I had an hour and a half before my connecting flight out of Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. I checked the map on the wall. There was a big red dot that said YOU ARE HERE. My gate was on the other side of the TWA terminal. I started to mosey down the hall. Maybe I’ll buy a USA TODAY. I yawned, still tired from getting up at 4am to make my 6am flight out of Hartford.
I stepped lazily on a moving sidewalk- my cousin calls them “people movers”. Suddenly I was moving at 75 miles an hour! This is the fastest moving sidewalk I’ve ever been on. The terminal flew past in a blur like the background in cartoons- bar, bookstore, shoe shine guy…bar, bookstore, shoeshine guy. I tightened my grip on the handrail.
My eyes watered from the wind rushing by. I squinted and saw that I was approaching the end- I’m going to be an airline industry crash statistic and I haven’t even left the ground! I tried to remember the crash position from thousands of preflight instructions that I never paid attention to. Put my head between my knees? Knees between my ears?
The moving sidewalk ended and I shot fifteen feet in the air. I grabbed my suitcase and lay on top of it like a surfboard to cushion the impact. Looking down, I saw my crash site was already covered with 10 other people!
Bodies and suitcases and luggage carriers were strewn all over. A 50 year old lady from Joplin was covered in the pies she baked for the Missouri Bake Off. A magician scurried to pick up the colored balls that jumped out of his smashed suitcase, rolling past the security gates. Three members of a high school drill team rolled into a ball near the Cinnabon counter.
I hit the ground and my suitcase folded like paper. My shaving kit jammed into my thigh. Skidding to a stop, I just missed hitting the Welcome to St. Louis sign. I felt dizzy and then everything went black.
When I came to, it was chaos. People were running around and talking at once. The paramedics were nowhere in sight so regular people provided medical care. The manager of the bookstore applied a paperback copy of John Grisham’s “The Testament” to the cut in my thigh. She wrapped it with a roll of cash register tape and secured it with the price sticker gun.
A television reporter stood right next to me. Everything he said somehow tied back to the St. Louis Rams. “This is Raymond Lanternjaw from Eyewitness News. Behind me is a scene of carnage. People are piled high at the end a moving sidewalk, very much like the way the St. Louis Rams defense would pile on opponents in their successful bid for the 2000 Super Bowl Championship.”
“The cause of this tragedy is a moving sidewalk set a dangerously high speed- a speed that reminds this reporter of speedy St. Louis Quarterback Kurt Warner, the former stock boy that led his team on a successful campaign to win the 2000 Super Bowl Championship.”
Finally the paramedics arrived. By this time the bookstore manager had wrapped my head in pages torn out of MacWeek and Wired magazines. The paramedics looked at me and laughed as they rolled my stretcher into an ambulance.
I awoke in my hospital room and 60 Minutes was blaring from the TV. Mike Wallace was interviewing an airport employee. “So, you are saying that airport officials KNEW the moving sidewalk was set at a dangerous speed??!!”, Mike said.
The employee started to sob, “You don’t know the pressure we were under. Cutthroat competition. People are in a hurry. And they always made the connecting flights on THE OTHER END OF THE TERMINAL. We were told to pick up the speed or pick up our last check!”
I passed out again. I don’t know if Mike Wallace affected any changes. But if you are ever in the St. Louis Airport, use only non-moving sidewalks.