Today has been a rough day. It’s a Saturday and I really try to not work on Saturday, except in emergencies. Today wasn’t an emergency, but it was convenient for everyone else. I was leading a training session.
I flew out Thursday, had some meetings Friday, and conducted my training this morning and afternoon. It went very well. It went extremely well. One woman, who had this training four times, said that this was the best presentation and workshop that she’d every been through. The clients were very pleased, the workshop attendees were pleased. My bosses were pleased.
So, we packed up and started to head home. And that’s when it all began. The first mission was to fill up the rental car with gas with the outside temperature almost reaching a positive value (in Fahrenheit). Then, on the way to the airport, I get the call.
“We’re sorry, but your flight has been delayed.”
But that’s not the real problem. I’ve dealt with flight delays a lot. It happens. It just happened that both my flight out and my connection were the last flights of the entire day. If I missed the connection, I wouldn’t make it home.
The kiosks wouldn’t accept my corporate card. The counter team at the airport was little help. In fact, they wouldn’t even let me check in because, with the delay, my layover was less than 15 minutes, which is an invalid layover time.
Because I hadn’t eaten recently, I explained to them, in no ambiguous terms, that I was not going to remain in their frozen wasteland any longer and put me on the damn plane. I’ll deal with the connection when I get to that airport.
Finally, they agreed to do it my way. While I enjoyed looking at the snowy wilderness, driving on the grey slushy icebound highways wasn’t as much fun as it sounds. If I had my car, I’d love it, but rental cars are rarely Subarus or 4-wheel drive.
The plane was, as it always is, an ancient MD-80. A plane series that began production at approximately the same time as pterosaurs flew. And it sounded like an old plane. Each wheel made a unique sound as the chunked into position. Not smoothly all at the same time. No, first one, then another, then third. The flaps sound like the Valkyries screaming the names of fallen heroes as they slid up the wing.
It was at this point that I turned on my noise-canceling earphones and watched a movie.
We landed and the cabin crew read off the connected flights. Joyously, they read off my connecting flight. Giving me some hope that I would traveling for a few more hours and then sleeping in my own, warm bed. Since I’m writing this and you’re reading it, I bet you can guess the results.
Our plane was suddenly stuck in a jam of aircraft. We were assigned to one gate. Sadly, there was a aircraft at that gate already and it was still loading luggage. After a few minutes, with me watching the chances of getting to my favorite blanker diminishing by each tick of the second hand of my phone, the pilot announced that we were assigned to the next gate over.
In a car, motorcycle, even an RV or a big rig, moving over one spot is relatively trivial. For the big rigs, it’s tedious, but a well trained driver can do this easily.
Aircraft, though, are not purpose built ground vehicles. They are purpose built air vehicles whose ground movement is an afterthought. Keep in mind that the first true powered aircraft didn’t have wheels, it had skids. Modern aircraft doing the dance at an airport terminal are not unlike a pod of blue whales, racing for the treeline in the Rockies. It’s not pretty, it’s not pleasant, it’s exceedingly dangerous, and things really don’t happen quickly.
Our skilled pilots (they must have been highly skilled keeping this multi-million year old aircraft in the sky), managed in some amount of time. Fortunately, I was sitting very near the front row, in a mostly empty aircraft. Once into the jetway, I appeared to teleport past several little old ladies, who were, inexplicably, all traveling in first class.
I asked the gate crew if my flight had left yet. The first said, yes it has. The second said, no they are still boarding. Great. Except I was 21 gates from the departure. That doesn’t seem like a lot, until you remember that each gate must accommodate an aircraft that vary from big giant wings like the pitiful little MD-80 I was in to the truly fracking monstrous wings of the Boeing 747, another ancient aircraft… roughly equivalent in size to a small planetoid.
I began my march… I don’t run well. Guided by a native Sherpa and having enough supplies (laptop, Kindle, headphones, cell phone, pens, pencils, chargers, etc) to conquer multiple corporate headquarters, I began.
Hope was once again lifted as I heard a boarding call for my flight. Yay. Then I realized, after months of traveling, I had made it only 3 gates. I redoubled my efforts.
No, I didn’t make it.
I have never felt more conspired against that I did tonight. Overcoming nearly an hour delay, multiple periods of just sitting on tarmac and to miss the flight by literally minutes was a heart-wrenching, mind-numbing event. I’d already worked for nearly 9 hours, traveled (or waited to travel) for another 6 and my adventure was just beginning.
Yes, that’s right, the really interesting stuff is still yet to happen in this story. You might not believe all of this and while I do sometimes exaggerate my story telling for emphasis, the details are still true.
The airline, annoying though they were, gave me a hotel room, two food vouchers (breakfast and dinner, even though it was already past 10PM) and my flight ticket. They called a hotel shuttle for, while I waited. Then I (sadly) left the security zone of the airport. I say sadly, because I detest the theatrical spectacle that is airport security. Having observed, with my own eyes, a woman bring a 6 inch Bowie knife through a security check-point in her purse, I have determined that the TSA is an entire governmental department developed, funded and supplied with people who couldn’t get jobs as prison guards, solely for the purpose of the government being able to say, “See, we’re protecting you.” This is same government that wants open carry so that we can protect ourselves. The irony is… mostly lost on people who can’t get beyond the idea that they can pretend to be Dirty Harry or John McLain (who were both actually cops).
Anyway, I left the “secure” side of the airport and stood in the not quite freezing rain waiting for my shuttle. This was actually a nearly 30 degree increase in temperature from the last time I ventured out of doors. For the first 3.2 seconds, it seemed almost warm. Then I was just cold again. Then my sinuses started acting up, now I’m all clogged up again. And my medicine is all in my suitcase, sitting in the basement of the airport waiting for tomorrow’s airplane.
That’s right, I don’t have my luggage. I’m in a shirt and a pair of pants that I’ve been wearing since 5:30 this morning and will continue to wear until about 10:30 or so tomorrow. My seat mates are gonna love me tomorrow.
Oh yeah, my hat, gloves and scarf are also in my bag. To reduce the amount of crap in my pack, I stuffed those into my luggage at the last minute. Not anticipating that I would be denied access to my luggage. I’m starting to feel a little like a Guantanamo Bay inmate. “Luggage, lawyer, it’s the same thing and you don’t get either!”
Finally, after being forced to eat one of the sled dogs, the hotel shuttle arrives. It’s already full. Of course, why would this be simple?
So I squeeze into the middle of the front row. The drive gets in and I hear a guy in the back talking about missing his flight. Yes, it was the same flight. Everyone in this shuttle and the 5 people that this shuttle was too full to pick up (they are still lost… Dr. Livingston I presume?) were all on the same flight. They couldn’t have waited 4 minutes for what seems to be half the seats of the airplane?!?!?!?
The driver gets in and I stubbornly cling to my laptop bag… which turns out to be advantageous later.
We begin driving and the driver explains that we have been given rooms and vouchers for food, etc. Well it turns out that not everyone was given a voucher for food. All of these kinds of things depend on who you talk to. The lady sitting next to me in the fan had to scream bloody murder to get a room and was not given food. While some others were. Sad, but true.
I ask when the shuttles leave in the morning. His reply is once per hour. That, I think to myself, is a bad sign. I ask if it will be as crowded and what happens if I miss it?
He replies that they will probably use the hotel bus in the morning for everyone. And he continues (this is an excellent case of being completely unaware of when he should just shut the fuck up and stopped talking) that he was hired to drive the big bus, but since he failed his CDL, he could only drive the little van. And that he was confident that he could drive the bus anyway because he’d already made this run three times, since he was hired 4 HOURS ago!!!
All of us fellow lost boys travelers look at each and lunge for our seatbelts, which was perfect timing. As the driver takes an exit and enters a cloverleaf turn at 70 miles per hour. He starts screaming “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT” and we head right for a large section of traffic cones and what appears to be a 1,000 foot cliff. The anti-lock brakes are pounding.
Oh yeah, did I mention the freezing rain that had just come through the area? I now know what the smell of fear really smells like. Curiously, it’s a cross between stale cat urine and the sweaty armpits of a very hirsute man. This, of course, is purely for reference purposes.
After the drivers gets us back on the road, he realizes that he has made a wrong exit and we perform several… interesting… traffic maneuvers to get us back on the correct highway. This is point I realize that if I have to hire a blackhawk helicopter to airlift me back to the airport, it will be a good investment. Certainly, it will be better than another run with Mr. I almost passed my CDL. For some reason, whenever I play these events back in my head, I hear the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.
As we are now settled down, some nice person has cleaned up the vomit from the rear seat passengers, I glance over to the dashboard. There’s no point in looking out the fogged up windows after all.
The dash is flashing alternately between “Warning: Low Tire Pressure” and “0 Miles until Empty”. What the? Yes, I can see the fuel gauge. Yes, it’s below the E. sigh… I’m going to freeze to death on the side of an empty highway with Gilligan. I look around trying to decide who we should eat first… you know, just in case it comes up.
Finally, approximately three hours later, we wash up on the shore of the hotel. Having kept my bag, I am able to rush the hotel lobby while the other passengers wrestle their bags away from each other.
Then, I realize, I’ve apparently stepped into some… other place. It’s either Las Vegas or, possibly, Wonderland. The floor is all black marble. And not just black, but we’re talking black hole, suck all of the light out of the room black. Except for the blue neon forest that seems to be gravity resistant. Looking at the neon after glancing at the floor is like stepping out of the mines of Moria straight into a hydrogen bomb blast. My eyes may never recover.
Then, there are the chairs. The backs of the chairs are approximately 20 feet tall, while the cushions are almost too short for a dachshund to sit comfortably on. I’ve seen movies with creatures that might be comfortable in these types of chairs… they never end well for the humans.
I manage to check in. I am told that there is a courtesy supply of toiletries. Which is useful, since I’m beginning to smell like a Yak.
The room has carpet of a beautifully depressing brown-grey that is covered with the hotel’s symbol. Which seems to be the same symbol carved onto the devices used by the Salem townsfolk to test for witches. The bed has light coming from underneath it. I saw that movie too and it didn’t end well either.
The courtesy toothpaste is 6 grams! of material. I’ve never heard of the brand, but I wonder if it comes from street vendors with ties to the mafia.
This day, has now almost ended. As I write this, there are only 13 minutes left in the day. I have to be awake at OhMyGod O’Clock to get to the airport by any other method than the shuttle. I probably shouldn’t have eaten the sled dog so quickly.
One interesting side effect of this is that travel time is considered billable hours. So by the time I get home Sunday morning (hopefully), I will have already worked two full days this week.
If my bosses need me Friday, they get a Sherpa guide and come find me. I dare them.