What a Long, Strange Trip (episode 36)


It’s been a while since I was party to a major travel cluster **** (TCF).   For most of my life, I can safely say that the ratio of TCF to Uneventful Trips has been in the ballpark of 65:35.  Maybe even 70:30.  Since I had a commuting relationship with Roy for six years, and that commute involved Chicago’s O’Hare, and frequently Boston’s Logan airports, this ratio should be considered to arise from a Large Sample Size, in statistical terms.  Hundreds of observations.   And we’re talking a properly wide spectrum of TCF events, too – everything from the simple yet bizarre delay (the pilot’s seat needs to be replaced before the plane can take off) to the near-death-experience (3 flights en route that were very close to crashing, and saved at the last minute by heroics of a moderate quality).

My friends who have known me for decades just assumed that I was on US Air Flight 1549, the one that Sully Sullenberger had to land on the Hudson River.  I wasn’t, but I regard this assumption as being perfectly reasonable, given everything else.

My friends who have known me for decades also generally refuse to travel with me, especially if the journey involves a flight.   They’ll meet me places, they’ll go places in the car, but they won’t fly with me.  I tell them not to be silly.  Anyone who’s been as close to crashing three times as I have, and has not crashed isn’t a Jinx.  I’m Lucky.  I might as well be a big human rabbit’s foot.  Or the thing labeled “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass And Use”.  Now, I will agree that all the TCF short of near-crashes is just a walloping cart load of Jinx.  I’m on board with that.

Fortunately, Roy has the Good Travel Luck Fairy.  When Roy has a tight connection, he’s always seated near the front of the plane, or his plane just happened to land at the gate next to the connecting flight, or the connecting flight has a short delay.  When his flights get canceled, he’s rebooked, or put up at nice hotels and given some kind of generous allowance for dinner and hassle.  He has the most amazing Good Travel Luck of anyone I’ve ever met.

We both wondered, when we started traveling together, whether the irresistible force of his Good Travel Luck or the immovable object of my Travel Jinx would prevail.  So far, we can chalk the lead up to the irresistible force.

Then we get situations like today.

We’ve been out in the California wine country for a week now.  Roy hasn’t been home for almost three: he was in Australia before I flew out to meet him in California.  He was at a conference.  Sydney, where he was, is having Winter now.  When I flew out to California, there was a wretched heat wave in progress (not just “hot” according to Northern California standards, but “hot” according to Florida standards.  The heat wave was projected to break shortly after I arrived (and did, I’m happy to say).

What this means, briefly, is that we have a tremendous amount of luggage.  Roy, because he had to pack for a Winter Business Trip to Australia and a Summer Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour in California, and he had to plan to be gone for the better part of three weeks.  I, because I had to pack for a Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour in smoldering near-hundred-degree temps and a Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour at 55 degrees and fog.  No matter how clever you are about using versatile clothes (and we are) and how clever you are about planning for layering (and we are), this is basically four different extended trips we’re having to pack for between the two of us.  It’s a hell of a lot of luggage.

And then, there’s the shipping case of wine we bought.  It’s only got, I think, nine bottles in it, but it was built to handle 12.  You can’t go touring a load of wineries without buying some wine, for pete’s sake.

I hear you saying “Why in the name of all that is holy didn’t you just have the vineyard ship that stuff back to you?  They do that all the time.”

And what I say to that is “Not to the Commonwealth, they don’t.”

Massachusetts has an assortment of bizarre protectionist laws that have more than a whiff of Organized Crime to them, as far as I can tell.  Someone here said “It’s the lobbysists.”  I said “Speaking of ‘Massachusetts lobbyists’, have you been keeping up on the Whitey Bulger trial?”

The rule, as far as I can tell, is that if a wine has a distributor anywhere in Massachusetts, the winery is prohibited from shipping directly to persons living in the state.  That goes for wine club members (usually, when the tasting room people start chatting about the wine club, all we have to do to get them to stop is to tell them we live in MA) and it goes for shipping wines back to save people the hassle of having to check it as baggage.

There are a lot of things I like about living where I do, but crap like this is not on the list.

So here we are, getting into San Francisco late last night, with a rental car to return a zillion miles away from the airport (there’s a little airport train), three large valises, a shipping case of wine, and three carry-on bags.

Plan A:  Roy will drop me, one valise, the shipping case, and one carry-on off at the departures desk, I will check the bags, go through security, and await his arrival at the airline club.  (Yes, I know…First World Troubles…but when you do as much traveling under duress as we do, it makes sense.)  He will pilot the car back to the rental center, and bring the other two valises and two carry-ons to the airport, check in, meet me at the club. We will then board our flight at 11am and sail home on a pair of Frequent Flyer first-class tickets, arrive at 10:30pm, take the shuttle out to the suburbs, and pick up our car from the park-and-ride, and arrive home around 2am.

Everything was in line…FROM OUR END.

The airline? Not so much.

I was awakened by a call on my cell phone – which was on purely to provide a 7:30am wake-up call – from the airline telling us that the pilot left the plane in San Jose.

They wanted us to go down there and get it.

Really.  I don’t think it counts as losing the plane if they actually know where it is.  I’m guessing this counts more as misplacing the plane.   Some story about weather, and landing the plane in San Jose late-ish last night, and that’s still where it is.

Now, the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts that crossed my mind – and I’m afraid I’m well into the 2,567, 2,568 and 2,569 thoughts, and they’re still the same thought – is “If your guy left the plane in San Jose late last night, and you knew this then, why doesn’t someone fly it to San Francisco where it needs to be?  It’s not like we’re talking a situation where the pilot landed the flight at 2am, three hours late, and the craft needed to be used for another flight at 6:ooam.  Because I’ve been involved in that situation before too.  No.  This is a flight landing, evidently on time, in a town 40 miles away, in the evening, and the plane needs to be available for a flight that is supposed to take off close to noon the next day.

Bring the plane back to San Francisco this morning.

This, to me, does not seem to be rocket science.  I’m sure it’s slightly complicated, and I presume there are ripple effects in the scheduling of flights in and out of SFO due to the crash the other day.  But I’m still pretty sure that the Right Answer does not involve calling every single person who is booked for a transcontinental flight at 7am and telling them they need to magically get themselves down to another airport that is 40 miles away, through stupendous amounts of traffic, in the next two or three hours.

What the hell?

The military has all manner of Colorful Acronyms for this kind of thing, all of them unprintable, and all of them featuring – somewhere – the letter “F”.  SNAFU.  FUBAR. Charlie Foxtrot.  Or, as I’ve used here in the past, ****.

I listened to how we MIGHT be able to score a pair of coach tickets on a flight to LAX leaving in 45 minutes, and make it to Boston at midnight.  At this point, I simply said “Roy, deal with this please.” and handed her off.

Roy had been listening to this Charlie Foxtrot unfold while brushing his teeth.  So he was primed with the essential information.  Despite this, he obliged the customer service rep to go back through the entire scenario for him at that point.  This is part of his Magic.  My friends have turned his name into a verb by attaching -ed to it when discussing how Events Unfold once he gets involved in them.  Roy has several exciting areas of expertise, but Negotiations With Someone Who Appears To Be Attempting A Fast One have got to represent the pinnacle of his brilliance.  

The first thing he engineered was an expense-paid taxi from the airport down to San Jose.  He then considered the traffic and the vast amount of baggage, and decided that we’d never get there in time.  Move on to the next point.  Listening to him work was a sheer pleasure, especially since I knew that we’d eventually come out of this with as little inconvenience humanly possible. He did it, too. Unfortunately, it means taking a Red Eye, which I hate because I can’t sleep on planes, but we can check our bags early, and we’ll get there at a reasonable hour to catch the shuttle and get home in the daylight.  The good news is that we can now play Tourist in San Francisco for the day, and we’re going to take a boat cruise, which I love doing and wished we’d had time to do earlier.

Now to call the house sitter, and to attempt to pack all our stuff down so we only have one carry-on to haul around town today.  This will be the Packing Job of a Lifetime.  Good thing I have advanced degrees in Spatial Sense and Logistics.


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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