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Published on Friday, June 25, 2004 8:28 PM CDT

I'm 33 and still getting grounded

In the new Tom Hanks film, "The Terminal," the lead character is a visitor from an Eastern European country who is stranded in an airport terminal after his country undergoes a coup, thus voiding his passport. He cannot enter the United States, and he cannot go home. He is stranded in the airport, and he must make the best of the situation.

But of course, this is a Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg film, so the character has goofy adventures, becomes friends with all the quirky employees and eventually gets Catherine Zeta Jones to fall in love with him.

Only in the movies.

I haven't seen the film yet, but I would like to because I had a similar experience recently. Although my stint in an airport terminal was only about four hours - compared to weeks for the Hanks character - I will testify that I did not have goofy adventures, I did not make friends with the quirky employees, and I did not spot anyone that looked remotely like Catherine Zeta Jones.

As many readers of my column will remember (yes, I'm talking to both of you), I spent the weekend in upstate New York attending my final two Phish concerts. Because of my dedication to my work, however, I had maneuvered a flight pattern from Albany to Detroit to Memphis and back home in order to arrive bright and early Monday morning. The only catch was that each flight had to be on time in order for me to achieve my goal.

Boarding the first flight was not a problem. Taking off was. Although the flight was in the middle of the night, when there never seems to be any traffic, we sat on the runway for quite some time dealing with a backup of some sort. I was unaware, however, as I had laid my head down for some much needed sleep. When I awoke, I saw that the plane was on the ground, and I had incorrectly assumed we were in Detroit. When I realized that we had not even taken off yet, I could feel Nelson Muntz of "The Simpsons" point at me and yell, "Ha ha!"

I started crunching numbers in my head. If we didn't arrive at Detroit until 5 a.m., my flight would have already taken off, leaving me stuck in the terminal until the next flight out. Maybe I could get lucky and jump on one right away. Then I could jump into my car, average 75 mph from Memphis to Benton and still get here in time for deadline.

Didn't happen.

When I arrived in Detroit, there was no other flight to Memphis for another five hours. My friends and I were offered a chance to fly to Atlanta and jump back to Memphis, but the majority ruled that we did not want to be in the air more than needed. So we set up shop in Detroit. Yippee!

Like I said, I did not see anyone that vaguely resembled Catherine Zeta-Jones. I did not even see anyone that resembled Paula Jones. Being the middle of the night, many places were closed except for one bar/restaurant whose apparent slogan was, "We'll take our own precious time with your order because where else are you gonna go?"

There was no place else to go. All of the stores were closed, including the newsstands. You could still see through the metal cage that surrounded the business, so I took the chance to read the covers of each magazine available. I never knew how many publications were dedicated to woman who date the wrong kind of man.

The one saving grace of the Detroit airport was the dancing waters - a fountain that featured choreographed streams of water set against pulsating music. Detroit also has a tunnel with neon lights that shine overhead as you move from one terminal to another. I am also grateful for the one television that changed its channel from constant news to constant sports.

Around 9 a.m., we finally boarded our flight and headed home. It was the most time I had ever spent in Detroit, and I never even got to see the city. But all in all, it wasn't too bad. If I had to choose a Tom Hanks movie setting to replicate, I would much rather be in "The Terminal" than "Cast Away."

Richard Duke is a reporter for the Benton Courier. His e-mail address is richardjduke@yahoo.com.

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