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Flying into KCI
By Jack Cashill
I have flown a lot this past year or so. I have flown out of least a dozen cities, everywhere from Dallas to Detroit to Washington, D.C., to Dublin, indirectly on the last one of course—the “I” in KCI still being a little wobbly.
No matter where I fly from, or how long I have been gone, it always feels right to fly into KCI. The landscape around KCI is always greener than I remember it and hillier and more thickly treed. There is something soothing about returning here, something reassuring and orderly.
When I fly into LaGuardia, I have to shield my eyes lest I peer into the windows of the apartments we pass so closely by. When I fly into O’Hare, I have to prepare myself for the almost always drizzly 45-minute circle of the metro’s warehouses. When I fly into Newark, I find myself lamenting the still unnatural absence of the Twin Towers. But when I fly into KCI, it all looks so much saner and more civilized than wherever it was that I had come from.
Everywhere I fly, I listen to the grumbling of my fellow passengers. The landing was bumpy or the plane was late or the gate was not instantly available. Everywhere, that is, except Kansas City. Our people complain less, in part because there is less to complain about, and in part because we are less likely to complain.
I always see happy people when I land at KCI, right there at the gate. Sometimes they jump up and down and cry or laugh. Sometimes they hold balloons or carry signs. Maybe they do the same in Philadelphia or at LAX, you just don’t get to see it.
I was at Shannon last year, in Ireland, where I saw about 100 American soldiers waiting stoically for their flight to Iraq. They seemed unwelcome there, so unlike they would have been at KCI. After doing some quick calculating, I approached an officer and asked if I could offer to buy each of them a round. He looked at the clock. OK, it was 9 a.m., a little early, but heck this was Ireland. That wasn’t the issue, however. They were boarding in five minutes. I still wish I had had the chance.
From my house to KCI it takes 29 minutes, barring the unforeseen, and the unforeseen has yet to happen. I park at the circle lot for $10 a day and walk a hundred yards or less right to the gate. Online shopping has pushed ticket prices down to all time lows in real dollars so I can afford to fly as much as I like.
I have gotten my advance time down to a pre-9/11 45 minutes. Automatic e-tickets cut far more time than security adds, which, at KCI, is never more than five minutes. Plus, unlike at some airports, you sense that the TSA people at KCI are actually on our side in the war on terror. I still wish they would profile, but that’s another column.
Getting to KCI is so much simpler than getting to other airports. Last winter I was driving to LaGuardia from Staten Island. I was taking 278, which goes all the way across New York. An electronic sign on 278 in Staten Island read “BQE closed in all directions at Richmond Blvd.”
I said to the fellow with me, “Boy, I’m glad we’re not taking the BQE.” When we crossed the Verrazano into Brooklyn, a sign greeted us: “278: The Brooklyn Queens Expressway.” Oops, 278 is the BQE. Ten minutes later we were dumped without ceremony or signage into a Russian neighborhood on a snowy night without the foggiest idea of where we were or how to get to the airport. There were thousands like us driving aimlessly around the streets of Queens. Even the cops didn’t know how to get to La Guardia other than on the BQE. This doesn’t happen at KCI. I was even more glad to get back there when I did—the next day.
A year ago I very nearly ran out of gas in Paris. As far as I could tell, there are no gas stations in the entire city. Had I stalled out on the highway in a Parisian rush hour I would have likely thrown the whole nation into gridlock and been dispatched to Devil’s Island or maybe a Jerry Lewis film fest, torture still being legal in France.
I finally coasted into a parking spot and set out on foot to find some gas. After walking and asking for about an hour, I found a single pump. When I watched vandals burn cars in Paris last fall I mostly just wondered where they got their gas.
Once I walked back to the car and poured in my gallon, I had no time to ask for directions to the airport and no one to ask even if I had time. I drove the opposite way of the morning rush hour figuring that I would sooner or later find the ring road that circled Paris. When I did, mirabile dictu! There was a sign pointing drivers in the direction of “Charles de Gaulle.” I had not been that relieved to find a highway sign since the last time I got lost in the South Bronx. Gosh, did I miss KCI.
A few weeks ago I had to drive from Ocean Grove, New Jersey to Newark Airport. I asked my sister, who has a place there, how much time should I leave myself. She said, “You never know about the Parkway and the Turnpike, maybe an hour and a half to be on the safe side.” It took 45 minutes. It’s not KCI.
Earlier that day my brother-in-law Kevin and I had walked from Ocean Grove around a narrow lake into Asbury Park, one of the very few derelict towns along the otherwise prosperous New Jersey shore. When shore-goers shifted from trains to cars after WW II, Asbury Park’s grand hotels grew suddenly obsolete, and so did the people who worked there. In its wisdom, the government decided to subsidize these people on site and reward them if their families disintegrated, which they promptly did. The result? Newark de la Mer. Nothing good has happened there in a half century, and that includes the official state poseur, Bruce Springsteen.
On the Asbury Park boardwalk there sits a rotting hulk of a once grand arcade. To make it interesting, the city has posted along its walls a series of photos taken over a period of years about a century ago. “Kevin,” I said, “what do you notice about these photos?”
“The size of the beach,” he answered. Yes, a century ago, before global warming melted the polar ice caps and flooded the Atlantic shores, Asbury Park had skimpy little beaches with bathers crowded right back up to the boardwalk. Today, the inconvenient truth is that these beaches stretch luxuriously to the sea hundreds of yards from that very same boardwalk, which is located in the very same spot as it was a century ago. I have been in Missouri long enough to demand at least that you “show me” before you ask me to take a rickshaw to KCI. That’s why I like flying back here. It grounds you.
As I write on this spectacularly green, 75-degree, late August day, the same day on which Ernesto disappointed all the Chicken Littles and fizzled into a rain shower, I just filled my tank at $2.57 a gallon and prepared to leave for KCI. As Robert Frost once said, “That would be good both going and coming back.”
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