach. All but one southbound lane of the interstate had been closed for several hours during the crash investigation, causing significant delays for drivers.
During the flight to Houston I continually checked my ticket for the terminal, and gate number, of my connecting flight to Omaha. I bolted out of the arrival-departure gate and sprinted into the concourse; searching out the terminal direction signs to navigate to my Omaha flight gate. I didn’t see the group of fellow travellers in front of me, and before I knew it, I’d banged into their carry-on wheelie spinners. The wheelie collision slowed my super fast walking speed to a crawl. I still had a terminal to walk through, one to detour around, and several walkways to cross; if I continued at my present state of motion I’d say goodbye to my flight to Omaha. I was in a panic. I caught sight of an airport motorised cart and signalled at it with the same outstretched arm technique I’d used at “Hail Cars” tram stops in Melbourne. As the cart pulled alongside I adjusted my walking speed to match the speed of the cart, grabbed the back of a seat, and swung myself onto the outside platform of the cart.
At one time Melbourne trams had open entryways and exits. It was par for the course to board a tram as it was leaving a stop or to run alongside after it had left and then hop on. You’d jog or run alongside the tram, reach up and grab the hand rail, and swing up onto the boarding platform. Most men preferred to step into the middle area of the tram from the outside wooden boarding step; others stayed riding the step. I’m still not sure if riding the step was revealing your manliness or if it was to elude the conductor and avoid paying the fare.
There was a time when I committed to not paying fares on Melbourne’s public transport. Melbourne Metropolitan Tramways Board, and Victorian Railways staff wore pseudo military style uniforms. Tram conductors and drivers wore a green coat, trousers or skirts, a light green shirt, and dark tie; their cap was similar to an Australian Army Officer’s peaked cap. The Victorian Railways staff wore a similar navy blue uniform, a light blue or white shirt, and a dark tie and peaked cap. I think the tailored uniforms were meant to highlight the staff’s authority over the travelling public. It was the seventies; we were young, grew our hair long, and wore eccentric clothes. Our generation defined itself by rejecting authority; I displayed my disdain and disrespect for authority by not paying fares.
I avoided paying tram fares by keeping away from the conductor. It was best to take the tram during the morning and afternoon peak times, or at lunch time; you could bet a penny to a quid a city tram, or inner suburb tram would be jam packed. There was no way a conductor could move through a jam packed tram and collect fares; if you were going just a few stops there was no problems avoiding the connie. Avoiding the connie on a tram ride of more than a few stops took a little more effort; as they headed your way you’d hop onto the boarding step, walk the step to where they had just left, and then step back into the tram. Or you could show your manliness and ride the step for a few stops.
Connies wore a leather bag at their waist. They patrolled the length of the tram calling out “fares please”. When a fare was tended they’d sort through the coins in their bag for the correct change, tear off a coloured ticket, and punch the correct little square for the distance travelled. Their bag, heavy with the weight of penny, threepence, sixpence, shilling, and two shilling coins symbolised their loyalty to the green uniform. Connies did more than just collect fares; they’d help ladies with prams and disabled passengers get on and off the tram. And they signalled the driver at a tram stop with two dings of the bell, when everyone was off or on the tram and it was safe to leave the stop.
I used a similar technique to what I used on the tram to avoid paying the fare on the trains. I stayed away from the station ticket porters. Flinders Street Station’s main exit gates were under the clocks. There were also gates onto Princess Bridge, at Elizabeth Street, and in the Campbell Arcade subway to Degraves Street. Porters collected tickets by standing at their gate with an outstretched hand; it was your duty to put your used ticket into the palm of their hand. I’d usually leave Flinders Street through the gates under the clocks, or the ones leading to Princess Bridge; the gate depended on which ticket porter was the first to leave their gate. Off peak was the best time to take the train because the number of train travellers was a fraction of the peak time travellers. I’d linger in the concourse until most travellers left the station. The porters would leave their gate and stand around chatting to their mates while they waited for the next arriving train’s passengers; so it was clear sailing through an unmanned ticket gate..
It was a no brainer to avoid the ticket porter at a suburban station. The porter closed the wooden platform gate as the train approached the station. Just as a tram connie signalled their driver when passengers were safely off and on the tram, the porter signalled the driver when it was safe for the train to leave the station. They’d stand by the platform gate, wait until the last carriage was past the station, open the gate, and stand with their hand out to collect tickets. My avoidance tactic was to get in the last carriage when I caught a train; it was usually furthermost from the platform gate when the train stopped at the station. I’d get off the train and dawdle to the gate, stop and have a cigarette, and watch for when the porter collected the last ticket and head back into the station staff room for a cup of tea.
The airport motorised cart driver announced “your stops next sir”. I turned my head and cast a furtive glance at his waist; no leather bag. I then managed a fleeting look at his profile; no peaked cap. Even so, as the airport motorised cart slowed down I stood up, grabbed my carry-on wheelie spinner, and stepped off the moving cart before there was a chance of a “fares please”.