You can park at O’Hare airport for $2, and not just for 20 minutes, but a full hour; $5 for the first three hours.
So much about air travel is idiotic, dysfunctional, costly or all three, you’d think this fact would be better known. It makes sense—rather than loop around the gates, trying to spot your incoming passenger with one eye while noticing the triple-parked Kia you’re about to rear end with the other, you can park, pay a couple bucks, greet your loved one with civility—the rarest thing in air travel nowadays—and be on your way.
The third time my wife mentioned this bargain to me, I realized that she was slyly suggesting I park when picking her up Thursday on her return from six days in Los Angeles, where she went to drop off our older boy at college and then visit family.
So I did. A good husband takes a hint.
Not wanting to be late, I pulled into the airport 15 minutes before her flight, parked, and ambled over to Terminal 3, where the ARRIVALS information board told me that—parking notwithstanding—the airport had not changed that much. Most flights were late, between two minutes and three hours. My wife’s was an acceptable 12 minutes late.
I strolled over to the exit. There were 100 teenage girls crowded againt a wall, facing a dozen Chicago and airport police. At first I thought, “school group” maybe assembling after a trip before leaving the airport. But from their body language—looking hard to the right—and the cops, I quickly realized they were waiting for somebody.
“Some band,” a cop said. I yanked open my mental file drawer of hot new bands and found a dusty scrap of memory with “New Kids on the Block” scribbled on it. But they formed in 1984 and are all pushing 50.
Using my investigative skills, I walked over to the line of girls, picked one, and asked.
“Five Seconds to Summer,” she replied.
Oh. One of the many vexing aspects of growing old is that band names mean nothing. Gibberish. I tried to go online and find out more, but O’Hare, unlike every coffee shop, charges $6.95 for Wi-Fi, except for a few travel sites. Which drives home just how unusual that $2 parking bargain truly is.
Thwarted, I sought knowledge the old-fashioned way and approached another part of the line. What band were they waiting for? I began again, figuring a fresh start was best. “Five Seconds of Summer,” she said. And what made them worth coming out for?
“They’re a good band,” she said.
I see. I took up a position by the cops, to watch the crowd — some puzzlingly old people to my right. Middle-age fans? We all gazed at the girls. Airport security had obviously told them to keep against the wall and keep quiet, and every so often the buzz would grow, then the group would hush itself, a few percussive “Shhhs!” breaking out along the line. They’d be quiet again, briefly. Heartbreaking. Once they might have clutched autograph books, now cellphones.
“No Marine coming home would get this,” a cop muttered, a line dating to Sinatra.
Later, at home, I found their story: In 2011, 5 Seconds of Summer were four guys in Australia posting videos on YouTube of themselves playing covers. The videos got hundreds of thousands of hits, which led to a recording contract and Top 20 hits.
I jumped onto iTunes and gave their music a listen and realized something probably obvious to those who know about boy bands. The songs — “She Looks So Perfect,” “What I Like About You,” “Kiss Me Kiss Me” — each one I listened to was a big lacy valentine to the girls waiting at the airport. I’m surprised there weren’t more waiting. Pandering: It works. I’ll have to try it here more.
Back at the airport, my wife’s plane landed — she told me, via text. There was a flurry around the corner, whether the band had been spirited through another entrance or it was just nerves of the girls in the back, I couldn’t tell. But an authoritative adult announced loudly that the band was gone, they were gone, and by the third time he said it, girls were racing in every direction. The crowd scattered, most departing in spirits that didn’t seem particularly dampened. One girl slumped sobbing in the arms of her mother — the adults to my right had been parents — her face a mask of desolation, a ticket (the band plays Friday night at Soldier Field) clutched in her hand.
My wife arrived bearing colorful French macarons from LA’s hip Bottega Louie bakery. Turns out the band was on her plane. “Four boys about Ross’s age,” she reported. “They looked cool, but out of place in first class.” Any bad behavior? “They left a mess,” she said. “Fiji water bottles scattered around.” Not quite The Who trashing hotel rooms, but it’s 2014, and that will have to do.