Tracy K. Lorenz / EarthTalk



Last week I wrote in a 2012 column about my annual trip to North Carolina to play in a golf tournament at the fabulous Pinehurst Resort. This year, other than being slightly warm (101 degrees, 95% humidity) it was wonderful as always. The trip back ... that was a different story.

My friend Chris Bolema and I flew out of Muskegon to Raleigh with a stop in Chicago on the way. One thing I was told by many, many, people was “If you fly out of Muskegon and you miss the connecting flight out of O’Hare you’re toast.” It’s summer, there shouldn’t be any weather issues. I wasn’t worried.

When we got to the Raleigh airport for our flight back “On Time” was posted on the screen. immediately before boarding they changed “On time” (6:45) to “Delayed to 7:01.” No big deal, they boarded us, we sat on the plane for about two minutes, and they unboarded us.  7:01 became 8:01, then became 9:01. Our connecting flight out of Chicago was at 10:30; if the pilot stepped on it we could still make it.

Modern technology allowed us to get text updates on the flight from Chicago to Muskegon, it was going to be tight but there was hope.  We landed in Chicago at gate C1, we had to make it to Gate F14 which was, I’m guessing, two miles away. I bless the man who put wheels on suitcases and his brother who invented moving sidewalks.

A mad dash ensued, it looked like we were going to make it.

Or be five minutes late.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with problems judging by the 500 people waiting in line at the United Desk. It was Sunday night. Wwe were told the next flight they could get us on was Thursday.

At about 2:00 am they brought out army cots, hundreds of army cots spaced about one foot apart.  There were men in business suits, women in dresses, families with crying kids, and a couple golfers who missed their flight by THAT much.

We were given blue blankets and a pillow about the size of a Tide Pod. The terminal temperature hovered around 35 degrees and they didn’t shut the lights off, everyone pulled their blanket up over their head so the whole scene looked like a giant morgue, hundreds of identical unmoving blue bodies bathed in bright fluorescent light.

At 4:00 in the morning I was awakened by an O’Hare employee kicking my cot saying “Get up, ya gotta get out of here” in a not so friendly manner. We were given little plastic travel bags with shampoo, toothpaste, etc., even though there was nowhere to take a shower. Let me tell you, there’s bed head, and then there’s sleeping on a cot in an airport head.  No one was looking very pretty.

So now you’ve got 500 people with nowhere to go. Chris and I decided our only hope was to rent a car and drive back to Muskegon. We left the terminal with no clue where the rental cars were and not a person in sight to help us. I spotted the airport Hilton and figured we should head over there (another mile away) and at least we’d make human contact.

It’s hard to describe the starkness around an airport at four in the morning, I mean there was no movement except WalMart bags blowing like tumbleweeds.  No cars, no busses, no humans.  Just me and Chris walking through desolation on two hours’ sleep. 

We got to the Hilton and, of course, it was completely empty. We rang the buzzer and a girl came out and directed us to where the shuttle buses would take us to the rental car area another five miles away.  The rental car places opened at 5:00.

Guess what?  Rental car places don’t like to rent people cars who aren’t bringing them back to where they got them.

Here’s where the one stroke of luck came in.  The kid behind the desk said, “Oh, you’re going to Muskegon, my mom’s from Muskegon.” I asked where she went to school and he said “Catholic Central.” I said “I went to Catholic Central, what was her name?” He told me and I told him I remembered her even though I had no clue who she was.  That put the rental car guy on our side. He took my phone and went online to reserve a car for us even though his own computer was one foot away.  He could get us a car for the low low price of $200.00. We were on the road by 5:30.

But we still didn’t know where our golf clubs were.  We had our carry-ons but the clubs were checked through.

The next day, Chris went to the airport to see if our clubs showed up. He called me and said the place was empty, not a soul to be found.  I told him to go home, I’d get the clubs. I drove to the Muskegon airport an hour later and he was right, it was empty. No baggage people, no counter people, no security people, no one, I walked behind the counters to knock on doors, I walked through the security areas, I walked that entire airport and it was stone cold abandoned at four in the afternoon.

I went back the next day at 10:00 just before a flight was scheduled. There were people, I got our clubs and the ordeal was over.

It’s kind of weird to go from staying at one of the most luxurious places on the planet to sleeping on a cot in a span of 12 hours.  I have so many friends who say they love to travel but I don’t, I hate to travel because there are just too many variables, all of which have to happen perfectly or you end up dragging a suitcase down an empty street at 4:30 in the morning.  Maybe some travelers are luckier but not me, the adventure described above has become ... par for the course.

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From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk:

Is there any way we could harness the light from bioluminescent organisms for everyday lighting and other practical purposes?

--M. Wilson, Framingham, MA

Bioluminescence—defined by Merriam-Webster as “the emission of light from living organisms (such as fireflies, dinoflagellates, and bacteria) as the result of internal, typically oxidative chemical reactions”—is one of the wonders of nature that just about any of us can witness.

While a few organisms can produce bioluminescent light outside of the oceans (think fireflies), most of the bioluminescence going on is in saltwater. In fact, the vast majority of bioluminescent organisms evolved in order to provide light in deep sea marine ecosystems—either to light up prey or as a warning against predators—far below sunlight’s reach into the water column.

What exactly causes bioluminescence? Other sources of light (the sun, fire, light bulbs) generate energy from heat, whereas bioluminescent light comes from energy released in a chemical reaction: When two organic chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, combine, they release light-based energy as they oxidize.

While the general process is the same across all bioluminescent organisms, the color of the light in each situation depends on the chemical structures of the different life forms involved. Fireflies most commonly light up as green or yellow—and sometimes red—while most of the bioluminescence under water comes through as blue-green or green light.

Humans have been putting natural bioluminescence to work for a while—19th century coal miners would trap fireflies in jars and use them as safety lights (instead of open-flame candles or lanterns that could cause an explosion). But nowadays researchers are hard at work synthesizing the chemical reactions behind bioluminescence for a range of modern-day applications.

Harnessing bioluminescence to help cure disease is a big focus of some biomedical research companies, given the promise of using heat-free organic light to detect metastasizing cancer cells, stem cells, viruses or bacteria within living tissue. The military also has big hopes for utilizing the chemical reactions of bioluminescence to create light that won’t trigger the heat-seeking sensory equipment of the enemy whether on land, at sea or in the sky.

Some other practical applications of bioluminescence, as recently highlighted by Popular Mechanics, include an effort to splice genes from bioluminescent organisms into trees that would light up when the sun sets (as an all-natural alternative to street lights), using bioluminescent bacterium to highlight contaminants in drinking water supplies, and genetically modifying crop seeds to grow fruits and vegetables that could signal their need for more water or other inputs by glowing accordingly.

While none of these “technologies” is yet ready for mainstream implementation, it’s good to know that the future looks bright even if we run out of fossil fuels to power our traditional light bulbs.

CONTACTS: “The emerging use of bioluminescence in medical research,”; “6 Bright Ideas for Bioluminescence Tech,”

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