Friday, August 3, 2007

One More Night...

The day had started well. I woke up almost five minutes before my alarm was to go off. I showered and packed, checked out at the front desk, and made my way to the training center, anticipating the last day of class. I got there a full fifteen minutes before the office manager did, and contented myself to wait in the much-too-small and surprisingly uncomfortable Ford Focus that the rental agency had subjected me to. Fortunately, it was air-conditioned.

The Internet connection was down, a situation that was quickly remedied by the training center's talented and intelligent staff. Class was as productive and interesting as it had been all week, and by the end of it, I truthfully told my students that I had been bragging to the other instructors about how great they had been. We finished class with plenty of time for me to get to the Newark International Airport.

I had two sets of instructions which told me that I needed to take Exit 13A. As I approached Exit 13, with no signage in sight referring to any lettered exits, I incorrectly assumed that I was to take Exit 13, which would then split off into Exits A, B, etc. I found myself instead driving through town, desperately hoping that the signs that I followed towards the airport were correct, as they took me through neighborhoods that made the most desolute areas of Utah seem like Disneyland. Somehow, amazingly, I was led directly to the airport, where Helpful signs led me to the rental car return without further incident.

I made my way to my gate, happily noting in my mind that I was nearly three hours early. With my trusty laptop by my side, I was not the least bit worried. Not, at least, until I looked at the screen by my gate. It seemed odd to me that the next flight scheduled to arrive at my gate was not to get in until a ful lhalf hour after mine was scheduled to take off. A nagging worry took up residence in the back of my mind until it was announced that my flight would be over an hour late. As I was scheduled to have an hour layover in Cincinatti, my level of concern was steadily rising. It came as little surprise when my flight was finally officially cancelled, as I stood in line at the ticket counter.

I was not far back in line at the counter, but the two poor souls who manned the counter found it necessary to spend a minimum of fifteen minutes with each distraught traveller, probably giving them the same type of news that they would give me when my turn finally came. As I approached the counter, I asked what the chances were of getting into Salt Lake tonight. "Not very good," came the quiet, yet somewhat fervered reply. He booked me for the first flight to Salt Lake the next day, without asking for approval, and handed me a list of hotels in the area which I could stay at. When I asked about a voucher, I was told as blatently as possible that vouchers were completely out of the question, but that the Airport Ramada would offer me a "distress rate".

I discovered that the distress rate was identical to that which they were advertising on their site, but had little choice but to accept it. The blow was softened considerably by the fact that my company (or possibly their client) would shoulder the cost. I found myself waiting impatiently in the summer New Jersey heat for the Ramada shuttle to arrive. As it came into sight, I knew immediately that I would not be getting on it. A mob of impatient travellers rushed the van, shoving each other out of the way. A loud woman argued with an old man with a thick accent, almost immediately calling security to have him taken care of.

The small, balding driver stood impassively, loading other passengers' luggage in the back before drifting towards the argument to find out what security had decided. All those involved ended up crowding into the van, as I quietly held back, preferring another 20 minutes in the stuffy New Jersey heat than to share any amount of space with any of them. I dredded the thought of running into them in the lobby when I finally reached the hotel.

When the next shuttle finally arrived, it was driven by a very tall, no-nonsense looking man with glasses as dark as his skin, sporting a sleek cellphone earpiece that equated him in my mind with dangerous bodyguards or Secret Service agents trying desperately and unsuccessfullly to look like "regular people". I wondered briefly if the hotel had sent him in anticipation of "any more trouble." I took the last seat on the bus, riding shotgun, barely edging out a less fortunate man who was just a little too slow to hand the driver his bags.

We arrived at the hotel and I grabebd my luggage as quickly as possible, as my fellow travellers struggled to collect themselves next to the van. I was first to the counter, more as a feat of competance over the rest of the shuttle than of speed, and informed the clerk that I had a reservation. As I set down my book on the counter, the clerk got excited, as he was also apparently a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. As I scanned the lobby, unsurprised at how incredibly run-down the hotel was, my spirits were finally beginning to lift somewhat. I was given the keys to a room with a king-size bed and a TV with no decent channels.

Room service was quick, and the quality of the food matched my expectations exactly. My cajun burger was decently spicy, and my chicken fingers were nothing short of disgusting, and missing the accompanying honey mustard promised on the menu. In its stead, a good couple of handfuls of ketchup packets awaited me. By this point, I didn't care. The desk clerk had told me that in order to make a 7 o'clock flight, I needed to catch the 5am shuttle to the airport. Knowing that I needed to wake up at 4am (which is 2am mountain time, for those keeping score), my only intention was to get fed, get my story to that point typed up, and then go to bed.

We'll see how tomorrow goes.

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