Column: Moving sidewalk helps a weary traveler, unless he nods off

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 28, 2002

I had never been so tired in my life. I was awake just enough to maintain some primitive motor skills. I had flown into a strange airport on a red-eye special. It was either the middle of the night or very early in the morning, depending on your perspective. I had been working a long way from home and was anxious to get home.

I have never found it easy to sleep on an airplane. I am envious of the people who can sit down in an airline seat and immediately fall asleep. I always sit next to a guy like that. Invariably, he falls asleep with his head flopping over onto my shoulder. He begins to drool and to murmur someone’s name in his slumber.

I am too tall for the seats and if I try to nod off, my head jumps around like one of those bobblehead dolls that they give away at sporting events. Oh, I know that the seats in first class are more roomy and comfortable, but I am much too frugal to spend any time there.

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So I got off the plane in a state that could be best described as advanced grogginess. In a haze, I staggered into the airport. My arrival gate and the gate I needed to be at for my departure were as far apart as the airport’s size would allow. The gates may have been in different states. It is my belief that airports make the gate you fly into and the gate you fly out of so far apart so we get some exercise.

I placed the strap of my briefcase around my neck and stumbled toward the gate. I had walked a few miles when I came upon one of those moving sidewalks. The moving sidewalk was like a waterhole to a desert crawler. I stationed myself in the &uot;standing only&uot; area of the moving sidewalk, placed my briefcase alongside my ankles and began to move towards my destination without any effort on my part. Moving sidewalks are wonderful things for a tired traveler. The moving sidewalks have two lanes &045; standing and walking. I needed to be in the standing lane this day. I have heard of people who are able to sleep while standing and I decided to give it a shot. I could feel the pressure of my briefcase, so I knew that it was safe. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my pants and attempted to nod off. I shifted my brain into neutral and ventured into that place somewhere between sleep and reality.

Now as I said, moving sidewalks are wonderful things. Every airport ought to have one. As near as I can figure, there is only one thing wrong with moving sidewalks. And that is that sooner or later they come to an end. The moving sidewalk that I was riding on in my sleepy stupor came to an end. Oh, the airport warns you. There are signs and electronic voices that cautioned me of the danger ahead. But I was not in the conscious plane where such things are heard or seen. The moving sidewalk emptied out onto a stationary floor. I was moving along without a care in the world when the earth stopped. I felt the change in my environment and my eyes snapped open, but not quickly enough. The momentum of the moving sidewalk threw me ahead. My trusty briefcase, resting at my feet, maintained its position, allowing me to tumble over it and fall belly down onto the floor.

There I laid, shimmying like a snake shedding its skin as I attempted to free my hands from my pants pockets. There is a universal law that says you are not allowed to do something really stupid unless there is a crowd to witness the act. As I pulled one hand free from a pocket, I had that sense that someone was watching me. I didn’t want to look, but I had to. Suddenly wide awake, I peered upwards to see a family staring at me. In particular, they were staring at the emblem of an airline that was featured on my jacket. It was a jacket that I was given when that airline lost my bag. There were ten eyes riveted on that airline logo. I could see the look of terror in the eyes of a couple and their three children. I was worried that I may have seriously injured myself in my fall; that’s when the father croaked out his question to me.

&uot;Please tell me that you are not our pilot?&uot;

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.