It all started when I broke my routine. I left my camera and cell-phone at home, since I would not be in Texas for long and needed to spend quality time with the parents. Also, because I was bearing gifts, I checked luggage. These decisions would prove to be bad.
I was up at 4 (as in AM) and out by 4:15. It’s a quick shot to Big City Airport at that time of the morning and I was in the parking-lot shuttle bus before the fact it was cold enough to see my own breath made me shiver. Tragically, everything in the airport was closed. I suppose, at 5 am, it was naïve to hope for the bar to be open ;-) but I could have used a bagel. The flight to Phoenix was unremarkable. I was seated next to a 300 lb man in a grease-spotted t-shirt who, when he put his luggage in the overhead bin, handed me his snot-nosed child who immediately began caterwauling. Yet, as soon as the plane took off, the kid lapsed in and out of sleep. Later in the day I was to look back on this bit of my travel time with considerable nostalgia.
In Phoenix, the trouble started. For some reason US Airways was running late on every single plane in its fleet. To catch up they were moving flights from gate to gate and we left nearly two hours late. This meant that in Houston I missed my connecting flight to Brownsville. I was able to fire off an email to My Sainted Mother (MSM) that I was probably going to miss that flight and she mentioned that I might also have trouble in Houston due to squally weather. Call MSM Cassandra.
In Houston I changed my flight from Brownsville (the next flight was full) to Harlingen and spent the next 25 minutes running around trying to get my luggage (see, that stinky luggage?) re-routed to Harlingen. In the end, the luggage woman could only promise that she would try to get it there.
Then came the 2 hour delay on the ground. Pushed ahead in 15 minute increments, of course, so you couldn’t really leave the gate. I did make two emergency beer runs, but that was in extremis. No explanation for this other than planes weren’t leaving other airports on time. Perhaps this had to do with the weather at those airports, but if it did, no one at Continental was saying so. Finally, we get out on the tarmac and the pilot says “we are now in line waiting to get in line for takeoff.” 20 minutes later, “we are now in a position to hear from air traffic control and… ooops, they’re telling me all departures have been put on hold due to the weather.”
Then came the 2-3 hour wait on the tarmac with the reliable “we estimate 30 minutes more” lie repeated every, well, about 30 minutes. On the positive side, we did get one cup of free water from the Sky-Waitress who spent the rest of her time hiding behind the foreward bulkhead and occasionally, hobbit-style, peering nervously around it to assess how likely a revolt was. At about the third of these “30 minute” announcements, the pilot dropped a little bomb. He only had 59 minutes left in which he could fly. The geniuses at Continental had scheduled a pilot who was running out of FAA time. Here is where my other pre-flight decision paid dividends (if by dividends you mean a big stinking aggravation). I didn’t have a phone, so I could not call MSM and tell her about the cancellation. As we sat on the tarmac, already cancelled, but not moving towards the terminal, this was a problem in my brain.
When we finally got back to the terminal, two other flights seemed to have undergone the same process – waiting and then once the weather cleared up, being scrubbed due to too-fine pilot scheduling. This meant three planes worth of people in line to talk to representatives who were quickly running out of seats the next day. I heard the man just in front of me snatch the last two early-morning flights to Brownsville, and I got the last ticket on the mid-afternoon plane to Harlingen. There were at least 20 people (from my plane) behind me and I have no idea when they will ever fly out of Houston or will live the picaresque life Tom Hanks lived in The Terminal.
The representative on the left (the one I got) was not telling people who spoke Spanish, or those who looked scruffy (which included me) that there was any kind of deal available on accommodation. Not only that, but all of the representatives were claiming that the cancellation was “out of their control.” This was ludicrous, since the planes had been hours late to leave, and when we pulled off of the runway we were less than 10th in line to leave, planes were already leaving regularly, and the pilot had already admitted that it was his schedule that was forcing us to return to the terminal. This claim meant that all Continental was offering was “deals” on local hotels. A rather shoddy thing to do, considering they had actually pulled planes from the flight-deck.
Back in the terminal the sole luggage woman was overwhelmed. Fortunately there was a machine which could scan luggage tags and give passengers information on where luggage was and where it was headed. When anyone used it, it blandly revealed that “information on the bag is not available.”
Rather than go through all that, I headed on the little tram to the in-airport Marriott. $160, but worth it to not have to go through the hassle of finding off-airport lodging. I was aggravated to discover that, given that hefty room charge, the swine wanted an additional 10 bucks for internet access and ruled I ruled that out for god knows what reason - I have been spending money like Ritchie-Rich on speed, but no intarwebs for me.
Everything was closed, but room service brought me four beers (after a 45 minute wait, which seemed excessive) and I drank them. I had planned to grab something from the “vending” machines noted on the floor-map and planned to get some crackers and peanut butter, or something like that. My plans of munching were flattened when I discovered that all they vended were various flavors of Pepsi. Odd, for a hotel which caters to an international airport and which closes down at midnight on weekends. I immediately began to feel starved. This goes to demonstrate the power of the stupid mind, since I had a mini-pizza for dinner and it was really not biologically possible that I could be hungry.
I watched a thoroughly idiotic movie called “Beerfest” which was so excessively retarded that it put me in a good mood and I went to sleep at about 1 or 1:30. Woke up at 10 and was amused to discover that the coffee setup had only caffeinated coffee and no sweeteners or pasty-white alterants. Now that’s how coffee is supposed to be here in the US! (Dear MAF, take note). I now sit here watching political TV while it perks away.
Political TV, tragically, has devolved into the local community show, and ESPN showing NASCAR and cheerleader championships. This is a clear sign it is time to move to the airport bar!
FINAL QUESTIONS: Who ever thought that “The Wiz” was a good idea? The yellow linoleum road? Michael Jackson doing his best blackface impersonation? Costumes out of a High-School Sci-Fi production? I am boggled.