Wednesday, February 15, 2012

LIfe on the Road - Why Travel is Glamorous Until You Actually Travel

I frequently say that this blog is about "technology and life", so you can file this  post under the "life" column.


I spend a fair amount of time traveling in my second job as tech editor, lecturer, and consultant.  By a fair amount, I mean on average of at least 2 trips per month… sometimes more.  It's enough to give me a healthy perspective on those individuals whose job pretty much requires them to travel for a living.  That's a job I greatly respect and would never want to have.  Travel nowadays is difficult and frequently stressful.


While often people think the travel part of my job is exciting, I'm afraid that frequently isn't true.  Don't get me wrong, sometimes I get to go to some amazing places and/or do amazing things, but those trips are definitely in a slim minority compared to the garden variety trip to lecture at a major meeting or to a group.  Here's a little tale from the past weekend to illustrate this point.


On Friday I was set to lecture to a group in Duluth, MN.  The crowd was tremendous and I the location of the meeting was in a building built in the 1920's.  This building actually was a men's club from the turn of the century and had 4 rooms for guests to stay in.  It was an amazing building and my 2 room suite had the incredible ambiance of turn of the century elegance.  If you are into antiques, I'm talking an amazing old bathtub, steam radiators, paned glass, oak beams… the entire place was breathtaking.  However, the getting there and getting home isn't nearly as amazing as the group who invited me or the location.


I knew we were in for a cold snap in the central US, but no one who travels much really wants to travel with a bulky winter coat.  So I took my medium weight Scottevest jacket which has tons of pockets and keeps one reasonably warm without  taking up 2 seats on the plane.  Living in KC means I get few direct flights so I  had to hop to O'hare and then on to Duluth.  This particular trip had a later departure than some so I didn't arrive in Duluth until about 11:15 pm.


My hosts had contacted a local cab company to make sure someone would pick me up.  We landed and I found out we were the last flight in that night.  Shortly after I got my bag, most of the lights in the airport began to go out.   We also landed to a temp of 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind of probably 15-20 mph.  It was bitterly cold and my cab was nowhere to be found.  I called the cab company and was told my ride was 5 minutes away.  After 10 minutes I checked in to see where they were and was told the cab was now 2 minutes away.  I patiently waited another 10 minutes before calling again.  This time I was told that an error had been made and that the original cab was not available and another was now being sent.  It would arrive in 10 minutes.  So… 20 minutes later my cab arrived.  By now I think there was one other person in the airport besides myself.  I clambered into the cab and we headed to my destination.  I fell into bed at about 12:30.


Travel can be difficult to plan and this trip had an added wrinkle.  In order to get home on Friday evening, I could not fly back out of Duluth.  There simply wasn't a flight option that would get me back to KC that night.  So, I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine drive down to see part of the lecture on Friday and then drive me back south to Minneapolis where I could catch a flight home from there.


It was a drive of over 2 hours, but the time really went by fast as we chatted and laughed.  It really was a great time.  I was dropped at the airport at about the same time I got an automated call from United telling me my flight had been delayed for an hour.  With only an hour layover in O'hare, I knew this was bad news.  I went inside the airport and found help at the United check-in area.  There the nice ladies told me that my flight had literally just moments before been cancelled.  It seems there was snow in Chicago and things were backing up.  However, Debbie, the Untied agent,  was an angel and managed to get me the last seat on an earlier flight which was also delayed and would be leaving at about the same time as my original.  I would be getting to O'hare at about the same time as I had planned in the first place and making my connection would be no problem.


I went through security and munched on a burger as I waited for my flight.  However, this was going to be "one of those trips".  As I nibbled on my dinner, I got another automated United call letting me know that my new flight was further delayed and would be leaving 30 minutes later than I originally planned.  This would give me 30 minutes to make my connection, which is about the bare minimum you ever want to have.  I didn't hold out much hope now, but when you travel you often don't have lots of choices.


We ended up boarding 15 minutes earlier than planned and now my hopes once again were buoyed with the hope of seeing my beloved home before Saturday.  Alas, my plane pushed back from the gate and then we sat… and sat… and sat.  I knew it was now over.  I was stuck.  I didn't have a chance.


We departed at last and I tried to relax as best I could.  I *really* wanted to get home, but there wasn't' much chance of that.


We landed in Chicago and began to taxi.  There was only 10 minutes before my flight left and I knew I would never make the flight.  Then the unlikely happened.  As I turned on my iPhone, I received yet another automated call from United to tell me that my connection was delayed.  Suddenly I now had 30 minutes to make the connection.  I got off the plane and took off on a run.  As I said before, it was just 'one of those trips' and it was proven again when I ended up having to run from the very end of Terminal 1 in O'hare to the very end of Terminal 2.  I don't know if there is a greater distance to cover in O'hare, but if there is I don't ever want to have to cover it.  This was a haul and I covered it in a jacket and dragging a rolling computer bag behind me.  By the time I had actually gotten off the plane, I only had 20 minutes and I know the door is more or less closed at 10 minutes prior to takeoff.  I really had to hustle.  I arrived at my gate panting and covered in sweat, only to be told, "Sorry we got it off the gate a few minutes earlier than we planned."  I could see the plane a mere 20 or so yards away just sitting there, but they were not coming back.  I was given a ticket for the 8:22 am Saturday flight.


I walked a bit and found an empty gate where I flopped, took off my jacket, and tried to cool off.  What to do now?  It was 10:15 pm and I had nowhere to go.  I ended up deciding that sleeping in a bed was preferable to sleeping in the airport so I called the airport Marriott and got a room.  I went downstairs to get a cab.  I was beat, it had been a long day, and I just wanted to get somewhere.  My bag, of course, was gone.  That's one thing about checking a bag… if there is a problem like this, you can't get it back.  All I had was my computer and the clothes on my back.  I stepped outside to discover that it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago with a 25 mph wind.  That effectively made it -20… oh and did I mention that there was a cab line and no cabs?  I waited 15 minutes in an arctic blast for my ride.


At long last cabs began to filter in and when I finally fell into mine, my ears and fingers were tingling and burning from exposure.  "Airport Marriott," I said to the driver.  I was beat, whipped, trounced by travel.  Now I was home free, at least I'd be in bed in a few minutes.  "What city is that it?" a voice from the front seat said.


I snapped back from my momentary state of relaxation.  It seemed I was in the only cab in Chicago that was unaware there was a Marriott in close proximity to O'hare.  He consulted a book.  I gave him the address, which he asked to have repeated, and upon hearing it a second time he just shrugged and went back to the book.  I Google mapped it on the iPhone and handed it to him.  He looked at the map and just shook his head.  After 20 minutes of this he rummaged somewhere in the front and pulled out a GPS unit.  It was then, of course, that he realized in the tunnel like structure of lower O'hare that he could not get satellite access.  We had to leave, find a place to park, and then punch in the address.


It was after midnight when I finally made it to the Marriott.  God bless them, I told them I had no bag and they located a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and other items for me.  I managed to grab about 4 1/2 hours of sleep before heading back to O'hare and then the comfort of my home back in Kansas.


I'm thankful these types of trips don't happen very often, but they do happen.  The funny thing is, the more you travel, the more you increase your odds of a nightmare like this happening.  It's just the law of averages.  So if you have a friend or relative that spends a fair amount of time in airports, remember to cut them some slack every once in a while.  Sometimes we just can't help ourselves if we're a bit tired or grumpy.

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