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Jessie Raymond: Airport turnstiles present epic challenge for new ‘business traveler’

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Chicago for a work-related conference. For once, I got to swagger around the airports like an actual business traveler.
Unfortunately, the swagger only lasted until my colleague and I — yes, I said “colleague,” because business travelers talk that way — landed at O’Hare. While she carried a small bag, I had checked a bulky wheeled behemoth that fell just a few pounds short of needing to be registered with the DMV.
I’m normally a light traveler, but this was both my first conference and my first trip to Chicago; I had packed for every possible combination of social situation and weather. Cocktail party during a blizzard? Team-building exercises in a windy park?
I had it all covered.
Things went well until we entered the train station in the airport and came to one of those hip-height, horizontally mounted three-legged turnstiles. Clearly, the suitcase and I (wearing a backpack, mind you) weren’t going to be able to squeeze through at the same time without some impressive gymnastic maneuvers on my part.
My first few attempts got me nothing but a strained hamstring and a few snickers from other travelers.
With a line growing behind me, I had to act. I thought of the old adage “He who hesitates has to leave his suitcase at O’Hare,” and that gave me the needed impetus.
Like an owl-toting young wizard barreling toward Platform 9-3/4 at King’s Cross Station, I shut my eyes, rushed the turnstile and hoped for the best. I punctuated the run with a Braveheart yell that echoed throughout the station.
Somehow, it worked. When I opened my eyes, both my suitcase and I were on the other side of the turnstile. (As a bonus, no one dared to sit too close to me on the train.)
But my turnstile nightmare wasn’t over.
When we reached our stop downtown, we had to exit through another turnstile. This one, however, was the revolving-door type, with “doors” made of horizontal tines that meshed with stationary ones.
An uncoordinated traveler could get trapped between the tines and threshed like hay. An uncoordinated traveler wearing a bulky backpack and wheeling an RV-sized bag faced certain death. Or at least certain embarrassment.
I tried to envision just how I’d get the suitcase into the tiny revolving bay with me. As my companion waited, I whipped out a pen and jotted down trajectory, rate of acceleration, and so forth on my baggage claim slip. If my numbers were even a tiny bit off — I shuddered.
The crowd behind me grumbled impatiently. (To be fair, I had been holding up the line for 7 minutes at that point.) It was time. After taking a moment to center myself, I grunted, hoisted the suitcase onto the tops of my feet and deftly stutter-stepped my way through.
It worked!
I wept with relief while a few people applauded.
But there was more.
The walk to our hotel should have taken us under five minutes, but the GPS on my phone kept recalculating the route every few blocks, sending us farther away from the endpoint each time. If we’d kept obeying the GPS, we’d have ended up in Lake Forest by nightfall. Finally, I ceded navigation duties to my fellow traveler. Without a fuss, she led us to the river, which we followed straight to our high-rise hotel.
Out front, a uniformed porter greeted us and led us to the gigantic, brass-trimmed, revolving front door.
I began to tremble.
“No,” I said. “No. No.”
My colleague whispered something to the porter. Nodding, he smiled, took my suitcase and led me into the lobby through a standard door off to the side.
It was over.
The conference went fine. We spent the next three days attending keynote addresses, illustrated lectures and roundtables.
Despite my ample wardrobe, however, not once did I have the need or opportunity to wear even one of my ball gowns. As it turns out, I could have packed everything I needed in a modest handbag.
What’s worse, my enjoyment of the conference was overshadowed by the knowledge that I’d be facing the same turnstile challenges all over again on our return to the airport.
But I shouldn’t have worried.
As were leaving the lobby on the last day, the porter, seeing me twitch at the sight of the formal revolving door, said six beautiful words that put my turnstile anxiety to rest for good: “Let me call you a cab.”
I swaggered all the way back to Vermont.

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