Sunday, March 2, 2008

Travel 1, me 0

Travel kicked my ass today.

The 5:45 a.m. wake-up call brought to an end another night of bad sleep in Aspen. Not once in my stay at the otherwise lovely Aspen Institute did I sleep a full two hours in a row. Today was no different.

I was at the front desk ready to go at 6:25, per the plan. The snow, unfortunately, was well ahead of me.

We stood in the long check-in line at the Aspen airport, made it in what looked like a close call but proved to be anything but, and then did the usual security crawl.

That was about as much fun as we had the rest of the day.

We ended up sitting in the terminal until around noon, at which point they booked us onto a plane that might be leaving for Denver ahead of our original (7:55 a.m. scheduled departure) flight. People greatly outnumbered seats, so sometimes we sat, other times we stood. I drank a bottle of water and a bottle of Diet Coke, but I didn't eat in the stupid belief that the time estimates the airport staff were making had some validity. I really can't blame them; no one can control the weather.

We boarded our commuter jet--and sat for three hours on the tarmac. First, we had to get our turn with the one de-icing truck. Our chance came, but the truck was out of fluid. By the time it filled up, we had rotated to the back of the three-plane queue. We finally got our shot, but the truck ran out mid-way through, so we waited some more. When our de-icing was complete, we went out onto the runway and the pilot announced that we had less than the mandatory two miles of visibility, but that visibility was coming and going, so we were going to hope for the best. We had a fifteen-minute window during which visibility could hit two miles and we could take off. After that, we would return to the end of the de-icing queue. Fortunately, about ten minutes into the window we took off.

The plane was jammed, as you would expect. My bag wouldn't fit under the seat in front of me because the guy in front of me had filled that space with his extra stuff. He refused to move it when I asked nicely, and by this point I was afraid that asking less nicely might take me and this man to bad places, so I shut up and perched in leg-cramping postures on my briefcase. The young man next to me fell asleep and twitched, each twitch causing him to elbow me in the side. I considered speaking, but by then I feared I would not be able to be nice. So, I reminded myself of many worse situations I've experienced, worked on breathing slowly and deeply, and took the discomfort and annoyance. I tried to lose myself in the book I was reading (Gibson's Spook Country), but unfortunately I finished it too early. I had a spare book, of course, as well as a notebook PC, but I could reach neither due to the crowding. I worked on the Overthrowing Heaven outline in my mind and fought for self-control.

The flight, though often bumpy and continually unpleasant, lasted less than forty-five minutes. We taxied a while, made it off the plane--the joy of personal space awaiting all of us--and walked quite some way to the nearest United Customer Service Center. It was, of course, thronged.

After about an hour and a half, maybe two, in line there--I intentionally never checked the time and concentrated on being pleasant--we made it to the front of the queue. A very pleasant United agent then said that our options were a red-eye on Frontier or the same flight Monday that we were supposed to have taken on Sunday. Work awaits, and we wanted to be home, so we opted for the red-eye. No such luck; it was full. So, tomorrow we spend most of the day flying home. I lost my aisle seat, of course, so I get to spend over four hours in a middle seat. Still, that's tomorrow's problem, not today's.

Our luggage was basically unavailable. The man said we could try to get our bags from baggage claim, but that doing so would take at least two hours and most likely much more. We gave up on that option and choose to have them send the luggage to Raleigh with us. I don't expect to see my bags tomorrow, but so it goes; with luck, we'll all get our belongings one day soon.

We then needed rooms. Calling around was not a good option, because my phone's battery was running low and the charger was--where else?--in my checked bag. Gina came to our rescue and found us rooms at the rather nice Denver Airport Marriott, which is, in the way of big-city airport hotels, fifteen minutes from the airport. A forty-buck cab ride later, we announced ourselves at the registration desk--where the clerk said we had no reservation. I trusted Gina to have been right, and she had given us confirmation numbers, so we pushed back, and the clerk dug through some alternate reservation systems. He finally found the room reservations; the original clerk had entered my name as "VAN/NAME/MARK", thus confusing their system.

I've been working in my room for some time. I have no change of clothing, and my garments are on the funky side, so I am airing my socks--which leaves my exposed feet rather cold. If I warm the room, my sinuses will pay, so I decided to live with the cold. My feet became too cold to tolerate easily, however, so I adapted to my environment: wrapping one's feet in a large bath towel will keep them quite warm.

I unfortunately then discovered that getting so absorbed in your work that you stand and move quickly with your feet tightly wrapped can lead to amusing acrobatics. Fortunately, neither the glass of water nor the glass of Diet Pepsi spilled, and the notebook is safe. I will now pay more attention to my feet when I stand.

I have not eaten in twenty-four hours, and my day has sucked, but I am current enough on my work to suffice, and if this is the worst that life has to give me, I am lucky indeed. Or so I try to tell myself.

Time for calls home and then too much dinner, as I stress eat, but with luck at least the food will taste good. I hate the lack of self-control that leads me to overeat in situations like this, but I need an outlet right now, and that's the easiest one available.

I look forward to being home.

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