Sunday, November 1, 2015

Escaping Austin: The Failure

Friday morning, I awoke before eight a.m. to begin what I thought would be the usual trip home from Austin.  I turned on the TV and selected my usual channel (NBC, because I hate the sound of The Today Show, so having it on encourages me to hurry).

A weatherman was speaking loudly and urgently.  "Repeat, we have a confirmed tornado sighting and flash flooding all around the greater Austin area."

These are not words you want to hear first thing in the morning.

The good news was that the tornado had touched down well south of Austin.  The bad news was that it was moving north.

I considered going right back to bed, but if the storm faded and flights were on time, I would have lost a ticket we'd already purchased.  So, I showered, checked out, and walked into the rain to load the rental car.

Just that short time in the rain left me damp, but the rainfall was still mild, so I was heartened.

Off we went to the airport.

What followed was about 45 minutes of some of the most harrowing rain driving I've ever done.  I took the most direct route--the toll road, which features an 80-mph speed limit--and hoped for the best.  I started out able to sustain 70, but by the end the rain was a thick gray wall so dense I was barely able to hold 35.  Giant trucks going 80 slalomed by me, their drivers apparently willing to risk it all to reach their destinations sooner.  Sections of different lanes proved to be flooded with a foot or more of standing water.  My rental's lights were no match for the falling water, so I couldn't see more than a few car lengths ahead.

We did ultimately reach the airport safely, for which I was very grateful.  After getting soaked walking from the rental car facility into the terminal, we stood in a long line, got our boarding passes, and headed through security.  We'd left early enough that we still were 45 minutes from departure time.

That time, however, no longer mattered, because the flight had slipped from 10:45 a.m. to noon.

No problem.  When stuck in AUS, do the sensible thing:  Have Salt Lick lunch and some ice cream from Amy's.  We did, and both were delicious.

From there, we headed to the Admirals Club, where I learned they had delayed the flight again.  No problem; I can work in an Admirals Club.

I settled into a chair just in time to hear the announcement that American had canceled our flight.

I then commenced a ritual that dominated the next many hours:  Queue up.  Wait in a slow line.  Get a new flight and new boarding passes.  Settle down to work.  Hear the next cancellation announcement.




At this point, the Admirals Club team delivered the news that prospects for anyone's departure had turned grim.  It seems, as best I could gather, that the tornado's path had changed so that it was headed toward the airport's tower.  They consequently and sensibly evacuated the tower.  The tower then flooded, so that by the time the tornado was no longer a tornado and no longer headed for the tower, no one could get into the tower.

Then the ramps to the runways flooded.

At this point, the Admirals Club folks announced that the airport would be closed for departures until at least three o'clock.

At least I then got some work done.

Sometime after three, they canceled my last flight, I did the queue/wait dance, and I learned that I was not going home that day.  Instead, I was on an eight a.m. flight the next day.

I'd been coordinating with Gina back in the office, so she got us rooms in a great downtown hotel (the Westin) and a rental car.

We collected our luggage, walked to the rental car center, and learned we had no car yet.  No people were on staff to help, because, as we later learned, most of their staff had called to say they would not be able to make it to work.

We found a young man who was in his fourteenth hour of work but who was still running hard and being extraordinarily pleasant.  He got us a car, the confirming email hit my phone, and off to the car--which was, of course, on the far side of the facility--we went.

I had just opened the car's trunk when a wild-eyed man ran at me, waving a contract, screaming, "That's my car!"  I also had an email contract for the car, but he looked crazier than I felt, so I told him by all means to take the car.  He immediately calmed and was polite and grateful.

The same young man who had helped us before happened to witness this exchange, so he pulled a car from a line, drove it over to us, and then arranged for the contract to be waiting by the time we reached the exit.

That dude deserves a bonus.  I wish I'd caught his name, but his badge had blown off.

At the checkout line, the guy helping us said, "I just clean the cars.  I don't know how to use this thing, so this'll take a while.  Me and this other guy are the only ones here."

The tablet rebooted.  Our helper ran to the other person on duty--the omnipresent helpful young man--and learned how to log on and to check us out.

We exited the airport, drove through a far milder but still annoying rain, and eventually reached the Westin.  I settled down to work not quite nine hours after I'd left my previous hotel room.

Sometimes, you just don't get to leave town.


Anonymous said...

"Sometimes you just don't get to leave town." That is a great noir one liner.


Mark said...

Thanks for noticing. I try to amuse myself, if sometimes only myself. This time, I amused two of us!


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