Friday, January 2, 2009

The Christmas Saga

I think this is a story worth mentioning in its entirety. Grab a glass of wine and relax for a bit.

I was surprisingly prepared for the three-month excursion. Bags packed, bills paid, affairs in (relative) order; not the usual nor the norm. Unfortunately my keys & iPod were lost. I searched and flipped over everything in the apartment, but they were nowhere to be found. Leaving for an already pressing ferry schedule, acceptance of our separation was necessary. The P.O.S. would have to reside in its location for the winter and I was to miss out on forty gig of music, podcasts, audiobooks and language instruction. Unhappy. That’s what I was about it. Hungover too. Turns out that Cote de Rhone and Tequila do not mix as well as they would appear to. Who’d have known. Struggling through a haze with a sixty-pound suitcase, twenty pound box with glorious presents, a backpack for the lighter side of things and anticipation of lost baggage (socks, toothbrush, nicotine patches, and condoms) and of course the lifeline—laptop case; I blundered onto the ferry to start the rest of my life. Beginning with the obnoxious traveling that is required to leave Orcas Island and eventually arrive in Ripon. I’ve never done it in less than twelve hours and only took longer when driving myself.

Maureen and Elizabeth were lucky to see me in a nearly complete stupor, dragging all of my things behind me. In order to keep the conversation as far away as possible from anything serious and potentially revealing, I tried to keep them laughing and diverted my own attention to writing “fragile” on each side of my too-large-should-have-shipped-it-box-of-Xmas-presents. But know it looked good with large and noticeable letters plastered all over it. Very large, very noticeable.

I pushed myself and dragged my luggage off the boat, bracing the too-big-box on my shoulder & face. Boat in 11.30, shuttle @ 11.55… no, wrong—should have looked at the schedule. 12.55. Plenty of time for the 5.15 flight. In the middle of some life sustaining actions Nicole meandered up and expressed some deep concern in regards to the my appearances. Something about a fight. Not since the 90’s, thanks. But my face—yes my face apparently had been the recipient of the one of the beautiful g’s that were painstakingly placed on the box. In red, permanent marker. Won’t wash off. It’s on there and it looks as if I were smashed in the face with a 2x4 by Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Strike one—actually strike two since the keys and iPod were no longer.

On this day, the usually punctual shuttle for SeaTac was twenty-five minutes late. Strike three. Two erroneous stops to pick up non-existent passengers put us further behind. Little attention was paid and sleep came over me. After some time, I stirred and started to dry the drool out of my beard. A light snow had started and the overly cautious driver slowed his speed to a cool 30 mph. Exactly half the designated speed limit for that stretch of I-5. It is 4.32, seven miles to SeaTac, a little less hungover, and the drool in my beard is giving my face a little chill when a breeze blows through it.

I’ve never had to do holiday flights but have been to SeaTac enough times to recognize that it is quite a bit busier than usual and the people are slow to get off the bus. We’re here, get the hell off. Get off. Get off. Get off. They do and I collect my bags and burst into the airport like a wrecking ball into a glass house. Still a touch of a hangover. 4.48 pm. I already know it is too late, but one has to try. Maybe I can charm her, she looks my age. Oh, that’s right—I’ve been sweating out Cote de Cuervo, it looks like I was pummeled in the face with building equipment, and there is still a bit of a chill on my face. It is still shocking to not be allowed to check my bags. Strike three. The lines are backing up everywhere and the light snow turned into heavy snow. Flights are getting cancelled—here, Portland, Spakane, Boise, even in San Fran, Sacramento, and Las Vegas. After a few hours in lines, on hold, in lines, on hold, in lines, on hold, this guy gets rescheduled for 2.30 tomorrow to Chicago via San Fran.

Meanwhile it continues to snow snow snow in and around Seattle. Myself and six others depart the airport in a taxi van back to Seattle proper. All the hotels near SeaTac are booked, and since I’m going to Ballard all these jackholes get dropped first in downtown. Only the main streets are open and people are plowing through half a foot of snow to get to pubs and restaurants. Six inchecs of snow isn’t a lot of snow except for a city that has 27 snowplows to service a major metro area. But Mr. Cabbie is a champ, he gets up some serious hills warranting some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the riders. An hour and forty five minutes I arrive @ Kari’s house, nearly 11.00. We passed cars stranded crooked in intersections, kids building jumps in the middle of streets, snowmen of an unfortunate fate, and a cross-country skier gliding swiftly through the desolate glow of the city.

Kari is hoping to leave the next morning for Denver @ 7.30. By the time I arrive, she has little hope for success and we weigh our options (heavy)—get some sleep & wake up early or go to the pub. A short deliberation leaves the former as the most responsible option and sleep wins for once. It is now after midnight and all of the taxis and car services aren’t taking reservations for the morning due to weather. Still snowing. We get a few hours of sleep and drive to the airport @ 3.45.

The airport is loaded with weary travelers forced to sleep on cots or the floor. Still snowing. Kari goes and gets on her flight and makes it to Denver. Lucky. I’ve got a few hours to kill for my 2.30 and I roll my cart with the too-big-box around the airport. By the time 10 am rolls around three airlines have cancelled all flights in and out of SeaTac and mine falls in suit twenty minutes after getting in line to check my bags. Strike four/ five? An already clogged airport is about to get a lot worse. Amtrak has canceled all trains. Greyhound has canceled all buses. You can’t get out of Seattle unless you drive, walk, or crawl. I’m not crawling. I do, however, have to call an already sad eight year old and giver her more bad news.

Getting on the information superhighway, also known as the “Internet,” I finally find a reasonably priced flight to Chicago via Denver (it is literally impossible to get anywhere else in the Midwest) with an overnight in Denver. Get back in line and try again. By this time, getting just to the other side of security looks like an oasis in a desert of humans. The rebook line for Alaska is roughly six hours long. Not too long in this line and Alaska cancels all flights in or out, they close up the check baggage area and tell everyone to go home or to a hotel and rebook from there. Strike 17… 23? A couple queries find out that the earliest flights out of Seattle are on the 24, 25th. Shit.

Matt kindly agrees to put his moving on hold that day and picks me up from the airport in the badass Suburban in order to regroup at Kim’s house and try and call/ email the airline. In exchange I help him move a load of stuff out of his house. We get to Kim’s in the evening and I drink beer and eat pizza. Having been trying to call Alaska all day, I had little hope of reaching them since it was a busy signal all day at both numbers. I call every major domestic airline that services Seattle and of the two that I actually spoke to someone, the cheapest ticket out was $1400 on the 25th. Mind you that through all of this, I have a return ticket on the 27th and then on to Shanghai on the 28th. All I want is to spend time with Autumn, screw the birthday. Obviously this isn’t going to happen on a couch in Capitol Hill and it dawns that had to get back to the airport. At 11.00 pm I called a guy that was offering rides on craigslist to SeaTac for $75.

John. John pulls up in his 4x4 SUV in a Land’s End flannel & Windmere pullover with Journey blaring on the radio inside his sauna of a car. I take my coat, hat, gloves and sweatshirt off and buckle up. John says he is happy to help (ahem… make money), I pay him, he drives off. I don’t think John knew it was snowing and I should have paid him when I got there. John says that he has always liked driving in the snow and is always eager to “see what he can do” in it. I tell John, “don’t do that now.” Staying away from donuts and brake checks, John cruises at a mere 65 mph in the midst of Seattle’s worst snowstorm in decades. He got me to the airport faster than I ever have in seventy degrees and sun.

Arriving at the airport, it is clear that the rebook line is a bit longer than earlier but with little choice, I queue up. Strike 392. The next twelve hours are spent in this line. Inching forward. A cowboy inches forward next to me. A salesman from Spokane inches forward in front of me. A soldier inches forward behind me. A young woman that repeatedly says, “it feels like it takes a lot longer when I don’t talk to anyone” inches forward behind him. I watch a Wilco movie on the laptop. We inch forward. Laptop dies. Inch forward. Annoying woman behind soldiers continues to speak to anyone/ everyone within earshot. I pull out the iPod that I had lost but later found in the exact place I had put it, keys were found too—they were in the pocket of the jeans that I was wearing while looking for them. Inch forward. Inspecting facial structures of people in line. Do crossword. Inch. Drink coffee. Smoke. (I quit). Stare. Inch. Re-inspect facial structure of people nearby. Smile feebly when the realized that I have been staring at the continuation of their forehead to the bridge of their nose for the past three feet, i.e. twenty minutes.

The president of Alaska Airlines comes out to soothe distressed travelers at hour eight or nine. Having been in line since midnight, this also marks the hour of the day. His method of alleviating our worries about getting home is to inform us that waiting in the line we were currently in wasn’t really going to help our situation much. I wished that I had a spit-wad shooter. This moron is telling people this after eight hours and while new travelers are returning to the airport in order to get in the line I was in. By now it was up to 15-20 hrs. Dipshit. I wanted to lock him in a room with the annoying woman behind the soldier. That was the first time I became mad at the situation.

By noon good news finally came. Re-book lady found a seat to Chicago via Orlando. It left in an hour. She did her little refund stuff, put those unnecessarily long stickers on the too-big-box and too-big-suitcase and I ran to the gate. Fighting the urge to breakdance through security, I got to the gate just in time to board, sat down, pulled a blanket over my head and passed out before taxi to the runway, not to wake up until 5.5 hrs later notified of arrival.

Orlando was not quite as warm as I was hoping, but no snow. A hotel room for a few hours to nap & shower, then a taxi back to the airport at 4 am to catch the early flight. Upon arriving in Chicago, I had two hours to get to Union Station to catch the train to Milwaukee. Chicago was getting a blizzard too. In a complete waste of time, I waited in a line to check my bags. Train leaves @ 10.20. At 10.13 the woman behind the counter condescendingly informs me that passengers don’t have to check bags on the Hiawatha line. Bitch. As I run around the corner to the gate, the oversize- electronic glass doors silently and gently close. A perfect five minutes prior to departure, just as the sign says. And the woman pretending not to hear me pound on the glass doors to open them up spoke on her walkie talkie directly on the other side of the door. Strike 4,123.

Next train leaves in three hours. I buy another ticket and drag my too-big-box and too-big-suitcase and backpack and computer bag outside to watch the snow whirl about in the Windy City. A bus driver steps out and says, “ last call for Madison.” I hesitate but get on and buy a ticket. Three others chase the bus down a few blocks later and pay for standing room only. Five hours later the bus arrives in Madison. An hour wait for the cab—idiots. Another hour for the rental car—morons. Finally, I drive myself to Ripon, and am greeting by this smiling face. Well worth it John Candy.


Paul said...

Well done my man. It was great to see you over the holidays, and I hope your travels in China are much less stressful. Take care!

Cassiemarie said...

I think anyone who reads this post in its entirety should get a t-shirt. hahah!
I'm sorry your travels sucked so bad. I was sad I didn't get to see your smiling face when you were in WI! :(