5:19, climb into the minivan
--why the minivan? It’s the only vehicle that will accommodate our bags, our kid’s bags, her tricyle and the dog, since we are heading straight to my mom’s to pick up the kid and the dog after we land on Sunday. Oh, and it’s a company vehicle, so we don’t have to pay for the gas—
I press the remote that shuts the garage door, look over shoulder to make sure the door is shut and not opening back up (it likes to do this, especially in colder weather and if it did, that would suck because I like some of the stuff in the garage and don’t want it out on display, especially just days after receiving a neighbor’s flyer informing us that there have been 5 recent thefts in the ‘hood). Release emergency brake, push the console shifter to “D,” roll out.
~5:26: Look at minivan (an older model Dodge caravan...coincidence?) that caught on fire on the shoulder of 270 in the opposite direction, think: Well, I guess it could be worse
~5:35: Encounter backed up traffic on from 495 on 270 spur
~5:45: creep along at no more than 10 MPH, reasoning that I can make it to the airport by 6:30 once we get past the accident?/police car pulling someone over?/construction?/UFO spotting?.
~5:50 There is a car stopped dead in the middle lane. Feel mildly sorry for the driver. Think: Okay, things should pick up from here, right?
~6:20—Finally on I-95 North. It should be a straight shot…I will totally get to the airport by 6:45. The parking garage at least.
6:40: on the ramp to the airport road, the gas light goes on.
6:45: Make left turn before parking garage. Realize I should’ve gone straight. Briefly panic when I only see that the only way out besides the “Restricted Area: Employees Only” designated slab of asphalt is a ramp towards the airport exit. Make illegal left turn back onto main road and wait at the light before the parking garage entrance.
6:50: get ticket from parking garage, go to 3rd floor, find an available space, pull in, park, kill the ignition. Get out, examine parking job and concede that it’s too crooked to leave as is. Re-start van, straighten out, kill ignition, grab bags, lock up vehicle, head downstairs to the nearest shuttle stop. Scrawl parking area “3C” onto the back of the garage ticket as the shuttle barrels towards the parking garage exit
7:02: navigate through the maze that is Southwest’s check in system. Find the kiosks for “e-ticket, no check in baggage.” Swipe credit card, confirm flight, get something that kinda looks like a boarding pass which clearly states that it isn’t. It’s a boarding pass shaped piece of paper to get me through security. I still have to check in at the gate. Uh-oh.
7:18: Exit security, don flip flops, shove laptop and clear bag o’ 3 oz. or less liquid containers back into their respective bags, beat feet to the gate.
7:21: Run down the moving sidewalk towards the gate (which of course is closer to the end of the C terminal than to security). To steal a line from the Cure song, “The Walk,” “I ran until my heart burst.” When I felt that out of breath-lungs are bleeding-shoot me now feeling, I thought: “Man I’m out of shape. I need to do something about that.”
Arrive at gate B-5, relax a little when I see the plane is still there. Dash to the counter to a man who takes my non-boarding pass. He looks up with a remorseful expression.
“I just closed the flight. I’m sorry.”
Departure time was 7:25. See, I would have been okay with it if I had been thirty minutes late—an hour—if traffic was SO bad that I could come to terms with the thought that I would miss my flight. Being so close that you can see the plane while its still parked at the gate is akin to a punch in the solar plexus.
The Southwest Agent man sends me to another gate (of course it’s at the far end of the neighboring terminal). It’s a flight that stops in Midway, where I would then catch another flight to Vegas, putting me back on the ground at about 11:35. Not bad, but when I saw the herd of teenagers wearing the telltale t-shirts of a school-sponsored trip boarding the same flight, I also thought “Not likely.”
I tried to charm up the gate agent (I suck at anything involving "charm", "sweet talk" or "buttering up", in this case, the closest I could get was simply not looking hostile). I was third in line on standby. The first person in line, a woman “of size,” made it onto the plane. I watched her beam at being granted a spot, collect her ticket and make her way to the gate. “She’s gonna be in a middle seat, but she’ll have plenty of space between two skinny kids.” Joked one of the agents to the other. Apparently most of that flight was made up of 14 year olds.
Being on standby went very much as the old Seinfeld joke goes—I really did end up standing there, saying “Bye.”
Me and the other guy on standby went through the options with the agent as he typed away on his computer. We talked about our destinations. The other guy was going to Wisconsin by way of Chicago and there was one more flight left. There was nothing for me but a 6:50 a.m. nonstop the following morning. “It’s booked, but not overbooked,” the agent I tried to charm told me. “If I were a betting man, I’d try for that one.” Ha ha ha, oh-ho ho!…I get it now…was that a reference to Vegas? Good one, pal.
“Booked but not overbooked" means one of the booked people would have to miss the flight in order for me to get on. And using the agent’s logic, it’s an early flight, so someone is bound to forget to set their alarm. Then they too will end up with the notorious non-boarding pass when they try to check in. It's the Southwest circle of missed flights.
8:20-ish: I didn’t want to drive an hour home and get up at O’dark thirty to come back to the airport, so I decided to check into an airport hotel. The hotel shuttle passed a cluster of other hotels, and arrived at a high rise glass tower. I told myself I was going to keep it at $100 or less.
“It’s the new hot thing” said an article I read recently, “Airport hotels are luxurious and pampering to people traveling for work.” Apparently the no-tell motel days for airport convenient lodging are a thing of the past.
“The rate is $299 a night.”
Indeed. As Peter Parker’s late uncle would say, “With luxurious accommodations come giant prices.
“Do you have a military I.D.?” asks Tony. “The government rate is much lower.”
The man read my mind, because my last ditch effort in bargaining was going to be whipping out my little green outdated military I.D. (don’t leave home without it) in an attempt to get a lower price. The information is still correct (well, not the weight) but the expiration date block says “INDEF” for “indefinite.” It should say “June 2005,” the month I received my honorable discharge papers. Technically I’m not in anymore, unless things got REALLY bad. And if this country ever comes to that, we are in deep yogurt, my friends (re-read my little description of running/being out of shape if you don’t see what I’m saying here).
“$155 a night, you want it?” Tony looks up at me.
I balk, thinking of the La Quinta across the street. I’m pretty sure I even looked at the doors. “Uh…I think I’ll check around.”
Adept at dealing with cheapies like me, Tony immediately replies, “You’re not going to find anything better than this” and I can practically hear the unspoken “Honey” at the end of the sentence. Yup, girlfriend, Tony is fuh-laming, very much like the blazing minivan I passed just hours earlier. I could smell the smoke from the moment he sauntered over to welcome me to the Marriott. And…to repeat that now tired refrain from a Seinfeld episode of years gone by…
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Ba-dum-bump-shhhh!)
I will also mention that Tony complimented the photo on my I.D. and not in a “What’s your sign, baby” kind of way, but in a RuPaul, “You bettah work” kind of way. I said thanks, neglecting to mention that the photo was nine years old and I had styled my hair, tipped my chin, widened my eyes and smiled slightly with the intent of avoiding an awful mug shot (see my most recent driver’s license if you need an example of what I’m talking about).
Sucker that I am, I croak out something about airport hotels being competive and take the room, surrendering my credit card to Tony while trying to calculate how much the end damage will be, once all of the taxes are factored in.
The room is nice—with a plush king bed and a lovely view of aforementioned La Quinta across the street. I look at it and briefly wonder if it’s too late to check out and try my luck (Ha, another Vegas/betting reference) out there.
I stay put and hunger sets in. I look out of the window again. Funny how all of the hotels are on this isolated road with nary a fast food joint in walking distance.
8:50: Trapped, I go downstairs to the sports bar*(more about this place in its own entry), sit at one of those tall tables, wait for a server and look through the menu. Chicken wrap with fries and coleslaw--$9.95. I haggle the server for more ketchup because I only see two in the bag. Back in my room, I see that there are twelve packets of ketchup—no wonder the server looked like I was nuts when I told him I only had two. I enjoy my dinner in bed. See, it’s not a total bust. I wouldn’t get to do this at home. I don’t have to worry about cleaning ketchup stains from my sheets. I don’t even have a king bed, never mind one all to myself. That’s worth $155 plus tax, right? Right?
Well, that’s what I told myself anyway, never mind the room doesn’t even come with free wi-fi—you have to pay $14.95 a day. WTF?! You would think a hotel catering towards business travelers and charging $299 a night would at least give you the damned internets on a silver platter. I reasoned that I would write and watch the gool ol’ TV.
9:13: Ahhh… oh yeah…LOST is on. It’s the 2 hour season finale that I would have otherwise missed because I should have been sitting in a winged metal cylinder 35,000 feet over the Midwest by now. Not a total loss, right? RIGHT?! I ate my dry little chicken wrap and dry little fries in bed and watched TV. When it was over, I set the alarm for 5:10 and went to bed.
~2 am: Wake up. This is not my bed. I missed my flight. Is the alarm still on? The little red alarm light is on. Go back to sleep.
5:10 am: Alarm goes off—too bad, I was really sleeping pretty good, there. Get up, shower, review paper receipt from the floor near the door. Zip up bags, exit the room and snatch a USA Today from a nearby room—not because I like USA Today or because I mean to read it, but because I notice my room was the only one in the hallway that didn’t get one. Make it downstairs in time for 5:30 shuttle to the airport.
5:30: Board shuttle. I am the only one there. The driver tells me this isn’t really his route and he’s not really a shuttle driver, but he volunteered. Okay, I get it. He gets a two dollar tip from me and doesn’t even pause to refuse it—he slips it into his pocket like a pro.
I beeline to the Southwest check in kiosks and someone there who thinks she is being helpful, holds me up to ask if I have bags to check in (still no) and directs me to the no baggage check in kiosks. I’m annoyed, but she has no idea that I’ve already been through the drill. I don’t get a non-boarding pass this time, I try and try, but no dice (another Vegas reference, maybe?) I pull out my old, weathered non-boarding pass and get through security. The line is so much shorter when it’s not even six in the morning.
6:00 a.m. I breeze down to the gate and find the agent. I hover for a few minutes while she tries to get me on standby. I see Chicago bound dude from the night before—I guess he missed his flight too. Then I go get something to drink—for some reason Dr. Pepper fits the bill. I use the bathroom. Go back to hovering. I try to be casual about it but I’m not fooling anyone—there is nothing cool or casual about hovering. The ticket agent catches me glancing at her and explains that it will be another few minutes.
A few minutes later: She tells me that I will probably be able to get onto the flight. Hallelujah, ring the church bells, someone’s alarm didn’t go off! I wait for a few anxious minutes until I am granted a REAL BOARDING PASS! I look at it for a second, and then try to locate my gate (A-13). Where is it…I walk to where I *think* it is (the A-13 ticket counter), but there’s no gate. Then there, in the opposite corner…I see it. I trot over, hand the boarding pass over and after its scanned I hold my hand out.
“Oh, you don’t need this,” the agent assures me “…unless you want it back.”
“No,” I say, even though I think, but I just got it!
I get onto the plane, head down the aisle, and work up a pitiful facial expression directed at an older couple so I can access the empty window seat. They rise for me and the man is kind enough to help stow the carry on in the overhead bin. I sit down, buckle up and moments later, the plane backs away from the gate.
Off I go! Carpe Vegas!