Take the title any way you wish.
The people seated in the rows immediately adjacent to my seat on the plane must have all been decent, God-fearing people, because whatever lord they prayed to protected them from danger last Tuesday afternoon. I ran out of highly combustible gases shortly before they would have made me Public Enemy #1 on the Raleigh-Durham Run. The paper bag I’d brought along to wear over my head to preserve my anonymity if necessary was unused.
I wasn’t nearly so lucky in my room assignment as I was last year when I attended. Instead of having a room just around the corner that was easily accessible during breaks in the action, I had a room on the fifth floor, all the way to the back of the hotel. While it was less accessible, it was far less noisey, since I didn’t have symposium people out in the hallway at all hours of the day and night. I really like staying at this place; I just wish I could afford to when I’m bankrolling the trip myself.
Over half the convention was run by military types, and their talks were among the least helpful. The public health and private industry sectors brought some provocative, informative information to the table, but by and large the military only brought canned talks, many of which most of us had heard already. The most important part of the meeting was networking though. I don’t particularly like the word “networking”. It makes it sound as if we’ve all come some big party to spend most of our time socially mingling through the crowd. I was able to meet with several people who work public health in my specific area of the country though, and also with a veterinarian serving for the state government of a state immediately adjoining mine. I also met several people who serve in industry on the national level (one sought *me* out, which was very flattering). I achieved what I’d hoped to during the sessions, but I’m really glad to be home now.
The trip home, however, did not occur as smoothly as I’d have liked. Indeed, it nearly didn’t happen at all yesterday. After the last workshop, I grabbed the first shuttle to the airport, along with the vet from a neighboring state who was taking the same flight as I. We went to the ticket dispensing machines to get our tickets, only to discover our flight was cancelled. Now, we were at the airport nearly four hours early, so while this was a pain in the patoot, it wasn’t an insurmountable problem. The nice young US Air employee who was stationed at the ticket dispensers told us to to wait in a certain line to our right and we’d be taken care of.
An hour later we were still waiting in that line, and hadn’t moved an inch from the positions we’d taken an hour previously. We were in fact the next ones in line to be served, but had the misfortune of getting in line behind a group that were going to miss their connection to Jamaica because they had been on the same cancelled flight as we had. The nice young US Air employee had been by several times to tell us that someone would be with us soon, but he was clueless as to who would be with us and exactly when “soon” was going to happen. Apparently US Air Employees have a totally different grasp of the concept “soon” than do normal people.
Finally, the vet I was standing in line with went up to the automatic ticket dispenser in frustration, and tried again to get a ticket. This time the dispenser offered options to transfer our tickets to. Of the three options offered, two were cancelled. The last possibility though was a flight to Philadelphia through Charlotte. It was slated to leave at nearly the same time as our originally flight, but because of the Charlotte layover we’d be getting in nearly two hours later than originally scheduled. He and I and the two people in line behind us (who had also attended the same symposium and were also on our cancelled flight all got tickets for Philadelphia via Charlotte. They were the last four tickets left, and those waiting in line behind us were still screwed. I can only hope that the nice young US Air employee who came by at regular intervals to tell them to continue waiting and someone would be with them shortly wasn’t killed by the unhappy mob before they were all finally assisted.
The first leg of the trip was uneventful, and we arrived to the Charlotte airport on time. It was a far larger airport than I’d expected, and filled with shops and restaurants in which we could kill the two hours during our layover. The four of us who’d managed to squeak onto these flights stuck together as a group, and three of us had a wonderful dinner a Chili’s while the fourth (who didn’t want anything to eat) stayed in the waiting area to make phone calls and watch our bags. We joked about the flight cancellation, the symposium, our jobs, and life in general. The two hours literally flew by, and we found ourselves scrambling back to the waiting area with only a few minutes to go until they were to have started loading our plane.
We shouldn’t have rushed. There was a line at the service counter at our gate that extended well down the hallway of our terminal. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had been desperate to make Philadelphia this evening, and the game of bartering for seats in the overhead storage and on the wings had begun. Seats were misbooked, tempers were frayed, and my little party had front seats to the show. When we finally started boarding nearly a half an hour late, every single seat had been taken.
You know that rubbish about one piece of luggage and one personal item for carry-on? Don’t believe it. People were bringing entire estates on to that plane. I was in the front of the plane, and so among the last to be seated. By the time I got there, there was absolutely no overhead storage space for my single piece of luggage in my area. I had to walk to the back of the plane and use one of the aft overheads to stow my stuff. The problem then is, or course, making it back to the front of the plane to my seat. NOBODY was willing to let me try and squeeze aside against the flow of traffic. So I stood there and waited (having to explain to two stewardesses who admonished me to take my seat why I wasn’t taking my seat) until the plane was nearly filled.
After climbing over one last seat to assume my seat, I discovered that the seat next to me was empty. Glory alleluia! There was actually one empty seat on the plane, and it was mine-all-mine to use as overflow. Then the inevitable happened. A stewardess with a little kid approached. When they got to my row, they were met with by a woman who cam up from the back of the plane.
Eavesdropping revealed to me that this was a stewardess and her young daughter. The woman had been booked on the flight so she could work on a flight out of Philadelphia. I’m not sure what the deal with the kid was, but regardless, she was along for the ride. Apparently they’d been told there were two seats left on the plane they could have, and while they had found mine, they’d been poking around looking for the other empty seat, which turned out to be all the way in the back. They were just deciding to leave the kid with me and put the stewardess in the back when I decided there was only one possible course for self-preservation.
“Don’t you want to sit with your daughter? I’ll move to the back, and you two can sit together here.” The man to my right turned to watch with a rather dour expression on my face, but I ignored him. He was doomed to sit with the kid no matter what.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked the flight’s stewardess. “The seat’s in the back of the plane.”
“Not a problem,” I replied as I was bending down to get my briefcase out from under the seat ahead of me.
“I mean it’s really in the back of the plane,” she repeated.
“Consider it my good deed for the day,” I responded. “I was running behind on those anyhow.” I didn’t bother explaining that the good deed was for myself. Let’s face it. I didn’t want to be stuck babysitting, and I sure as hell wanted this plane off the tarmac and in the air, which wasn’t going to happen if we all stood around discussing this in committee. I headed to the back of the plane with a hail of thank-yous behind me and the flight stewardess’ promise that I’d be looked after on the trip. And indeed, I did get a second pack of pretzels and a free bottle of white wine from first class to take with me at the end of the flight.
One final problem had to be surmounted. We’d landed in Philly at 11:50 (over two hours later than the time my original plane was to have returned me home). I’d used the regional rail system to get to the airport. The last train out of the airport left at 11:45. And it’s a loooong walk home. In a final stroke of luck, the vet from the other state over offered to drive me home. When I realized that this was going to lose him nearly two and a half hours, I thanked him and offered a compromise that would still save the day. He dropped me off at the exit of the interstate that was closest to my home and still along his route, and the Socialist picked me up there. We lost three-quarters of an hour waiting for his luggage, and another half an hour waiting for the shuttle to long term parking, but at two in the morning he dropped me off at the exit to the Great Western, when the Socialist awaited.
The worst thing about travel is travelling.