Fashionable form and function

We caught the early morning flight out of Riverton last Monday. Liftoff at 5:35 am is a study in sleeplessness, but the alternative is to drive, park, spend more time and money, and then end up in the same place. The issue with time and motion, as involved in air travel, or travel of any kind, came to mind an hour later as we sat down for one of those inexpensive Denver International Airport breakfasts.

We learned last year that if they don’t have a menu, only an image to scan that you can expect unwanted and increasingly ridiculous prices for the most mundane of early-morning dining options. Read that as a $12.75 cup of coffee back in 2021 when the waitress answered my question about where coffee was listed on a cellphone menu. “Oh, don’t worry about it, we have coffee,” she said. Yep, she sure did, $12.75 worth and another $8.50 for a cup of hot water, my wife Sue always brings her own tea bags, so it was just a cup of hot water.

That Monday morning last week we had a window with a view, the best kind of dining location in my opinion at a large airport. We had three hours to kill before our connecting flight, so we took our time.

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Outside on that frigid 10-degree November morning, we watched a bewildering variety of customized vehicles roll by 20 feet below us.

If you’ve never taken the time to watch the maintenance crew at a major airport work, you should make the time and enjoy it. These men and women were diligently loading, unloading, fueling, parking, cleaning, and fueling aircraft of all sizes and shapes.

The only thing more interesting than the variety of aircraft, were the sizes and shapes of the vehicles these people were operating to get their time-dependent jobs done before the next flight took off and the one after it taxied to the gate to unload. It was a ballet in motorized movement.

As a college student, I read about an experiment conducted by researcher Bernard Kettlewell of Oxford University (could there be a more English name than his?) Kettlewell studied the Peppered Moth against the backdrop of industrial pollution in rural England.

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The Peppered Moth was equally distributed among white and black specimens for centuries across Northern Europe, but something strange happened in the second half of the 19th century. As the Industrial Revolution hit England, France, and what would become Germany the white moths began to disappear, while populations of the black variety grew exponentially. A genetic mutation you might ask? No, it’s nothing you’d find in a Marvel Comic, but something much more insidious.

The Industrial Revolution was fueled by coal. Not the clean burning variety we mine here in Wyoming, but the foul, sulfur-laden bituminous variety they dig in Wales and mines across the modern German countryside. This coal produced thick black clouds of foul-smelling fumes, fumes that were made worse by the heavy, sea-laden humidity of the English climate. The soot began to accumulate on the trees. White moths were easy to spot by predatory birds and their population was literally eaten alive. Their black brothers and sisters hid well against the darkened trunks of trees and barns, and they thrived.

Kettlewell’s work was reviled by the religious leaders of the day as pro-Darwin blasphemy, but his work was valid, living proof of the little “e” of evolution.

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Which brings us back to those strange one-ton Dodge trucks with a flight of stairs attached to them. They’re just mobile ramps for passengers to load and unload off certain aircraft but they look as odd as a London double-decker bus on a two-track road somewhere in the Shoshone National Forest.

The twin forked Mercedes luggage carriers with a pair of rolling belts to move suitcases and cargo with an open middle to slide directly under and around an aircraft’s lander gear were equally odd.

One thing that looked familiar to a farm kid like me was the Ford tractor moving quickly to the front of a parked aircraft, hooking up with a pintle hitch, and then towing it into position. The only differences between the hundreds of blue and white Ford tractors I’ve seen were the tires and the overall weight. The tires didn’t have any lugs, they were as smooth as drag racing slicks, and the weight was substantial. These tractors must have weighed a dozen tons. The weight was necessary to get a stationary aircraft that could easily tip the scales at 50,000+ pounds moving on a frozen runway. The Fords were built for speed, but for torque. They’d be great at breaking hard ground with a four-bottom plow and lugged tires if their weight didn’t high-center them in soft ground.

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A final observation from our breakfast window came in the fuel these vehicles were using. Most of them were electric, with a few carrying prominent propane tanks. You’d think they’d be diesel or gasoline powered, but they weren’t, they reserved that fuel for the tanker trucks that were filling planes with high-octane aviation gasoline.

We left the restaurant about $45 lighter for two plates of bacon and eggs and headed out into the main area of Concourse B.

Major airports are also a study of time and motion when it comes to people, mostly wasted motion, and too much time driven by fashion.

Denver with its cold climate and population of sturdy, outdoor types is largely devoid of the next observation, but there are still a few women clinging to fashion no matter how ridiculous it is. I’ve seen far worse in Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and especially Las Vegas, but there were still a few “trendsetters” that valued form over function.

The women precariously walking the long distances of a large airport in six, eight, or even 12-inch heels always makes me laugh. They think they’re stylish when in reality, many of us watch them balancing uneasily hoping to see them fall off their shoes.

It’s not mean, it’s just humorous to see the lengths some women will reach to appear fashionable.

I guess it’s no different than the people, usually teenagers or early 20-somethings walking with their legs almost entirely exposed by carefully crafted rips and tears in their jeans.

Call me a knuckle-dragging, Cro-Magnon, but I just don’t get it.

The heels I understand. Television, the internet, and fashion magazines tell these incredibly insecure people that those high heels will make them appear to be a cut above. Perhaps, but it looks like they’re trying to live in a cut above reality.

Form and function, time and motion, real concepts that have produced profound changes in the world. I just hope someone doesn’t suffer another fashion-related injury, even though they give us a good laugh when they fall off their shoes.

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