Tag Archives: travel

Home.

On Sunday night, I arrived home with the Siren and the kids from the beach. Our trial team finished examining the last of the witnesses on Thursday, August 25; the Siren drove the kids out on her own earlier in the week, and I was going to fly out to meet them on Friday.

Irene. What a bitch.

The beach town issued a mandatory evacuation order — not that the Siren needed to be ordered away from a hurricane — and we spent the first three days of our postponed and reduced vacation in a Philadelphia hotel, then had just four and a half days instead of our usual two weeks.

Even though I spent at least half of each day at the beach working — the evidence is in, but we have closing briefs to write before the closing arguments, now scheduled for the end of the month — at least we had a few days together before school started up again.  We got home Sunday night, and it was the first time since May 10 that I was coming home and not turning right around again to fly back out west.  The kids started school the day after Labor Day, and I spent my first full day at the office in four months.  To say I’m disoriented would be an understatement. I assume I will loosen up a bit in the next few weeks, but for now I’m still very tightly wound.

You see, I still haven’t unpacked. I’m not sure I remember how.

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It’s June 30, so I must be done and headed for home. Not.

Psych! The joke’s on you, imaginary internet people — We’re only halfway done with the trial, at best. I’ll be going home tomorrow, all right, but only for a couple of days. I’m flying back here on the Fourth of July for another week. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Hmm. Maybe the joke isn’t on you after all. See you in August. I hope.

Karmic Balance: My Travel Mojo Is Back.

My suitcase and box of documents arrived in Jackson at the same time I did.  Fifteen minutes after I deplaned, I was wearing a suit and tie, along with deodorant and clean underwear.  I was feeling good.  Picked up my rental car, made it to the deposition, no problem.

Fast forward 8 hours from my arrival in Jackson.  I’m back at the airport, all checked in for my 5:05pm American flight to Dallas, where I am to have a two hour layover, which means time for a reasonable dinner and a beer.  I even have a little time to charge my computer and phone, because my plane is running about half an hour late.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Right. So at 5:30, they announce the plane is cancelled.  I watch the other passengers line up to yell at the gate agent, decide that looks pointless and unamusing, and call our corporate travel company.  The overworked rep puts me on hold for long enough that I decide to pack up and get in line with everybody else, just in case.

As I’m standing in the line, I notice that the Southwest gate across the hall is showing a flight to Chicago (Midway instead of O’Hare) in 10 minutes.  Too bad, I think.  No way I can get my bags back in 10 minutes. Until that moment, I didn’t know that anyone had direct flights between Chicago and Jackson.  I don’t like to fly Southwest because of Junior’s peanut allergy — I feel like I need to be decontaminated before I walk in the house from the peanuts on the seats — but I’ll make an exception when necessary.

Hey, I thought, if the plane’s leaving in 10 minutes, why isn’t anyone boarding, or even lined up to go? I craned my neck to look out the window.  No plane.  Hmmmm.

Still on hold with the travel agent, I left the line — which was going nowhere — and sidled up to the Southwest gate agent.  “That line looks bad,” she said.

“Tell me about it.  I’m trying to get home to Chicago tonight.  I don’t see them” I jerked my head in the direction of the American Airlines gate agents, now hiding under the counter to avoid the angry would-be travelers “making it happen.”

Her eyes grew big as saucers.  “Why, I have a flight to Chicago.  Non-stop.”

“Sounds tempting,” I said, trying to keep my cool.  “But I’ve gotta get my bags back from those guys, and you’re supposed to take off in 10 minutes.”

She casually checked her watch, as if to say, oh, is that what the schedule says today? “Well, we’re supposed to, I guess.  But that’s not gonna happen.  They’re telling me wheels up at 6:15, but I don’t think the plane is even going to land here until 6:30.  Call it 6:20 to be safe.”

I thought that over, running time and motion studies in my head.  “So your flight won’t take off until 6:45.”

“At the earliest.”  She leaned over the counter, and lowered her voice.  “And we have lots of open seats.”

I looked back at the line at what I already thought of as my “old” gate.  She shook her head.  “Uh-unh.  Not there.”

I caught on fast.  “The ticket counter,” I said, grabbing my briefcase.

“You got it.  I’ll see you on the flight,” she called, but I was already moving down the corridor and back out past security.

I had forgotten about the phone glued to my ear until the agent’s voice broke in  “Mr. Unfocused?  They want to put you on the 6am flight tomorrow.  You’ll change planes in Dallas and be in Chicago at 11:25 tomorrow morning.”

I stepped into the line in front of the American Airlines ticket counter.  “I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” I said.  “I think I can do better,” and hung up.

When I stepped up to the counter, the ticket agent called the luggage ramp right away.  “I need two bags pulled for Mr. Unfocused,” he said.  He hung up.  “Ten minutes.”

I checked my watch:  5:50.  Plenty of time.  “Now, about my refund…”

Seven minutes later, I was down by the baggage claim as my suitcase and box slid through the hatch and into my waiting arms.  Back upstairs, I walked confidently to the Southwest counter.

The Southwestian was friendly and chatty.  I told him I wanted the delayed flight to Midway, he sold me a ticket, sign here sir, sign there sir, put your bags on the scale sir.  Everything was going smoothly until he put the pink “TRANSFER” tags on the bags.

I asked him what was with the TRANSFER tags.  He answered that they were because the bags needed to be transferred from one plane to another in Houston.

Now, I may not be as familiar with Southwest as I was in 1999 when I earned four free tickets in six months, but I think they still use the phrase “non-stop” the way the rest of us do.  And the lady at the gate had clearly said “non-stop.”

Changing planes in Houston before finishing in Chicago is not non-stop. It is, in fact, the very definition of “stop.”

I cross-examined the Southwestian, but he denied that there was a non-stop flight to Chicago.  I checked the flight number on the ticket he was about to issue me against the departure board: sure enough, it was the flight to Houston, not the flight to Midway.  I gave him the flight number I wanted.  He was confused for a moment, then checked the computer.

“That explains it.  The flight you want is closed.”

I’ve played this game before.  Maybe “this flight is closed” works with most of the people who come through the little airport in Jackson, buddy, but I hang at O’Hare.  Telling me the flight is closed is just the opening move.

The first counter-measure is to feign ignorance.  “Closed? Whaddaya mean? The lady at the gate said there were plenty of seats.  She offered to sell me a ticket right there, but I thought I’d better get the luggage dealt with.” All true, but all irrelevant. If the computer says it’s closed, nobody can sell you a ticket.

Which is what he said.  “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

I put down my briefcase, body language to show him I wasn’t going anywhere for a while.  “Now, really, we both know that’s kind of silly, right?”

He waved at the computer screen as if it were an excuse.  “The computer says it’s closed.”

“I know, I know,” I said soothingly.  “But c’mon.  You’ve got a plane that hasn’t even landed yet, with empty seats going back out tonight. I want to pay for one of those seats.  Maybe I could go standby?”

He shook his head.  “I’m locked out completely.”

“But the gate agent could issue me a standby ticket, right? If I had a ticket on another flight?”  I pointed at ticket through Houston, still in his hand.  “Like that ticket, for instance.”

“So you’re going to take this ticket but go standby on the direct flight?”

“Right.  It’ll get me in two hours earlier.”

“But your luggage will get there at the original time.  I can’t get your bags onto the direct flight.”

“Because it’s closed.”

“Because it’s closed,” he agreed.

So I ripped off the tape with the Houston flight number that he’d slapped on the suitcase and box, and pulled off the TRANSFER stickers.  “Guess I’m going to have to gate check.”

He tried to tell me I would have trouble with the TSA running the security checkpoint, but the fight had gone out of him.  If we hadn’t just done the whole song and dance about the ticket, he’d have griefed me for another 10 minutes.  I got through security just fine, and marched back to the Southwest gate. I had a boarding pass in my hand and gate check tags for the bags in 5 minutes, a burger and a Sam Adams at the nearby sports bar in 10.

Twenty minutes after that, I boarded the plane, with my briefcase, suitcase, and box — the flight attendants didn’t care about enforcing the baggage limits because the flight was so empty.  I even had an entire row of three seats to myself.

I thought I’d lost it for a little while there, the ability to negotiate post-9/11 travel as painlessly as possible. In fact, I’d gotten complacent and forgotten the first two rules of 21st Century business travel:

Rule 1: Never check a bag.

Rule 2: Don’t forget Rule 1.

Fall Sunday Stats #8: Long Weekend.

Miles run driven: 1610, round trip.  After a great Thanksgiving dinner with old friends, we spent most of Thanksgiving weekend in Brooklyn, in my old neighborhood.  Park Slope was on a gentrifying, yuppifying trend when I left in 1987, and it has continued on the same path since, which means it has MUCH better restaurants than when I left.

I am proud to say that even though the yuppie sports bar (which my little group of juvenile delinquents always called “The Fern Bar” in a tone that was positively dripping with disdain) is still open and was only a block from the apartment we rented, we didn’t eat there.  I remember swearing an oath in blood with several of my friends that we would never give The Fern Bar our custom, once we were 21 and old enough to get in.  I kept my part of the bargain.

Instead, I showed the kids the house I grew up in (from the outside), the pizza place I used to go to, and various places I used to hang out.  The kids put up with my blathering on about my childhood with good grace; they were just happy to see their grandpa and try a few new things.

Much to my daughter’s chagrin, she and Junior liked New York pizza a lot — perhaps even better than Chicago pizza, which caused me to laugh maniacally in the middle of the Smiling Pizzeria.  They liked the park and the little local bookstore with the feline-in-residence.  And the place that sold Smurfs back in the day now has entire walls covered with Thomas the Tank Engine products (I did find one Smurf on a shelf of unboxed figurines for sale; I think it was Sultry Smurf, but I’m not sure.  Mainly, they liked the big park.

On the last day before we left, we went into Manhattan to meet my mother; before we went uptown to the Museum of Natural History, the Mrs. suggested we take the kids to Forbidden Planet, the science fiction/comic book store where I used to blow all my free cash.  I didn’t argue, and Junior and I had a great time; Unfocused Girl was less impressed, although she ended up with some good stuff, including a Thor graphic novel (and since Junior can’t read, all the comics that he asks for end up inuring to her benefit, too).

I think they liked seeing where I grew up, even though they didn’t like the crowds and I rambled on a bit long a few times.  Probably the thing I said that caused the most consternation was my description of stickball, which we used to play in the street, since they know that if I caught them playing anything in the street, they would be in serious trouble.

How about the writing? I have finished my edits of “Jimmies,” and expect to submit it this week.  I plan to start revisions of Meet the Larssons, but I have (surprise) to go out of town for work for several days this week and may not get much done until the weekend.  Blah.

We’re Home.

We got in at 2:15am, after more than 16 hours on the road.  Was it the traffic getting out of New York City?  Nope — the Brooklyn Bridge and Holland Tunnel were wide open.  Was it the weather?  Nope — it slowed us down a little, but it wasn’t really a problem.

Was it the two-and-a-half hour traffic delay before and right after the Delaware Water Gap at the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border, where there was NO REASON AT ALL for there to be so many people?

Maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have just arrived at the apartment we’re renting for a couple of days in my hometown.  An extremely long drive for a very short visit, but it’s worth it — it’s the first time since autumn, 2003 that I’ve been here except for work.  Unfocused Girl was 2 the last time, and Junior has never been.  We’ll head out shortly for Thanksgiving dinner with my father and the family of an old friend (and my apologies to my other old friends in town who we won’t be able to see this trip; if it works out as well as we hope it does, we’ll do it much more often).

I hope you and your family have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

And Boy, Are My Arms Tired.

I got back late last night from an overnight trip to California (business, not pleasure), and I’m completely wiped.  I didn’t have a chance to get any work done on MTL while I was gone, but I will say that it’s amazing how much work one can get on a four hour plane ride.  Both ways, I had my laptop open the entire time (except for those pesky takeoffs and landings), and burned through a lot of email and to-dos for work. The lack of distractions is wonderful.

When American Airlines finally gets its act together to set up Internet and cell phone access in-flight, I will never get caught up when I fall behind, and a little part of me will die.