Thursday, August 23, 2007

Misadventures in Traveling

It almost wasn't going to happen anyway - so maybe I should still be optimistic.

The plan:

Join my wife in Switzerland this weekend, to finally meet the extended family.

The hitch:
I didn't get this month's rotation assigned until the last day of July, so I was unable to pre-arrange for vacation time to fly out overseas.

The miracles:

All the pieces came together at work, and I got my vacation approved for Thursday thru Wednesday. Unfortunately, the deal included starting my vacation while still finishing off my post-call shift (Thursday AM), but if it enabled the timing to work out... it would be worth having only a 6-day vacation with a zombied-out half-day (instead of the usual 7 days). And then not only did I find flights on the days and times I needed, I managed to secure a return-trip on the same flight my wife would be taking back to the States. And the icing on the cake, the price for my late-booked round-trip wasn't anywhere near outrageous.

The procrastination:

So I know I'm heading out to catch a plane on Thursday after being on-call, but by the time I headed in to work on Wednesday I had still not started packing. Par for the course for me. But not too atrocious - my flight out was scheduled to go at 7:30pm, so I *should* have had plenty of time to pack.

The beginning:
Actually started off ok. My night on call was not hellish, and while I did not get much more than 10 minute intervals of sleep, I did manage some shut-eye and felt functional. I was super-efficient at work during the morning, and actually got out of there around 9:30am. Plenty of time to pack, clean house, shower, poop, etc. I was somehow even efficient in packing and straightening up - got more done today than in the whole month my wife was gone.

The wrinkles:

As I am finishing the last little tidbits of packing and cleaning, I notice the sky getting dark outside. Just as I am considering heading out to walk to the "El" station, the heavens open up and Chicago gets a monsoon drenching. Wrinkle #1 - how do I get myself to O'Hare without drenching myself and my luggage? Ok, grab umbrella and walk to the El anyway. Wrinkle #2 - will I have to ditch my umbrella at the airport? Don't think they'll let me carry this spear on the plane. I guess not a big deal - I just never thought of them as "disposable." Wrinkle #3 - I wait a little while for the downpour to slow up, which it does, but now I am cutting into my safety margin for check-in, etc. Wrinkle #4 - what's that "tap, tap, tap" I hear before I head out the door? Oh, yeah - the west-facing window leak that never got fixed. I'm about to leave the apartment for a week, and I'll have a damp dishtowel on the windowsill in hopes of containing the flood and preventing damage to my floor and belongings. Screw it, I don't wanna be late(r).

More wrinkles:
Can't find my CTA pass. No worries, I'll buy a new one. Train pulling away as I start heading up the stairs. No worries, they come pretty frequently, right? Right? Shit ... does the Blue Line come by this station at this time of day, or do I need to take the Pink and transfer? The next train that came was a pink ... but some passengers on my side of the platform did stay behind, so I gambled and won that toss (broke my losing streak there - for a second). Train getting more and more full. I move in a seat and end up with my legs folded on top of my suitcase, with a leg protruding in the space for the seat next to me. "Sorry, no, I cannot move my leg" (as I point to the suitcase). He nods his head like he understands and then proceeds to continue slamming the oversized box on his lap into my right leg. Fun. And then all of a sudden I realize we've been at one of the stations quite a while. "We are experiencing weather-related delays because of the ... weather." The woman over the loudspeaker sounded quite nervous, and despite making the announcement every 5 minutes or so during our 45-minute hiatus, she still never managed to say it quite smoothly.

The train ride was made a touch brighter by the deaf woman that took the seat next to me when box-boy finally left. We had a nice little 'talk' about the weather and our respective trips, with her writing on yellow post-its and my typing back on my cell phone (since she seemed to have trouble reading my writing on her pad).

The catastrophe:

You guessed it - that nasty weather that slowed down our magnificent mass-transit system also caused diversion of many planes headed in to Chicago - such as the plane that would have then been loaded up with me and a bunch of strangers. Instead of noting this, however, the screens indicate that departure will be 1 hour later than expected. At first I breathe a sigh of relief - I'm still somewhat early, but this delay will let me get through security and get settled at the gate without rushing. Or so I thought.

The vein-popping:
Waiting in the queue at the ticketing counter, with about 8 or so other parties there, I start to hear murmurings about "canceled." The guy in front of me and the guy behind me in line appear to know each other, and talk quite extensively, loudly, closely - and with not such pleasant breath - right over my head. I step out of their way and effectively end up cutting in front of the guy, but do so after leaving room for him to advance, and slowly taking his spot when he stays behind to yap. More and more people show up - some filing in behind at the queue, most just milling about on the side of the only apparently-staffed ticket counter. Of course, no staff seem to be around, but this is where a few of the customers were set up when I had gotten into line. Then the most soft-spoken man EVER starts to announce things about the flight, "...working on it ... have patience" - but nothing coherent to me. Like he was just adding to previous details, but not reiterating anything for the rapidly-growing crowd. People start milling about more aggressively, stalking the counter. People rush up onto the scene thinking they are late and missing the flight, having no respect for the queue and effectively mobbing the ticket counters. The gentleman comes back and announces that yes, the flight is canceled - and the chances of arranging alternate flights into Switzerland are increasingly slim, because apparently today was not the first day of canceled flights in, and many other alternates were also canceled today because of the weather. He indicates that the airline will do their best to get people on equivalent flights, some maybe that night but most tomorrow (hopefully!). And then suddenly there are 6 ticket agents - dealing with whomever is in front of their counter. Slowly.

An hour later (no joke) it seems that no one has moved away. More people crowding in, more people between me and these public servants that have no idea how close i feel to snapping.

Finally I get ahold of the customer service number (not posted anywhere, not on my ticket) - but nope, that's actually a phone sex ad. Replace the 1-800 with 1-877 and I DO finally get customer service, and the woman talks around a resolution to my problem three times before i realize she's saying that I'm booked on the equivalent flight tomorrow. Relieved, I step back from the counter and decide to treat myself to some McD's - since it is now after 8pm and I never did have a meal yet today. The joint in the international terminal is of course packed, and - you guessed it - I get in the line that is lapped twice on both sides before I work my way to the register.

But tomorrow is a new day - we'll see how many ways I can screw up trying to leave the country.


No comments: