Tuesday, March 5, 1996
At last, the truth about I-71 delays

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

To all my fellow east-siders, I would like to say that I am sincerely sorry. Construction delays on Interstate 71 are all my personal, miserable fault.

This is a lifelong curse, and anybody who went to Shawnee Elementary School in Lima, Ohio, during the 1950s can tell you that the worst place to be at lunchtime was in the cafeteria line behind me. They would run out of macaroni and cheese or there would be a toxic Jell-O spill. Or something. But anyway, the line would grind to a halt.

Later on, the curse followed me to banks and the grocery check-out lanes. It might be somebody with a bag of pennies or somebody who needed a price check, but the common denominator was always me. I was right behind them.

Recently, I visited Florida, and as I drove to the airport, I wondered how many travelers would be late to their destinations courtesy of me.

At the convenient, curbside luggage check-in, I was behind a potential terrorist, about 85 years old, who could not locate her picture ID. Or, indeed, her purse. Or her daughter-in-law. Then she couldn't find a quarter to tip the baggage handler.

We were ticketed aboard an airline that I will not name because the following events are really not their fault. They are trying very hard to be the airline of our dreams, and they cannot help it if they have to pay for a big new terminal. And if it costs us a little more for that convenience, I feel certain that their peanuts, which are of superior quality, will more than compensate for the extra cost of flying this particular airline out of Cincinnati.

And anybody who thinks that they are gouging local travelers just has no civic spirit whatsoever.

So, let me emphasize: this is not the fault of the airline. The weather was windy and snowy, and on top of that they were afflicted by the Pulfer Curse.

First, a problem in Atlanta - scuttlebutt in the waiting area was that it was either the weather or the president getting a haircut - delayed the flight. This gave the agents at the gate plenty of time to negotiate with the overflow of passengers. The flight had been overbooked. Who knew that all these people would really want to fly south in February? Anyway, several people got round-trip tickets to somewhere else at a later date, and they also got to get out of line behind me.

Periodic announcements extended the delay a little at a time, so everybody was scared to leave the boarding area, even though we knew that it was dinner time and we were about to board the Peanuts R Us evening flight.

Except for the people in first class - who we can assume were dining on quail and wild rice and laughing up their Brooks Brothers sleeves at people in coach - everybody was starved. A woman on one side of me offered to trade her Ferragamo shoes for my Country Store popcorn.

When we arrived in Atlanta, we had to run to catch our connecting flight. You will not be surprised to learn that the baggage handlers did not run as fast as we did. So when we arrived, we had that most woeful of traveling experiences - filling out the Lost Baggage Claim.

I felt terrible.

So, anyway, now it's I-71.

A few years ago, I moved to Mariemont, and they began work on Wooster Pike. This lasted for years. Until I moved to Hyde Park and started bragging about getting downtown in eight minutes. Then it was only a matter of time until the talk began in earnest about construction on I-71. So here we are today, Day Two of 730 days of orange barrels.

If you have been driving around like a rat in a maze hoping to find a route downtown, I have some advice for you. Get yourself a car phone. This way, you will look important and busy to your fellow commuters. (You'll really be trying to be the seventh caller to Radio Station JACR so that you can win tickets to various cultural events such as Pearl Jam concerts or mud wrestling.)

Also, avoid me at all costs.

It's only fair to warn you that I plan to use Columbia Parkway when I have to drive downtown. And I'm going to catch the Madisonville 69 bus the other days.

You may want to plan accordingly.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 mHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.