On the Road: Worst. Trip. Ever.

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Have you ever had one of those trips where you knew you were doomed from the moment you booked it? I had that trip this week. Yes, it’s only Wednesday, but I had my most unbelievably crazy business trip to date. And I ain’t no spring chicken – I’ve been traveling for work a solid 15 years now.

I’ll set the scene with this: I started typing this post out last night on my flight from Dallas to Portland on an iPad keyboard because the lovely gentleman in front of me needed to recline his seat. He was kind of big, so the recline action and the mass of his body put his head about a Kindle’s length away from my nose, so I couldn’t use my laptop. It was as fantastic as it sounds.  And, honestly, because this – as bad as it sounds – was just the icing on the cake, I feel compelled to capture the amazingly unfortunate series of travel-related events I have experienced over the last 36 or so hours. Grab some popcorn. Maybe an iced tea. (Or a shot of vodka. Well, that’s what I would choose, but since what I am about to tell you happened to me, not you, some snacks and an iced tea seem like a better choice. Unless you want to sympathetically and virtually share a drink with me. I’m up for that.)

From the Beginning…

I found out last week that I had to travel to New York City for a meeting that started at 8 a.m. local on Tuesday.  Travel on a normal Monday? No big deal. But President’s Day is a holiday for my company, and the kids were off from school. Kenny was not off. So, now, not only am I traveling on a holiday, I am paying for child care. It all works out in the end, so no big deal, right? But then it was big deal as things started off bad and just kept compounding until I crashed into bed at 1:40 a.m. this morning.

Oh, You’re Here? Like in this Space Right Here?

Shockingly (!) I arrived at PDX with plenty of time (well, by my standards) to get through TSA, grab some water for the plane and use the facilities.

For some reason, the airport was so crowded that they were diverting traffic from one side of the airport to the other to help clear the TSA lines. The TSA agent told the sorry group of us at the very end of the line that our wait would be 15 minutes less if we could please head over to the other TSA check point.

A gal in front of me was so delighted by this news, and so eager to beat the rest of us traveling chumps to the other TSA line that she tried to burst through the line, regardless of the people, bags, stanchions in her way. Unfortunately for me, I decided to take a step at that same moment, at which point she rammed her roller bag into my right leg, causing me to pitch forward and stumble almost on top of her. (My left leg was off the ground to take the step, so her suitcase was, quite literally, under my feet.)

As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, she squealed, “Oh my goodness, I am SO sorry!” backed by the sound of two dudes gasping at the scene of me struggling to keep my balance and try my very hardest to not start a human domino effect in the TSA line. (While trying to get my footing, I had flashbacks to Ms. McCormick’s second grade classroom where my best friend and I got detention for this exact thing. Two boys shoved us as we lined up for dismissal, causing us to knock down our entire second grade class into a sea of limbs and extremities covered in navy blue chinos, plaid jumpers, blue knee socks and navy blue saddle shoes. A rather stark contrast to the neat double-lines that were the normal Catholic School dismissal form, right? So, the fact we had messed with the orderly perfection so prized in Catholic Schools landed us in the slammer. Throughout detention, my best friend was filled with red-faced fury at the boys who knocked us over. Not me. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. I cried the whole time because I was scared to go home and tell my parents I got detention. I hate getting in trouble – still, to this very day.) Anyway… Nice of her to apologize, right? The nicety was short-lived.

After recovering, and remaining mostly upright, save for some awkward moves that one naturally makes when trying to surf on a carry-on roller bag, I just kept walking, you know, to keep my cool/take it in stride. I am sure my deep frown outed me from actually  being cool and taking it in stride, but at least those in back of me believed that I was. However, this meant that she was now behind me and a bunch of others that gained ground since she had to get her rolling bag situated again. She quickly broke into a gait that was pretty much on par with Olympic Race Walking so she could pass me and make sure she was still in front of me when we arrived at the next TSA check point. And since my better athletic days are behind me, I didn’t really have a horse (or Olympic Race Walking hips) in this race. Of course, I was walking at a pretty good clip to burn off some humiliation and make sure I got my planned pre-plane activities done before boarding started, and because I had a few steps on her, I landed in line right behind her again. I am sure she had trouble styling her hair today because of the holes I bore into he back of her head with my eyes.

After I got through TSA (uneventfully!), I got to walk back across the airport to get to my gate. At this point, I am pretty sure the deck was even on whether all this traipsing around saved anyone any time. I think it was really just a way for the TSA agent to get some kudos from her supervisors for managing her line well. (Enjoy your medal.)

The New Public Gathering Area

As mentioned in this blog, ladies restrooms are the new it spot for catching up with loved one via telly and I know this first hand. I was delighted to listen to a few phone chats while hovering over a toilet. Imagine how excited the folks were on the other end as they listened to a medley of women in PDX tinkling and toilets flushing! Don’t miss out on this hot new trend – call some friends or family from the restroom and chat them up. (But, really, skip it. It should not be a thing. Ever.)

Uh, My Face is Here

Luckily, I had a decent seat on the plane to Phoenix (aisle towards the front) and settled in early. I was feeling pretty good – nice and calm as I got my iPod, headphones and Kindle out. I paused for a moment and sat up. I looked in the direction of the aisle. Smiled at a woman probably in her mid-60s. She smiled back and then turned around to speak to the young man behind her. Her backpack hit me in the face and knocked my glasses off my face. They sat perched on my face much like you’d imagine a crazy person – teetering on the tip of my nose, threatening to fall off any second. One arm kind of draped around my neck and the other pretty much entangled in my hair above my right eyebrow. And as I sat stunned that this was actually happening, I had one of those slow-motion television moments where the lady’s son let out what I received as a long, loud, drawn out, slow-motion cry, “Moooooooooooooooom! Be careful with your bag.” as my glasses gave up and slipped into my lap. I snapped out of it just in time to prevent them from falling to the floor and have this young man apologize to me on behalf of his mother. She just kept going, which I was kind of thankful for before her backpack could attack me further.

Can’t a Gal Get Some Linner?!

I arrived for my connection in Phoenix with about an hour and a half to grab what would be my linner (lunch and dinner combined). This was pretty important as I didn’t land in Newark until 11 p.m. I checked the monitor for my gate and then sat down at a Mexican restaurant that seemed to be doing some brisk business. I was seated and had placed my order within five minutes of approaching the hostess stand.

I was seated at the “traveling solo for business table”.  It was kind of like hibachi but without the fun of having some friendly, familiar faces around the table, that is, you know no one. There was a man directly across from me. Kind of awkward, especially considering there were plenty of other open seats they could have taken me to. Was the hostess trying to make a love connection? WTH. Don’t put me here! I didn’t say anything because the way my luck was going on this trip, I was afraid of what might happen. (Don’t worry, my bad luck found me. Keep reading.)

So…I sat at a long table across from my linner date waiting for my order. (For the record, he was kind of rude and just tapped on his laptop the whole time while chugging beers, so I watched the Olympics and read work emails. Totes kidding, btw. I could not have been happier he was glued to his laptop.)

A few more solo travelers joined us and placed orders.

My date ate his burrito.

I waited for my food some more.

The gal who showed up 10 minutes after me got her burrito.

I waited for my food some more.

The gal who sat down five minutes after HER got her food.

And, you guessed it. I waited for my food some more. Between burrito bites, the girl next to me asked why I hadn’t gotten my food yet. Uh, I am not sure, but I am losing my patience.

Finally the waitress stopped over and asked me where my food was. Hmmm. If you don’t know, I am concerned. That’s your job!

15 more minutes passed. A large group at the far end of the table – again, seated and ordered after me! – got their fare.

The waitress wouldn’t make eye contact with me. And magically, no other workers were ever anywhere in the vicinity.

Minutes were ticking by. My patience was pretty much non-existent at this point, but I kept it together.

She finally came over and told me – 20 minutes before my flight started boarding – that my food would be right out. Being a smart cookie, she brought my check so I could pay for it and not have to ask her. (Or, perhaps, so I couldn’t raise a stink and ask for my food to be comped?! Yea, probably that. Smarter than I gave her credit for initially 😉 )

My food came. I ate some of it, then headed to my gate. And by ate, I mean shoved a few forkfuls into my mouth before tearing out of there like I’d been shot from a cannon.

Looking Forward to My Flight to Newark

I picked the restaurant based on its proximity to my gate, so I arrived just as they called my boarding zone. I popped into the line feeling pretty happy that I made it on time and still got to have a little something substantial to hold me over until breakfast the next day.

I presented my boarding pass to the gate agent and the machine turned red and flashed and beeped.

Seriously!?

Seriously.

He looked at the screen and very sympathetically looked at me and said, “I am sorry, miss, you’re at the wrong gate. This plane is going to JFK.” You see, I was going to Newark. Same general idea, but not really. Precision is kind of important when you are traveling by planes.

SHIT!

And that’s exactly what I yelled. I couldn’t help myself.

I apologized to the agent and the gentleman behind me for cursing and took off. (They both told me no problem. They understood. Which for some reason really made me feel better at that moment. Like, “No problem, lady. Sorry you can’t read.”)

I arrived at Newark and settled into my hotel with no further problems that day.

7:55 a.m. Tuesday

Things really seemed to be turning around after a fitful night’s sleep. I woke up on time. Asked for and was granted a late check out. Enjoyed the pretty view of yet another East Coast snowstorm fluttering to the ground from my window 28 floors above Lower Manhattan. Got myself ready in plenty of time. Hopped on the elevator to the 52nd Floor for the meeting.

Popped off at Floor 52 into the lobby of what looked like a normal floor with guest rooms.

Strange.

I checked for meeting rooms signs.

None.

Checked the meeting agenda. 52nd Floor, 8 a.m. start. Right. Just as I thought. I emailed one of the VPs I was meeting with and asked him exactly where the room was. He tapped back a cheery “52nd Floor right across from the elevators.”

Yea, no. When I got off these elevators there was a window and two walls, one flanking  a hallway.

Back on the elevator, figuring maybe it was a typ-o and they actually meant the 54th Floor, which was the top floor of the hotel.

Couldn’t push the button for 54.

Hmmm. I looked around and saw a sign that said Meeting Rooms: Floor 4.

I hit number 4. Nothing, again. Uh, really?

I hit 3 and ended up in the restaurant, and explained my challenge to a nice waitress. “I am trying to get to a meeting on the 52nd Floor, but it looks like all guest rooms. Then I tried to get to Floor 4 where the meeting rooms are and it wouldn’t let me push the button.”

She was very sweet and said she was pretty sure Floor 52 was all guest rooms, and asked her manager to come over to help me. He asked what group I was with and I told him.

Then he said this, “Hmmmm. We don’t have a group from that company with us this week.”

Ummmm, what now?

I sure I blanched as I said less to him and more to myself, “Right. Of course not.”

I must have looked quite bewildered because he then said, “Is there someone you can call?” Yes, buddy, yes, there is. But she was in London and it would take forever for me to connect to her. So, instead, I sat down on some nearby steps and whipped out my laptop. I am sure this was great for attracting business to the breakfast shift these folks were trying to run.

I pulled up the agenda again and read every single line very carefully.

The meeting was on the 52nd Floor at the Millennium…Broadway. On 44th Street.

I was at the Millennium Hilton. On Church Street.

For real. One is in mid-town Manhattan, the other in downtown / Lower Manhattan. Apparently, contrary to my belief that I COULD actually read throughout the prior 32 years, I was mistaken. First the wrong gate, now the wrong hotel. Eff my life. (In my defense, though, the Church Street property is right up the street from the office, and most people stay there when in town, etc. It was only natural that I assumed we’d be at the hotel near the office because some of the later sessions were actually at the office!)

The poor manager stood by, raised his eyebrows and hopefully said, “So?”

I replied in my best East Coast sarcastic tone (which I thankfully haven’t lost after living in Oregon for over two years), “It IS on the 52nd Floor, just at the Millennium BROADWAY” and punctuated that with a laugh that probably made him want to call the bus for Bellevue STAT. He wished me good luck (ha! If he ONLY KNEW) and I hopped back on the elevator.

I rushed back to my room and threw everything in my suitcase. Of course, my carefree-because-my-morning-was-going-as-planned-self hadn’t packed because I had plenty of time to do that after my meeting and before heading to the office for my next meeting. Poor decision making at its finest. Ugh.

By now, I was a frazzled mess. Perfect for presenting to a group of VPs, who, by the way, were 10 minutes in to the meeting I was supposed to be attending. Luckily, my slot wasn’t until 9 a.m., so I still had time to get there before I made this a total CLM (career limiting move). I smoothed my hair, slapped on some lipgloss and ran out of the hotel with all my stuff.

Got a cab right away (thank goodness). The driver asked how I was and I said, “Very late for a meeting.” and launched into a short version of crazy, crazy morning. He assured me he would get me there as quickly as he could. I had :45 minutes to make it to Midtown Manhattan and my cab driver said we’d be there with time to spare.

I sent a “breezy” email to the meeting hostess and my VP friend with whom I was presenting that I would be at the meeting soon.

The cab driver asked me if I was enjoying the horrible East Coast weather and I said I was following it from afar, and then answered all the questions that led to me telling him I am originally from Philadelphia, but now from Oregon. Once he heard I was from Philadelphia, he launched into the finer details of his family trip to the Poconos. I will spare you them. I must have a friendly face or something because this never happens to anyone else I know in New York. Ever. (This actually applies in most cities.) They look at me like I am crazy when I say I can write a book about my cab driver and say things like, “Really? Mine just sang Reggae music the whole time.” or “No way. Mine just talked on the phone. Loudly.” I will say it was nice to sit and listen to him and add some comments based on what I know about the area (not much). It made me a little homesick, but after the last 18 hours I had, I appreciated his kindness. We got to the Millennium Broadway with 10 minutes to spare. As we pulled up, the cab driver said, “Thank you, Miss,  for letting me share my vacation with you. It was nice of you to listen. It’s my pleasure to have such a nice girl as a passenger. Most people don’t want to listen.” That made me feel sad. It must be a tough job.

It turned out to be no big deal that I missed the 8 a.m. start – they didn’t want me in that session anyway. Of course, I could have spared three new gray hairs had anyone told me ahead of time, but, hey, at this point, I was taking any semblance of things going my way that I could.

My meetings were meetings. One that was crazy, one that went well. (Oh and if you’re keeping track, I had about 6 hours of meetings for 16 hours of travel time; excluding sleeping and ‘down time’ like getting dressed and packed and commuting to and from airports.)

I left the office and got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight. Hooray!

Things were really starting to look up when the flight attendant on my Newark to Dallas leg moved me up into a premium seat and not one other person sat in the row with me. Woot woot!

Almost Home. Almost. As in Four More Hours. 

Landed in Dallas uneventfully and grabbed some dinner  near my gate (and by that I mean a frozen coffee drink). And then my gate changed. And changed again. Good, fun, hustling-around-the-airport times.

Finally at the right gate, and guess what – we’re delayed by 30 minutes. SHOCKING. So close to the finish line. But yet so far. So I sat around enjoying, as always, the fun characters that seem to appear for flights to Portland before we got on the plane.

I again had an aisle seat. And, just as I sat down, two babies began crying in what sounded like stereo. Because it pretty much WAS babies crying in stereo. One in front of me (3 months). One in back of me(7 months). As a mom, I am sympathetic to this for sure. But I was also super thankful for this year’s Christmas present from Kenny: Bose QuietComfort headphones. Popped them on, took out the Kindle and relaxed.

Until 10,000 feet, when, like synchronized swimmers, mom and dad in front of us reclined their seats. Then reached over an reclined Junior’s, which was the equivalent of my brother reaching over to recline the seat of my two-year-old nephew. Just no. Pretty sure that little guy didn’t need the extra leg room, but the poor guy behind him did. Oof.

For some reason – and I am pretty sure it’s because I was so weary of this trip at this stage – it seemed like the seats reclined FURTHER than normal seats do. Maybe I was actually just hallucinating at this stage. Who knows. I do, however, know for sure that was super uncomfortable for us. The older woman in the middle seat – I am guessing she was in her 70s – tapped my arm, pointed to them and rolled her eyes and shook her head. I nodded and smirked. Mostly because the sudden recline caused my knees to jam into the back of the seat and I hadn’t moved them. In fact, I may have purposely started fidgeting and kept my knees just so for most of the flight. Just maybe. Just maybe.

And, so, I am home. Flopped in bed at 1:40 a.m. Back up at 6 a.m. But happy to be with my family and having that crazy whirlwind of a trip behind me. 🙂

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