Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Whinge II

One quick shower, pack my scant belongings, turn off the lights, take the shampoo, body lotion, and mouthwash (I paid for them), down the steep high stairs to the lobby, grab one banana, cheese Danish (I earned it), and juice, check my email, and dump the detritus just in time to get the cab that was being chatted up by a family of three.

"Oh, is this your cab?" the woman cooed.

"Yes." I got in, gave the address of Silent Type, was corrected about address, and accosted by the cooing woman.

"You're going to Silent Type?"

"Yes." I was in no mood for chit chat with the home stretch in my sights.

"That's where I'm going." She started to push in next to me and when I didn't move said, "I'll just get in on the other side."

Good plan.

Serena, for that is her name, is from Connecticut and came up for one day of training, arriving with her child in arms and husband the night before so as not to be detained by the apocalyptic snow storm bearing down on New Jersey and New York and, as I was later to find out, La Guardia airport. Great! One more thing to deal with on this nightmare cruise to hell.

Serena was pleasant, chatty, and nice, which grated on my remaining shred of nerve. It wasn't her fault I was stuck in 7th ring of hell or that I didn't get any sleep the night before, was hungry, and anxious to get home some time within the next decade, so I mustered what nice reserves I still had and chatted politely in monosyllabic monotones punctuated with appropriately timed gasps of pleasure and surprise at her domestic bliss. I was about to open the door and fling myself to the pavement when we arrived at the office. Schooling my impatience to get the day started and over with, I matched my pace to hers, endured her inane chatter and waited while she wrestled with the heavy glass door that I carelessly flung clunking to the wall with no effort after waiting for her an interminable number of seconds.

The owner, a stereotypical New Jersey hard-nosed business woman who built her company from the divorce up, finally sat down and talked with me about everything I had already digested from the company manual. She also handed me two copies of the contract for my computer equipment, of which I took the CPU, speakers, battery, and ear phones, and surged off to her office to wheel and deal. Even with the constant interruptions, a decadent lunch of thickly filled chopped liver sandwich (that I devoured like a starving wolf in winter), and having each dictation checked, I missed the minimum required pages per day by five, and that includes leaving early because of the impending snow storm wreaking havoc in the surrounding areas. Felix arrived early trailing clouds of cologne, raping and pillaging my sense of smell, carried my bag down to the parking garage and whisked me onto the highway back to La Guardia. There was a short park near the Triborough Bridge, but nothing to write home about.

Felix regaled me with tales of famous passengers, (Keanu Reeves, Nicole Kidman and kids, and Derek Jeter's parents during baseball season), between spurts of personal information about how he and his ex-wife (a Silent Type supervisor) have a better relationship since the divorce and how they spend much more time together than they ever did when married. Before he could go into the more intimate details of what happens when he inevitably spends the night with his ex, we were at the airport with time to spare--three hours early.

Back thru security, composed of third world and minority personnel, where I did not have to take off my shoes or be subjected to another pat down and having my now dirty lingerie pawed and sniffed, I found my terminal gate and waited in Tolkien's adventuring company while the gate began to bulge at the seams and more and more people queued up to the departure gate desk. And here I thought things were looking up because I was seated in seat 45D in a 757, a real commercial jet with room to spare. Not so.

Delta, an airline of no special amenities outside of a tiny pack of miniature pretzels and free sodas, juice and water, in their infinite wisdom took all the passengers from two other flights (probably puddle jumpers) and jammed them into the plane I was about to board. I prayed for my manicure scissors and handy dandy fold-up tool.

Jammed next to a very nice young man named Andy who confided his birthday was the same as mine and who was anxious to get home to Atlanta to his wife and nearly two-year-old son, I endured silently, with a prayer to the weather god/desses that we would take off on time, the interminable wait for takeoff. No one listened. They were probably all off watching the storm hammer the flight line. After de-icing the plane, plowing the runway, and waiting for the flight path to clear, the plane took off into the snowy night sky 75 minutes after the scheduled departure, which left me, if I could get off the plane first, roughly 10 minutes to get from concourse B to concourse E to the last gate in the terminal at Atlanta to make my connection. I told the flight attendants and they assured me they would get me off the plane in time to make the connection. An announcement was made while we circled Atlanta in endless loops and as soon as the plane landed everyone in the plane jumped into the aisle. I was in the last row of the plane.

I excused myself politely while my carry-on luggage took on the gravitational pull of a black hole, tapping my foot impatiently and edging toward the exit. A very nice lady jumped in front of me, opened the overhead storage bin and glared at me while asking, "Can I get my bag out of the overhead?" Feeling very generous I asked, "I don't know. Can you?" She shoved me against the opposite seat and wrestled her wheeled bag containing her winter wardrobe down onto my head and then onto my feet.

I didn't need a watch to know I wasn't going to make the plane, but a dimming glimmer of hope refused to burn out. As my carry-on bags got heavier and heavier I raced for the terminal, asked a Delta employee if my plane home was on time, found out it was, asked if she would call ahead and have them hold it, was told no, got directions to concourse E, and dodged thru the oncoming passengers toward what I hoped would be a better ending to my trip than it had started out. With Andy's promise that I was golden and would make the flight ringing in my ears, interspersed with promises to call him at home (I had his business card and cell phone number) to take me home with him for the night, I raced on, bladder screaming for relief, lungs cramping from lack of oxygen, muscles protesting my unaccustomed and needlessly prolonged exercise, I reached the gate five minutes after the plane had taken off. The helpful Delta employee told me I could speak to someone in the Delta information office about a room for the night with a special rate, which I could not afford, and informed me that I had been booked on the next flight out of Atlanta for home at 11:00 the next day. Nice of them to do that.

The rest of the evening passed in a sweaty, anomalous blur of Delta employees telling me that weather and air traffic control delays do not warrant a free room and that I could not stay the night in the terminal because they were closing down, trudging thru another 20 miles of concourses and terminals and stinking air fresheners, cologne, and the purportedly pleasing scents of civilization, heat, and foreign bodies, shuttles to nearby hotels and rude and jostling travelers until I landed at another over priced Best Western near the airport and blissful oblivion that just would not come no matter how I begged, cajoled, and courted it with prayers or shower.

Tolkien kept me company until I drifted into steamy, sweat-soaked sleep and woke before the wake-up call. Blindly stumbling to the bathroom I took another shower, brushed my teeth and hair, packed my bags and prayed for a substantial breakfast. I got my wish with a banana, cheese Danish, and two cups of juice before the airport shuttle arrived.

I did meet a lovely British ("from Canada") couple on their way back to Toronto, which provided not only a bright spot to an otherwise horrific experience but another article for Iron Horse magazine, in addition to the one I would finally get to write once I arrived safely back in Colorado to pick up my car and drive to New Mexico for the weekend to interview a seniors only motorcycle club.

Security was a breeze even though I had to take off my shoes again and I boarded another plane, a 747 this time, for the flight home. There was a seat between me and the passenger in my row and I finally felt relaxed enough to drift into near unconsciousness, waking for the sumptuous pretzel and juice snack and an uncomplicated arrival in the Springs.

When I got off the plane and trudged up the ramps toward the beautiful blue Colorado skies I glimpsed thru the doors I nearly didn't recognize until I bumped into her, handed her my backpack, and stumbled toward the restroom. The walk from the terminal to her car felt endless but soon we were on the road, thru the gates, and back at her apartment where I collapsed gratefully into a comfy chair in the darkened confines of her living room. I got up briefly to check email and dozed fitfully for a little while until she went to pick up her son. I called at the office and chatted for a little while. He also apologized for giving me his cold at the airport. I was certain what ailed me was the east coast assault on my senses and not a cold, but I was proved wrong. Between Typhoid Muse and him double teaming me, I got the crud that is currently making the rounds, and I got it with a vengeance. So much for clean and healthy living.

Due to illness my trip to New Mexico was postponed and rescheduled for the following weekend -- this weekend -- but had to be postponed again since I'm not going to be well enough to drive eleven hours and interview several people, take pictures, and meet with and not spread this virulent plague or drive off the side of a mountain to end the misery.

I stayed an extra day with the Muse and family, but girded my loins for the drive home Sunday. All I wanted was peace, quiet, and my own bed where I could wallow, lie, and otherwise moan, groan, and die in comfort. I roused myself yesterday to go down the mountain to the post office for money that did not arrive (they emailed and told me they didn't have time to keep their promise -- no surprise there), went to the Snooty Coyote for NyQuil gelcaps, Kleenex, and two Snickers bars (comfort food for the dying), and came home to wallow, lie, and otherwise moan, groan, and die in my own bed.

What have I learned by this little excursion into the bowels of hell?

1. You can be sure that carry-on luggage will arrive safely with you, but it will take on the gravitational pull on your nerves, mind, and body of a massive black hole event horizon.

2. The distance from the deplaning gate to your connecting flight gate is in direct inverse proportion to your level of fitness and the time between connecting flights. In other words, the fitter you are the closer the connecting flight's gate, and vice versa.

3. No matter how much you weigh you will feel at least 50 pounds heavier when sitting in the cheap seats of a commercial flight. You will also feel like you are welded to the hip and thigh of the person jammed into the seat next to you and like you're hanging out in the aisle and impeding the progress of people going to and coming from the restroom.

4. Vacations and business trips exist to remind you that there is no place like home.

That is all. Disperse.

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