Sunday, October 12, 2014

Short Approach - Louisville International Airport

SDF Walk: Thursday, September 18, 2014
5.5 Miles / 1:50 / 18:45 - 20:30

Whether I’m going across town to go to work or I’m driving across the country, I love the activity of transit.  As the purported top tier of travel, though, air travel has always been the most appealing method.  Even after humans have been flying for a century, air travel defies logic.  The process we go through sounds absurd: pack hundreds of souls into an aluminum cigar tube, floor the engines, and then fly seven miles above the earth for a few hours.   

As facilitators of travel, airports, for many, are a means to an end.  Pay the parking, stand in line, lose your personal bubble during security, then stand in line again for overpriced coffee and then wait around until your plane is ready.  Air travel is a chore for a large amount of the population, and airports are a contributing factor to their opinion. 

I, on the other hand, love airports.  Nowhere else will you see people from so many places crossing paths, each with a different destination, a different motivation, a different family.  Everyone’s got something and somewhere on their mind and unless you see them boarding, you’ll never know where they’re headed.  Airports embody the spirit of exploration and travel that I long for. 

My mother was a traveler; as a child, Mom would be out on a trip perhaps half the time.  Learning about the places Mom was going was exciting.  “Wow, Mom’s in Florida today?  But she was just here yesterday!”  One weekend Mom would be in Tampa, Salt Lake City the next, and then she’d be off to Seattle the week after that.  My mother’s been to every State in the Union multiple times and every continent, and even then I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps. 

Thus, our own humble airport in Louisville, Kentucky played a special role in my childhood.  Going to the airport meant one of two things: Mom was coming home, or we were all traveling together.  On an uncommon occasion, we would be invited along on Mom’s nontraditional business trips, flying off to some exotic location (yes, Minneapolis was exotic for a ten-year-old.)  Even with the obvious parental stress of prepping two children for travel, I still loved it.  The moment we’d get home, I’d be itching to see where we’d go next.  I took my first international flight to Paris when I was thirteen.  The way I feel about our own airport has overflowed to airports around the world; in a way, each holds that special excitement, that rare joy of living your dreams and sharing them with someone special.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to appreciate airports as logistical masterpieces, synchronizing the intersection of the paths of thousands of people and aircraft every single day, 365 days a year.  The design of the buildings themselves fascinate me, too.  I love the architecture of airports, which are designed to evoke that same sense of openness and freedom I loved as a child. 

But on to today’s walk.  Several weeks ago, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I was at Kroger and I was waiting for an antibiotic to get filled.  After handing over the script, she told me it’d be ready in about an hour.  As opposed to going home again, I decided to take an impromptu walk.  It was a beautiful August evening, really a spectacular display.

I walked where I felt like walking, down the sidewalk beside the University of Louisville football stadium’s mammoth parking lot.  I didn’t know how far a walk an hour could afford me, and it would be getting dark soon.  The airport was not far, so I pushed to get there in a reasonable enough time to return. 

This was as close as I got, but more on this later.

I love to walk places you’d never expect to walk, and as hard as it was to fight the urge, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to reach my destination before dark.  I was already on the back road to the terminal, but I retreated.  The sky was a nice consolation prize though.

“I should have run.  I managed my speed poorly,” I grumbled, wishing I had hurried.  I had always wanted to walk to the airport, and I’d lost my perfect chance.  I cut corners on the way back and ran at a bit of a clip as the clouds’ glow dimmed to match the pallor of the night behind them.

I picked up my pace on the way back, cutting across the enormous parking lot before arriving back at the store, where my little bottle of pink goo and a cold drink awaited me.  I vowed that I’d walk it again, with more time to really take in the sights and to experience one of the most significant places of my childhood on foot.

After work one Thursday afternoon, the weather looked perfect, and I resolved to finish what I started.

Parking under the same pretense as before, I ventured off and walked east along Central Avenue.  If I’d have gone west, I would have hit the Kentucky-Derby-famous Churchill Downs not half a mile from where I started.  It’s actually quite funny to watch the Derby, knowing my quotidian grocery store is just out of frame on an internationally televised event. 

The aforementioned Papa John’s Stadium is the home of the Louisville Cardinals, the closest thing we’ll ever get to an NFL franchise.   A few years ago, they added the nosebleed seats you see on the right, increasing their capacity by another 13,000 or so.  People in Louisville love their college sports, that’s for sure.  I’ve been to the stadium for non-athletic functions much more often than games.  In fact, my very first high school dance was held in a rented space there, right after the stadium was built. 

Here’s another angle that might show you both the size of this thing and also what a pleasant afternoon it was.  Two birds, you know.

It wasn’t long before I curved onto Crittenden Drive, the longest single stretch of the trip.  Plenty of sunlight left.  Crittenden Drive is a polarized street; on the eastern side of the road lies the Kentucky State Fairgrounds and Kentucky Kingdom, our recently resurrected amusement park which just completed its first season back.  On the western side, industrial warehouses, motels, and car lots line the sidewalk.

I’d never noticed any of these warehouses up close.  Except for renting a van to move a couch once, I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped on Crittenden Drive.  An antiquated, baby blue industrial building sat silently.  It had the air of use, but I didn’t see a soul inside.  This large, cracked lot dully reflected the sun’s glimmer. 

Almost there!  This plane came roaring overhead.  You can make out that it’s a FedEx cargo liner, perhaps an Airbus 300 or a Boeing 757.   Moments later, it’d touchdown at my own destination. 

I crossed to the eastern side of the street.  This old relic, which sat derelict for almost a decade, used to be called Twisted Sisters when I went to Kentucky Kingdom regularly.  After losing a lawsuit to Dee Snyder et. al., the band “Twisted Sister” forced Kentucky Kingdom to rename the ride.  Where they landed I’m not sure, but I’ll always remember it as a pair of wooden roller coasters that ran beside each other in a mirrored path.  Also, their other wooden rollercoaster, Thunder Run, was better.

This old-style house looks out of place amongst the highways, new service stations, and towering roller coasters that surround it.  I can’t even tell what it it a storefront? An old gas station?  A murder factory?  That outbuilding in the back looks shady as hell, and it’s probably even worse at night.

As I cross under the Watterson Expressway, I encounter a shape I consider distinctly Louivillian.  The keystone-like concrete bricks that make up the retaining wall for the dirt and packed earth that make up the roadbed above can be found all over Louisville, almost exclusively, in fact.  Even when I see a similar or identical shape in overpasses around the country, I always think of Louisville. 

As I neared the end of Crittenden Drive, a construction project carried on beside me.  I have no idea what they’re doing; perhaps it’s a salvage operation or a leveling operation for some new development.  With a hurried step, I crossed Crittenden to Terminal Drive.

This was where I had stopped.  What you see here is a tower associated with the airport’s approach lightning system.  This system, using a series of flashing lights and radar signatures, tells the pilot approaching this runway how far they are from touchdown and, in reduced visibility, whether they should proceed with the landing or make another pass.  A few minutes ago, our spotted plane certainly landed here, at runway 17R. 

The number in the runway is not ordinal; Louisville’s airport doesn’t have seventeen runways. Instead, it indicates the heading one must take to land straight on the runway, rounded to the nearest ten with the final zero removed.  So, to land on this runway, a plane must be approaching something around heading 170, nearly due south.  The “R” is used if there is another runway at that airport that uses the same heading, that is, a parallel runway.  Louisville has two runway 17s, so the “R” indicates that, on approach, the pilot will be approaching the runway on his or her right, relative to his or her approach. 

Every runway is a two-way street and can be used in either direction, at least in theory.  Thus, if you were taking off or landing from the other direction, you must approach from the opposite direction, a 180-degree difference.  If we were landing from the other direction, the runway’s number is 35, for a heading of 350 degrees, almost due north.  Every runway has two numbers associated with it.  Louisville has three runways total: 17R/35L, 17L/35R, as well as a shorter runway, 11/29, for small jets and one-seater planes, that crosses over the other two, making a crooked “H” shape.  Pretty cool, huh?

The sun was low, so it seems my timing was much better.  If I’d tried this in August, I would have been out of light by now and stumbling back in the twilight. 

Here we are at SDF; Louisville’s airport code is SDF, indicating the airport’s original name, Standiford Field.  It was still called that when I was younger.  Even though it’s silly, I was always glad our airport code wasn’t boring or obvious.  “SEA” is Seattle, “DFW” is Dallas/Fort-Worth, but ours was not intuitive, and I liked that.  Like most airports, the drop-off point has two levels: the upper level is for departures, and the lower level is for arrivals.  In my youth, I spent the majority of my time at the airport riding shotgun as my father cruised through the lower level in his white Pontiac minivan, looking for a glimpse of my mother at the curb.  Instead of parking and meeting her at the baggage claim, we’d ride around the terminal loop if there wasn’t a place to idle curbside.  After 9/11, waiting at the curb was prohibited for security reasons, so this habit manifested even more in my young adult years.

As you can see, people still try to loiter as long as they can, hoping their loved one will walk out before a DHS officer shoos them along.  Although the inside has since been renovated, the concrete, brutalist-style portico reflects its formerly 1980s-esque vibe.

I crossed at the crosswalk to get to the main entrance.  With a glance at my sunlight, I wandered through the sliding doors.  Our baggage claim is on the first floor, and upstairs, naturally, houses our airline desks.  I rounded the corner in the quiet corridor to take the escalator up.  The escalator wasn’t running at this time of day, though, so I bounded up the metal steps instead.  The desks upstairs were shuttered for the evening, too.  I wandered toward what I guess you could call the lobby.

Even though I’ve been here dozens of time since, I always forget that they’ve remodeled.  In the 90s, the carpet and walls were shaded an awkward orange alongside unusually styled accoutrements on the walls and ceilings and out-of-date fixtures.  At the time, I always thought Louisville was a little funky and antiquated, and I still do, but they’ve caught up with the times a lot.  We’re just as sleek as any larger airport, with all the charm and comfort of a small one.

Down this empty hallway lies a military lounge; because of Louisville’s proximity to Fort Knox and Fort Campbell further south, a lot of servicemembers come home via SDF, and it always makes me happy to see them.  They’re about to have a good day.

This wire Pegasus sculpture brings back a lot of memories, too.  It used to hang up in the main rotunda planeside past security, but now it hangs out here so the non-flyers can see it, too.  Kentucky is known for horses, so Pegasus is a reasonable extrapolation.  For lots of locals, we can’t see a picture of this sculpture and not think of the airport.

I decided that TSA agents would probably not like being photographed, so I snapped it from a bit of a distance.  With a now stowed camera, I went to the checkpoint, where, dozens of people sat waiting for the return of loved ones.  Some were snacking on a salty treat, others were enraptured by their phones, and others were watching the planes taxi outside.  According to the flight monitors, one plane was due in from Chicago and another from Nashville, and it listed an outbound flight the following morning that had already been delayed, probably because the plane it was planning to use was late. 

The opposite wing from the military lounge contained a textile exhibit, one I’d never had time nor the desire to notice.  With no plane to catch or monitor to watch, I strolled down the deserted hallway, reviewing the collection.  The corridor doubled back, exiting on the opposite side of the departure hall from where I entered.  With some sunlight still left, I walked onto the departure curb and hooked a right.

After descending down a predictably concrete stairway, I emerged in a part of the airport grounds I never knew existed.  An overhung sidewalk which led to a “premium” parking lot and the newly constructed cell phone lot stretched out in front of me, and I instinctively followed it.
SDF’s terminals are very linear.  The eastern Terminal A stretched out in one direction, and the western Terminal B stretches out the other way, creating an inverted “Y” shape if viewed from above.  Here you can see A with several planes docked, most of them recent arrivals.

The picture’s a bit fuzzy, but this was the old old terminal building, the Lee Terminal, or at least what’s left of it.  They tore the majority of it down when the new terminals were built in the 1980s, but for some reason, they left this chunk.  Weird.

Apparently, either our previous or current mayor had added a walkway along the eastern part of the grounds so people waiting for their flight or their loved one’s flight could walk instead of sitting.  Signs indicated this was called “the Mayor’s Mile,” though I’m not sure where the rest of the mile was, as it took only a few minutes to walk its length.

I’m not actually sure what this array is, but it looked cool in the setting sunlight.

I love how the sunlight glows through the top level of the parking garage.  It looks like someone’s lit a fire on the top floor, ready to settle in for the night.

The cell phone lot, isolated from the rest of the roads and the terminal, offered a peaceful place to watch planes take off and land.  I stood here for a minute, listening to the run-up of the jet engines and the din of traffic in the distance. 

Soon, though, it was time to head back.

I ambled back down the path, up the concrete staircase and along the departure level to the western side to watch the sun set. 

This is Terminal B; whenever I fly out of this terminal, it always seems to be on Southwest.  Terminal A must contain the other airlines.  The cars below are rentals.

The rotunda, the large domed structure in the center, is the axle that joins the spokes of the two terminals and the pedway, on the far left, to get to them.  When I was younger, large, colorful kites hung below the ocular ceiling and, at one point, the wire Pegasus did too, if I recall.  I remember running around in circles pretending I was a plane underneath the muslin display, vocalizing the whirring and rushing of the engines as I flew.  Now it houses a couple souvenir shops and a Starbucks. 

My time was almost up, so I walked down the opposite concrete staircase and walked along the road out.  The sky was a palette of colors; the orange was the heaviest, settling towards the horizon like silt.

I moved back at a pretty good speed, lest I get caught in the feared darkness.

The parking lot was blocked off this time, so I followed the sidewalk back along Park Road.  Security cars were parked cleverly on the roadside, silently deterring mischief.  I reached the pedestrian bridge and crossed after a half-mile walk. 

The stadium glowed with fluorescent lights now, as still as a tomb despite its brightness.  I turned one last corner and I was back to home base.  A big grin washed over my face, my delayed goal now accomplished.

I don’t know what it is about airports.  I can’t shake it; years later, I still love to walk from one end to other, exploring the nooks and crannies of our travel experience.  I build in long layovers in unfamiliar airports so I can walk them as long as possible.  Walking the airport today was unusual; I wasn’t picking anyone up and I wasn’t flying anywhere myself.  Stress-free, I was able to explore the place that brought such good news to me when I was young on my own schedule.  Exploration, at its heart, is about that epiphany, where nothing distracts or detracts from the discovery of the new.

Keep going –


Monday, October 6, 2014

CycLOUvia 2014

CycLOUvia: Sunday, September 7, 2014
6.6 Miles / 1:15 / 17:15 – 18:30 / Bike

Louisville, and every city in fact, never looks the same twice.  With the wide diversity of weather, local events, and seasonal changes, our city has a fresh face on every day of the year, sometimes more than once a day, depending on the month.  The world is always in a state of change, and watching the shift is one of the most rewarding, intrinsic experiences in life.  

In a recent push by our community, an event dedicated to exactly what I like to do has seen its second year.  CycLOUvia is an annual event dedicated to closing off one of our most important streets, Broadway, to allow pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and any non-motorist move down the middle of the street without the hassle of mortal vehicular danger.  

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I’d been working all afternoon trying to fix my bike, going so far as to going out for a new valve and tube for my front tire.  The event ran until 6:00; you can’t close the street off forever, I suppose, but time was running short for me to get there before Broadway reopened to the monoxide-producing traffic of the city.  After giving up and commandeering (well, I mean “borrowed,) my wife’s bike, I charged up the road to meet up with Broadway, the unfamiliar bike pinging and clicking beneath my seat. 

Many cities have a road they call “Broadway,” and it was often just that: the widest street in town to allow the passage of large sizes and volumes of foot and vehicle traffic.  In Louisville, Broadway is the southernmost major east-west street in downtown.  Along Broadway sits the famous Brown Hotel, famous for inventing the very southern Hot Brown dish.  It was here where I joined Broadway and headed west to race the clock.

The portion blocked off stretched west from 9th Street to 26th Street, a solid seventeen blocks of free 
riding.  I intercepted the blockade at 9th Street, hopped off the sidewalk and discovered I had the entire road nearly to myself.  10th Street whizzed by, then 11th and 12th, and I encountered no more than a few dozen souls, a third of which were police officers.  It made for a serene ride.

After coming to 13th, a railroad overpass greeted me.  One thing I love about our city is it shows its age; some people like the new and clean look, and you can still find plenty of that elsewhere in town.  Graffiti has long been an interest of mine.  There’s a certain boldness about it; even just a simple design.  The tag in the bottom right counter found against the support column can be found all over Louisville, and it looks like he or she hit here too.

Presiding over the bridge was this sign, long worn from age and neglect.  Although someone with more years on me could probably tell you, I wonder what the sign used to say.  “Baked Bread?” That might be too long; “Bold,” “Bald,” or even “Bead” or “Bird” Bread, if it was a family name. 

Silently I glided on.  Along the side of the road, vendors were selling food, drinks, and small items like clothing and knickknacks.  People were out on their porches and in folding chairs to watch the “crowds” and enjoy the nice day, conversing with their neighbors and passerby.  Here’s where I stopped, a few blocks short of the end of the road.

By the time I reached 22nd Street, the cops were already starting to roll back the barricade, reopening Broadway to vehicle traffic.  I asked a police officer if they were closing down, as it wasn’t apparent at the moment.  She told me that they were closing early, as they’d gotten a significantly smaller turnout than expected, perhaps half of their projected attendance.  The pictures don’t do the day any justice; cool September winds, a manageable temperature, and a crystal clear sky all seem like great reasons to get outside.  Maybe it was a lack of advertising or I’d just gotten there late in the day.  The trip was still worth it.  As the wave of police cars rolled up the street, I biked ahead.

Thankfully, this allowed me some extra time to explore.  As I passed Dixie Highway, I caught the familiar Brown-Forman headquarters building out of the corner of my eye.  The towering bottle of Old Forester still rests atop the building.  I turned onto the Dixie and rode to get a better shot, but this turned out to be about the closest respectable shot I could get, as a security guard turned me around the moment I got to the gate.

My vantage point flanked two empty plots, one between me and Brown-Forman and one to my right, west towards the sun.  A dilapidated guard post sat in the second plot.  The open space behind it is devoid of anything significant.  Is it possible this was a development project that was planned and started, but was never completed?

A company called New Bridge Development, LLC used to operate it, apparently.  A bit of research uncovered that this development company has been operating in Louisville since the late 1970s, though it’s not clear when or why they gave up this particular project.  By the fading of the banner and the age of the structure, I’d say there hasn’t been much movement on this project since the 1990s.  It might have been a housing block for low-income Louisvillians, as their tagline might indicate.

Open expanses along Broadway seemed to be the norm; this large, gravel-laden plot was probably ready to be developed before being left to the elements.  Factories and historic building surround it, but nothing new yet.

As I rolled back to the beginning of the road block at 9th Street, I decided to pause at the beautiful building the block before.   This charming, historic building now houses the headquarters for TARC, our local bus system.  It’s named after a somewhat archaic moniker for Louisville; it’s letters stand for “Transit Authority of River City,” an homage to a time where the Ohio was our defining feature. 

The building combines a number of unusual architectural styles; the portico is a style I can’t quite place, not quite Art Nouveau or Modern, and a beautiful rose window stands above the overhang, just out of frame.  It’s still used as a stop, as evidenced by the fellow sitting on the bench.
I crossed back into the trafficked portion of Broadway and made my way home.  

Despite the short ride, I saw a lot of the western part of downtown that I don’t get the chance to see.  Although I wish more people had been around to enjoy the weather, it was kind of special, too.  I kind of liked having the town to myself.

Keep going -