Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Tally (AKA a true story about my most recent airport nightmare)

It had been a very long morning. No, a very long day. You could say it began around midnight when she’d finally finished packing 2 weeks worth of essentials- which, apparently, weighs 35 lbs.- and was now ending as she sat buckling her seatbelt on flight 745 thinking caustically to herself what a joke it is to wear seatbelts on a vehicle 5000 miles in the air which is carrying 900 lbs. of very explosive fuel and 150 very flammable passengers. What a comfort that in the even of a crash you are guaranteed to keep track of your seat. Exhausted as she was from her 2-3 hours of restless sleep, she was not too tired to smile quietly to herself upon remembering the sort of mental roulette she had played during the few hours between these points.

Upon arriving at the airport in the pitch black of 5:30 AM, she had happened upon an impeccable opportunity to really weigh out the comparative intelligence of man and machine as she battled and lost to three separate machines four times each before going to a desk to check in and see why her reservation had seemingly evaporated. 12 points to machines. Fifteen minutes later the very sweet southern lady at the desk finally wrapped her mind around the problem being presented to her. 1 point to man. 45 minutes, 3 phone calls, 12 re-explanations of the problem, 7 corrections of misunderstandings of the problem, 3 computers, and 4 employees later they had reached a conclusion: this was a very complicated problem. 1 point to each of the four employees for stating the obvious = 4 points to man. 1 point to every five minutes the desk clock proved more reliable than anyone using it = 12 points to machines. 15 points to machines for the 3 phones which all operated correctly, 3 points to man for those on the other line who answered them, and 7 points to machines for the conveyor belt which faithfully carried luggage past with out hesitating the whole time. All things considered, the count was at: man-8 machine-46.

Caught in the perplexing state of both being unable to board her airplane and knowing the presently threateningly high score of machine intelligence, she frantically took matters into her own hands. Looking down just long enough to channel all unsettled emotions into whatever cavity of the brain controls sadness, she then raised her head allowing 2 solitary tears to run from 2 hopeless eyes and said woefully, “But my only sister is getting married tonight.” Gaping mouths were the pitiful response and suddenly 3 more authority figures became accessible to solve the problem. 5 points to man for human sympathy. 10 points to machines for the 2 high-powered computers used to solve everything. 15 minutes and 6 more helpless dabs of dewy eyes later, she was holding a new boarding pass. 100 points to man for sheer theatrical brilliance. And now, sitting in her window seat after having been specifically promised one on the aisle, she looks over the final tally scrawled out on a complimentary Delta napkin and realizes that she has just rescued humanity.

Man: 113
Machine: 56

It was all worth it.