Sunday, February 24, 2013

Slow Week...

I was home this week and as much as I tried to have a blog develop...I could not. Except I did get an email from my preferred airline with the heading "Stuck in The Middle Seat?" You can imagine my panic when I first opened the email. I was concerned  they had read my blog. They had not. They were giving me miles for having been stuck in a middle seat on a trip the week before...I had actually walked on an earlier flight and knew it would be a middle seat. I took the miles anyway.

Below is a post that originally ran in May is a bit long (okay really long) but it is one of my favorites and it got the most feedback... I hope you enjoy.

                   Homeward Bound?

As in most things in life, there are beginnings and endings. Business trips are no exception. My problem seems to be that despite my best intentions, some of my trips don’t end as planned. That is, I don’t get home at the designated time. This is not (entirely) my fault. You see, there are any number of intangibles that can ruin a travel plan: traffic, weather, bad luck and my newest favorite, the company self serve on-line travel site. That being said, I “own” a few of the mishaps.

On my most recent trip I really played with fire. First, I booked west coast and east coast meetings in the same week. Second, I did not book a return flight home.  After my meetings in San Francisco I headed to Providence, Rhode Island to finish up from an earlier negotiation. I knew the meetings would be fairly straight forward but you never know. For that reason, I decided to leave the end of the trip “open” knowing I could either grab a last minute flight or I could kidnap the rental car and take it back home. If I needed to stay an extra night…I could. I did not want to have any added time pressure imposed on me which might cause me to make a quick deal rather than a good deal.

I arrived in Providence “rested and refreshed” from my cross country jaunt that included a stop in Detroit. It also included another COACH leg from San Francisco! I remember as I booked the flight thinking “Wednesday…should be a no brainer for an upgrade and who goes to Detroit anyway”? Turns out many, many people and they all seem to be at a higher status than my Super-Duper Elite…even if some of them did have backpacks (first class? Really? They looked like they would be happier in coach!) When I asked the gate agent about an upgrade her response was straight forward but hopeful. “Not today sir…but maybe next time”! She smiled. I felt like a kid who had been told recess was cancelled.

The Detroit to Providence leg was on a regional jet which is code for “really fast, really small mode of transportation that utilizes children as pilots”. Don’t get me wrong, I have taken my share of “prop jobs” a.k.a. “puddle jumpers” where the top speed rivals a condor but at “jet” speed I really prefer a seasoned pilot…not some kid who shaves weekly and calls me “sir”.  Added to the fun, these jets are smaller in every way, headroom, legroom, seat width, etc. The good news is in the event of an emergency, I was already in the “crash” position as this was the only way to fit into my seat in 3A.

I have not been to the Providence airport in a number of years. Providence to my house is about five and a half hours by car…or plane, all things being “equal”.  The airport has undergone a fairly substantial renovation and it looks terrific. They have also done an amazing job making a small airport… BIG. The hike to the rental car area required a guide and I am pretty sure included parts of the Appalachian Trail… but eventually I made it. To my delight, not only was the rental center new but it appeared that basically every car was too! This sadly was the highlight of my day. My rental car had a push button starter which means the “key” just needs to be “in the vicinity”. After a few false starts (including looking for the ignition to insert the “key”) I was under way. The car was brand new with only seventy-nine miles on it.

The next day I made a conscious decision to pack my bag but to leave it at the hotel despite the fact my hotel was further from home than the meeting location.
I made this decision primarily out of superstition. If I were to bring the bag with me the meeting would last longer or worse, continue into the night and I would need to go back to the hotel and spend the night. By leaving the bag at the hotel, I was assured of an early departure…only I would have to go back and get the bag…I had this debate with myself that morning for more than a couple of minutes. This is classic me…I create these lose-lose situations for myself that always leave me second guessing.  After “winning” the debate, I moved on…without my bag. I could have chosen to stay at the hotel where the meeting would take place but I have been to this many times. Too many times actually, so staying there was not an option…kind of like getting a second dog (Murphy) was not an option…but this time I did not crumble.

By mid-morning it was clear we were going to finish sooner rather than later. During breaks I started working on my return plan home. The airport was close so I started to look up flights on the “on-line” travel site provided by my company. You have to understand that I am NOT technologically literate or capable…think rental car and “key”. Anyway, the travel site is excellent and I have used it for years. It is simple, straight forward and it works for me. Let me repeat that… it works for me. I had forgotten that the site had recently received some “enhancements”. So many in fact, that the site recommended you attend a “webinar” and take an “on-line tutorial”. I said “No” and “Thanks” and moved on…

This was the first time I had to use the site since it had been “enhanced”. Now to me enhancement means many things but, it does not mean “so many changes you need a class to recognize - let alone use it”.  I stumbled along only to get knocked out of the system twice. Eventually, I got to the point where it seemed to understand I was asking for flights to get me home. Apparently, however I was also asking for a miracle as the flights I requested were for that day and I guess, expensive. Rather than alert me that the flights were costly and allow me to determine the cost/benefit it summarily rejected the request and admonished me for “attempting to choose a class of fare even dignitaries would decline”.

I am nothing if not stubborn so I continued every “override” I know but it became clear one of the “enhancements” was preventing me from choosing a flight. I went on-line to an airline site (a risky, rogue proposition) and found some reasonable fares but the times were in the past or too far off. I could be home sooner by driving than flying. Rhode Island’s newest rental car would be leaving the state.

The meeting ended and I went back to my hotel to retrieve my bag. Just prior to leaving the meeting I grabbed the “keys” out of my pocket and felt a very painful  pin prick in my thumb. The key ring had a small but dangerous spur sticking out that managed to hook the perfect spot to make me swear and start sweating from the pain. About an hour into the drive my injured left thumb still hurt and I was fairly sure I had contracted some rare “key FOB borne” illness because I was still feeling warm, almost feverish. I had been distracted at first since the rental car had a complicated “computer screen” that ran everything. An hour in and I finally had the satellite radio working, I knew how fast I was driving and… I was hot. I was getting sick, I could tell. Then it hit me, the vents were blowing warm air at me and it was at least seventy-five outside. I figured out the climate control was set to heat. This explained the “fever”. Another half hour later and I had managed to fix the climate control and I was now measuring my speed in Kilometers per hour. My thumb still hurt.

It was approximately five o’clock and I now realized I was headed for rush hour traffic in New York City. That later flight was starting to look pretty good. My newly married brother-in-law and his wife live in Westport so I decided to invite myself for dinner to avoid traffic. This was the second time in three weeks I had done this to him. He is a nice guy and after a brief hesitation apparently decided it was easier to accept my “invitation” than come up with an excuse. After a nice visit and an excellent dinner we parted ways. I was careful to not grab the keys too quickly to avoid contracting another potential illness from the FOB. I successfully navigated the “key system” and started the car effortlessly….on the second try. I tossed the keys to my right hand as I started to look around to back up. It was a tight spot made all the more difficult by the fact that I “fish-hooked” my middle finger with the infamous “spur”. This one was not only deep but was a bleeder. The swearing and sweating began anew. The heater remained off.

Around 8:30 pm I congratulated myself for my skillful flexibility in getting home from this trip. I had managed around the potential luggage “curse”, outsmarted the rush hour traffic situation near Manhattan and was cruising home doing something like 120…Kilometers per hour.  I would be home in an hour. I passed a car swiftly and as I pulled in the lane in front of him he flashed his lights. He did it again. I wondered what his problem was until suddenly I realized that other than the screen that ran the “brain” in the car, everything else was dark. That’s right, this car that could push button start, cut your hand twice and manage to divert your eyes from the road for minutes at a time while working on its “convenient touch screen” did not have automatic lights! I had no headlights. I checked the “brain” to see if there was an adjustment for this problem with no luck. I did however, manage to learn the pressure in each tire as well as turn on the rear defroster. Eventually I discovered a knob…that turned on the lights. Brilliant. Literally.

I pulled into my driveway at 10:30 PM. The state of Pennsylvania had thrown me a curveball and was doing significant road construction on my route home. I had been dead stopped for about forty-five minutes. I also ran an EZ-Pass toll forgetting I did not have the electronic toll thing in this car. I cursed the “brain.” As I exited the car, I opened my suitcase to throw a couple of items in it to limit the trips back and forth to the house. I closed the hatch and started to walk away from the car. I turned and realized the car was still running and I did not have the key. I panicked. Could I really have left the car running and locked the keys in the car? No. The car was unlocked but the key was nowhere to be found. I shut the car off (and the lights) and finally started digging through my suitcase in the dark as this was the only place left to look. Moments later, I found the weapon known as the key…hanging from another impaled finger.

After punting the key across the driveway (and then retrieving it with a thick gardening glove) I walked into my house to be greeted by two snoring dogs and the sudden realization that I had to drive three hours round trip the next day to Philadelphia …to pick up my car at the airport. I made a mental note to bring band-aids. The trip wasn’t over quite yet…

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