Monday, June 9, 2008

A day in the life - 24 hours of smartypants

(Consider this an explanation of yesterday's content-less post.)

Sunday, June 9, 6:30 AM EST: The alarm goes off. Roll out of bed, shower, finish packing.

7:15 AM: Review my itinerary, as follows:

-10:20 AM: depart from my home airport on the east coast
-11:25 AM: Land in my first connection: Dulles International, in Washington, DC
-12:25 PM: Depart from DC, bound for my second connection in Denver, CO
-2:07 PM (Mountain time): Land in Denver
-3:00 PM (Mountain): Depart from Denver for my final destination in California
-4:11 PM (PST): Land in California.

7:30 AM: Leave home for the airport

8:20 AM: Arrive at the airport. As expected this early on a Sunday morning, the place is nearly empty, so I get through ticketing and security without fuss. Like a good, conscientious traveler, I've arrived at the airport exactly 2 hours before my flight's departure time.

8:45 AM: Arrive at my departure gate. Flight is supposed to board at 9:50 AM. Read some email, do some expense reports, etc.

9:45 AM: There's no plane at the gate, and we're supposed to board in 5 minutes. This makes me nervous. My connection in IAD is tighter than I'd like already, if we get delayed here, it'll be ugly. Missing your first connection on a 3-hop flight across the country is always messy.

10:20 AM: We're supposed to be taking off, but still no airplane.

10:21 AM: A ground crew worker comes up the jetway. Someone else asks him what's going on (as if he had a clue). He responds that he doesn't know, but he thinks the airplane will be here shortly.

10:35 AM: Huzzah! There is an airplane taxiing to the gate.

10:49 AM: The flight boards.

11:05 AM: We take off. Kudos to the crew for turning the plane around so quickly, but I'm already giving up on making my connection.

12:08 PM: We touch down in DC.

12:15 PM: I'm off the plane. For those not familiar with IAD, the airport is divided into concourses that are on opposite sides of the taxiway, so you have to take these funky looking shuttle buses to get between them. They run every 5 minutes. I sprint to the shuttle entrance, only to see a shuttle pulling off seconds before I get there.

12:20 PM: The next shuttle is leaving, this time with me on it. From the shuttle, you can see the planes sitting at gate. I find my plane. It's still there! I know that technically they've closed the doors already, but I hold out hope. However, as we draw closer, I notice a bad sign: The ground crew is starting to move around the plane, prepping it for departure.

12:23 PM: Off the shuttle, and sprinting to the gate. I arrive, literally, seconds too late. If I'd caught the earlier shuttle, I would have been on the plane. Sadly, I watch it push off and depart as I'm standing in line at the service desk to get re-booked. The earliest available alternative has me re-routed through Phoenix instead of Denver, and that flight doesn't leave until 6:18 PM EST. I don't even want to know what time it puts me in California. The agent assures me that she has re-routed my suitcase, so it'll follow me through my new route and arrive on the same flight I do.

1:00 PM: Find a seat in a Gordon Biersch in the airport. Order a pint of Marzen and a pulled pork sandwich.

1:15 PM: The first (and pretty much only) positive thing today occurs. The bartender switches the TV right in front of me to the Canadian Grand Prix F1 race. I hardly ever get to watch an F1 race, so I'm pumped. It's a great race, but other patrons are constantly asking the bartender to flip to something else. At one point a frustrated gentleman simply declares "college baseball!" and walks out. I guess the bartender liked me or something, because she left the race on until the finish. At one point, another patron starts watching the race as well. I notice he has an Ironman Finisher t-shirt on, so we strike up a conversation. Turns out he had just completed the olympic-distance triathlon that took place on the very same racetrack the F1 cars are currently on. Later, after he's left, I overhear a woman describing the "half-iron marathon" (her words, not mine) her friend just completed to someone on her cellphone. It's kinda cool to randomly bump into two other triathlon-aware people.

2:45 PM: The race is over and I've managed to suck down a few pints, so I leave the courteous bartender a big tip and head back into the real world. The next few hours is a blur of email, magazines, pacing the gate, and trying to find other ways to waste time - something I'm not generally good at, at least in environments that I have limited control over. It just KILLS me that I'm cooped up in some building with thousands of strangers doing NOTHING for hours on end when I could be on my bike. Heck, I'd even rather be moving the lawn or scrubbing the bathroom floor - ANYTHING to feel productive. And the sad part is, I'm only technically an hour of flight time into my cross-country journey. At one point during this period, I log on to this blog and post the "I hate flying" message from my phone.

5:50 PM: The flight to Phoenix boards.

6:18 PM, EST: We're off to Phoenix. The flight will be 4.5 hours of the same nervous, fidgety, fruitless time-wasting efforts as my last several hours in the terminal. There's a movie on about treasure hunting divers (Fool's Gold or something like that.) It's OK at best. The acting is awkward and the script is contrived. Luckily, there are a few bouts of comic relief that are actually pulled off well.

Roughly 8:00 PM Phoenix time (Mountain? I don't even know what zone Phoenix is in): We land. Amazingly, I've never been to Phoenix before. I'm about to discover how much I hate it. The airport, at least. We deplane in Terminal 2. As it turns out, my connection to California is on a different carrier. It departs at 9:45, but is in Terminal 4. Since I have so much time, I wander Terminal 2 looking for food. Apparently, no one ever gets hungry after dark on a Sunday in Phoenix, because every single food vendor in Terminal 2 is closed. After discovering this, I wander around trying to figure out how the hell to get to Terminal 4. I finally realize that I have to go out through security.

8:30 PM: Still clueless about transportation to Terminal 4. No one that works here even seems aware of its existence (seriously). There is no indication of a shuttle or other option for getting there. It's not on any of the maps. Finally, I find a map that references "Terminal 3" and a walkway leading to it. At this point, I'm desperate, so I set out on foot. Turns out that the "walkway" is a sidewalk along what appears to be a bunch of highway onramps mushed together. I finally arrive in Terminal 3.

8:45 PM: More awkward sidewalks. Terminal 4 looms in the distance.

9:00 PM: I arrive at Terminal 4. Apparently, this is the real hub of the airport. It's busy and there are actually food vendors open. However, at this point, I'm beyond hungry and not really interested in Pizza Hut Express (been there, done that, never going to happen again thanks very much.)

9:15 PM: Find my gate, board the plane.

9:45 PM: We're off the ground.

11:15 PM, Pacific Time: Touchdown in California.

11:45 PM: I arrive at the baggage claim.

11:55 PM: All the bags have been unloaded. Everyone else on the flight has claimed theirs and left, except me and one other fellow. We both head for the baggage service desk. He gets there first, and proceeds to unload a stream of nasty on the poor desk agent about how he had his house and car keys in his bag, so now he has no way of getting home. (lesson: don't put your bloody car keys, house keys, or anything else important in your checked bags!) When it's finally my turn, I fill out the lost bag form and the agent checks the system. WARNING: EXTREME IRONY! As it turns out, my bag MADE THE CONNECTION in DC, and arrived in California at 4:11 that afternoon. However, since I'd switched carriers, it wasn't in this carrier's baggage office. And, since the carrier I was supposed to be on was done with all their flights for the evening, their baggage claim office was closed and locked - with my bag sitting just inside the door. How sad. They'll have it taken to my hotel the next day (today, that is.) Hopefully, as I'm writing this, my bag is en route to my hotel.

12:05 AM: I get on the rental car shuttle.

12:10 AM: Arriving at the rental car offices, I discover that the provider I have my reservation with is closed for the evening. (Yes, folks. I have now managed to experience EVERY SINGLE bad travel event in one single trip.) I find a desk that's still open and get a car from someone else.

12:15 AM: I'm on the highway headed for my hotel.

12:45 AM: I'm off the highway. My hotel is right next to the ramp. Also right next to the ramp is an In-N-Out Burger joint. Turns out they're open until 1 AM. Suddenly, I realize that I haven't eaten since 1:00 PM EST, which was 15 hours ago.

12:55 AM: I'm checking in to the hotel. In my hand is an In-N-Out bag with an animal style double-double in it.

1:10 AM, PST (4:10 AM EST, about 22 hours after I woke up Sunday morning): My head hits the pillow. I'm out cold.

5:30 AM, PST: The alarm goes off. I'm out of bed and on my way for the day. I've had a little over 4 hours of sleep. I have no clothes. Luckily, the agent at the baggage desk gave me a little pack of emergency toiletry supplies.

And that, my friends, is why I hate flying.

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