Soon, the passengers began filing in for the afternoon American Eagle to Dallas, which has steadily picked up business since it started last year.
Here were Judy and Earl Kleeman, retirees headed to Florida for a cruise to the Turks and Caicos Islands. “I feel strongly about the need to cut the national debt,” Judy Kleeman said, wondering whether she was willing to fly without the tower. “But I do feel strongly about education, and so many people need help. I don’t know much about air traffic control. I wonder if there was anyone there when I flew in last time.”
Here was Inocencio Feria, who was seeing off a family friend and said he would just drive to Amarillo, Tex., if American curtailed its flights. “It’s just four or five hours,” he said.
John Bogner, a beer wholesaler, was heading to Las Vegas for a convention. He was a family friend of Huelskamp’s, voted for him, and agreed completely that it was time to cut the budget. He was not sure cutting an air traffic control tower was the safest option, he said, “but I guess they have to start somewhere.”
CNN was on the TV, and a reporter was talking about the partisan gridlock triggering the budget cuts. Saeed Abdalla watched and compared U.S. politics to those of his home country of Somalia, where for more than 20 years clan rivalries and power grabs, among other factors, prevented any central government from functioning. He rubbed his forehead.
“American politics is complicated,” he said.
Robert Rouse, an ammonia refrigeration technician in town for the well-regarded industrial boiler class at Garden City Community College, wheeled in his luggage.
“I hate to see somebody lose a job,” he said.
Terryl Spiker and his wife, Ruth, sat down next to him. Besides being generally glad that the cutting was beginning, Spiker said that he was disgusted by both sides in Washington and that any businessman knows how to cut 10 percent of a budget without much pain. Although closing the tower was unnecessary, he said, he was not worried about flying without one. “From this little airport?” he said. “No.”
“Is that legal?” asked his wife, and soon the loudspeaker announced that security was open, just through the double doors.
Thirty people filed through. They scanned their boots, their quilted duffles and their computer cases and walked out onto the runway under what appeared to be an empty blue sky.
De Busk was in the tower, his voice squawking through a speaker in Powell’s office. She looked out through her windows at the silvery jet on the runway. A small propeller plane had just landed, and the jet soon took off.
By the time it returned eight hours later, President Obama had signed the papers officially ordering sequestration to begin. In Garden City, it was dark, the little airport lit up by blue, red and white lights. Here came the plane, and here came the passengers, including Justin Swift, a hotel proprietor who was coming home after a trip to Los Angeles, where he said he had gone through three security checks. “It’s so unnecessary — just fluff,” he said.
He wanted the budget reduced, but shutting down Garden City’s air traffic control tower did not strike him as the best way to do that. “It’s a stupid cut,” Swift said. “But we’ve got to cut. We’ve got to cut more.”