Groundskeeper Pete and the Abyss
Recently, I received word from an online friend that he was planning a visit to one of the Larson Titan 1 sites in Washington state (designated Larson 568-C). A fellow missile nut, contributor to the web site, and all-around nice guy, Walter asked me if I'd care to join him on his adventure into the Royal City site. How the hell could I pass it up?
As the day approached, there was even talk of visiting a 2nd site on the same visit. I was ecstatic-- this was a veritable smorgasbord of Titan 1 we might be indulging in! It was too much to even hope for! I started making travel arrangements and we prepared for what might well be a Titan 1 double-header.
Well, as it turned out, visiting 2 sites was indeed too much to hope for. Arrangements with the other site's owner could not be made during our visit and so we would have to content ourselves with just the Royal City site.
The Royal City site has long held a fascination for me for 2 reasons: 1) because I hadn't seen it yet, and 2) more importantly, because it still contains the silo cribwork, the massive 15-story steel structure that enclosed the missile like a monstrous metal chrysalis.
I had only seen the fabled cribwork in a few historical photos and in pictures provided by Walter (who had visited the site years before) and Fred Epler (click here for more info on the silo cribwork). I would later find out that 568-C was seriously flooded as well, making for a truly unique and "aquatic" experience.
I knew that there had been diving tours available there in the past and now a local dive shop was once again planning to offer that unique experience to dive into the ghostly flooded remains of the Titan I launchers.
And so it was that I set out to Spokane to visit 568-C, having no inkling what cruel fate the gods of air travel held in store for me.
I absolutely loathe flying; hate is a good way to describe how I feel about air travel. It isn't that I fear flying, or feel claustrophobic in a plane; that's not it at all. The reason I hate flying is that it has become one of the most trying, uncomfortable, tedious and aggravating experiences one can knowingly subject themselves to in order to get from one place to another.
Pick just about any mode of transportation: bus, train, car, mule, unicycle or rickshaw and you will almost certainly find it to be easier, far more comfortable, quieter, less intrusive, less cramped (certainly), and your possessions will likely incur far less damage en route than on a commercial flight.
Being crammed into a tiny space that is invariably too damn hot or too damn cold for comfort, in a seat that the Marquis de Sade would be proud of while all control of one's own destiny is wrested away, is a an unenviable state of affairs-- and yet, thousands of travelers submit to it every hour of every day: the horror of commercial air travel.
On its own, just flying is bad enough when everything goes as planned. When problems arise, the air traveler can easily find themselves in their own private hell. Such was my trip to Spokane Washington.
The trouble started when I was about 20 minutes from Des Moines International and my phone rang. A pleasant-sounding female voice informed me that, "there has been a change in your flight" and to "see the ticket agent" when I got to the terminal. Uh oh.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time for my flight but of course there were no available agents to talk to. The people in front of me in line seemed to be taking long enough to close on a mortgage. When the agent was done with them she sat there not calling anyone and staring at her terminal. Anxious minutes ticked by and when I finally got to talk to someone, there was no way I could make my flight. This made little difference really as it turned out my flight had been canceled.
I expected to hear of the cancellation, but was eager to know when the next flight might leave. There were no other flights. I was hosed. Delta would have to shuffle me off to United. This placed me in another line, which after about 15 minutes I was told was the wrong line. Twenty minutes later I finally got to talk to someone at United. They had a flight alright-- about 7 hours later than the original.
At this point it was actually looking like I wasn't going to make it to Spokane at all. After 15 minutes of hunt-and-peck at his terminal the agent said the best option was a flight to Denver some 4 hours later. I had no better alternative so I took it. Instead of arriving in Spokane at 2:21pm I would now be arriving at 11:11pm. Great.
After paying $25 for my checked luggage I was relieved that the TSA didn't see the need to pull everything out to search it. I really don't care much for the baggage fees however-- I mean, I weigh 160 pounds and my luggage weighed 36 pounds. How come that 250-pound guy doesn't have to pay extra?
By happenstance, I'd gotten almost no sleep the night before and now I was looking at nearly 8 hours of languishing at terminals and 4 hours in the air. I can't sleep in planes or terminals, it just doesn't happen, so I was going to be exhausted. We'd planned to get supper and go over the days activities once I got to Spokane but there was no chance of that now.
The final insult, after waiting several hours at Denver International was the further delay and subsequent gate change of my flight which pushed my arrival back to midnight. Since we had to be up early to drive to Royal City, I essentially got no sleep the night before we went into the site either. It would be a very long day indeed.
Somehow I finally arrived and was greeted by Walter and his girlfriend, who bless their hearts had picked up some food for me as there wasn't really anywhere to get anything at that hour. I checked into my room and spent a while getting my gear ready. Despite the World's Most Uncomfortable Pillows and an AC unit that barely worked, I finally slept, if only a little.
So this was to be an object lesson in control and destiny and just how little of the former we possess over the latter when it comes to commercial air travel. But enough of my complaining, that certainly isn't what you want to hear about. Let me get on with it already.
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