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ex machina

the hammer of the travel gods

so i'm trying to get from the conference at the georgetown university conference center to reagan national airport. i've given myself a more than adequate window of time to go the relatively short distance, factoring in traffic, airport security and getting lost. yes, that's right, whenever i'm in d.c. or the surrounding area, i've found that i need to allocate an extra amount of time to account for my getting horribly lost, since it's been my experience that it's a terribly easy thing to do. i think i remember an anecdote about the d.c. area street layout being designed to confuse would-be invaders and i can attest that it accomplishes the goal. one street turns magically into another and beltways turn into parkways which go over this bridge and that and before you know it you're in maryland.

anticipating problems i go to the front desk and ask them for directions to the airport and they oblige the request with an easy-to-read preprinted set of instructions. and sure enough, within five minutes i'm no longer on the street that i should be on and nothing looks familiar. so i start to backtrack and take another stab at carefully following every instruction on the piece of paper. no good. i end up on a street that's not to be found on the directions. i can see now that the fates are going to have their way with me, but i've got enough of a window of time to allow for a little navigational freestyling, so i decide to go with the flow and find a gas station with an attendant who can put be back on course. of course, i'm in the part of town where there doesn't seem to be a gas station. i think i see signs that indicate that i'm now in virginia. things are getting worse.

both my cell phones [ yes, i have two cell phones, don't ask ] are almost dead and i don't have a car charger for either. it's getting dark and i realize as i'm trying to turn on the roof light in the buick rendezvous to get a look at the barely usable avis map that roof lights are optional in this vehicle. so is the passenger "makeup light" under the visor flap. where should i find the one light in the car? it's a "makeup light" under the driver-side visor. i make a mental note that the buick rendezvous target market must be women with a need to apply makeup while sitting in traffic.

so the cell phones are dying and i'm trying to decipher an indecipherable map under the inadequate light without a gas station to be found. i decide to look for an avis number and find a listing of d.c. offices which, not surprisingly given the circumstances, doesn't include reagan national airport, so i call the dulles airport number instead, on the reasonable assumption that they'd probably know how to get me to reagan national. they can't. but the operator was nice enough to connect be to the reagan national avis office. i explained my situation to the bemused customer service rep. we tried to triangulate on the map where i probaby was located and she gave me a new set of directions and thought i could still get to airport under with enough time to make my flight. predictably, within 10 minutes, i'm not on any street she said i should be on and things are looking increasingly dire.

in situations like this, i try to become the detached observer, watching as the winds of chance buffet me here and there. i'm trying to come to grips with the fact that too many things are coming together that are out of my control. that i'm going to miss my flight and that it's all really very amusing. this approach is not working. at this point, i don't even know what state i'm in and i'm driving 50 m.p.h in a 35 m.p.h zone and muttering loudly to myself about the general lack of filling stations in the area. after about 15 minutes of this purgatory, i finally happen upon a gas station. i walk in with a crumpled map.

attendant: you're lost.
me: your powers of observation are overwhelming.
attendant: the map gave it away.
me: i'll need to keep that in mind next time. but you've guessed correctly. i'm so lost, that i don't even know what state i'm in and i've got to get to reagan national airport. fast. am i close?
attendant: [scratches head]. no. no, i wouldn't say you're close. i'm not really sure how to get there from here. lets look at your map. [time passes as he tries to decipher the it]. well, you're way over here. see. i think you should take this highway here for about 6 miles, get in the left lane and then take that highway there for about 15 miles and then you're on your own. there should be signs for the airport, but i can't rightly say exactly how to do it.
me: er. o.k. well, thanks for you help.

i'm back in the buick going way too fast and trying to figure out what i'll say to the trooper when i get pulled over. as luck would finally have it, there are no cops in sight, and i'm making good time. i see signs for d.c. and starting to regain hope that i might, just might, be able to catch the plane - if everything goes smoothly at airport security. i return the car, catch the airport transport bus to the terminal and run frantically to the to the united, with a mere 15 minutes to spare before the plane is supposed to depart. i quickly explain the situation and, surprisingly, the rep says that i've got nothing to worry about. "so i've got plenty of time to, you know, use the facilities." i say. she says, "you've got plenty of time," in an unnervingly calm voice.

the plane is delayed. it's more than delayed, it's not even at the terminal gate when i get there which is, officially, the time that is was supposed to depart. i see what look to be pilots and stewards and stewardesses milling around along with unhappy passengers. "ha! oh fortuna. their loss and my gain," i think to myself as i recklessly ignore tempting the vengeance of the travel gods. so i sit and i wait. and wait. i slowly realize that i an not ever going to make my connecting flight from chicago o'hare to gerald r. ford international airport in grand rapids, michigan. eventually, 45 minutes later, it is announced that the plane will begin boarding. "well, chicago is closer to grand rapids than washington, d.c." i think optimistically. "breath deep, young travelling grasshopper," i mutter to myself.

the tired and weary passengers have settled themselves into their seats, when we hear the pilot over the intercom. weather is bad in chicago and nothing is getting in or out, but they've decided to get everyone onboard so that they can get in the takeoff queue. "45 minutes to wheels up," he says.

20 minutes later, he comes comes back on the system and says that it might be 45 minutes more, which is met with a chorus of groans. at this point, i'm trying my breathing exercises and attempting to remember that this really is all very, very, very funny.

time passes.

eventually we takeoff and i listen to the airport tower chatter on the inflight sound system as i wonder what i'm going to do when i get into chicago.

an hour and a half of chatter later, the plane lands in chicago and i get off the plane to find that somehow, incomprehensibly, my flight to grand rapids, is in its final boarding call and only one gate away [ if you're familar with o'hare and united you'll know that occasionally you can walk a mile to get to your connecting united flight ]. i decide to withold any internal commentary on the relative luck or lack theorof that can be found in the situation and simply board, waiting for what comes next.

i'm in the exit row, which is good news considering that i'm 6'4" tall. the bad news is that all the "big guys" have requested the exit row. that's the good news. the bad news is that i'm in the middle seat, which means that i've what i make up in leg room, i lose in elbow room. "hi. ho." i think to myself. "it's only a 30 minute flight."

with impeccable timing, the 6'3" and 300 pound man next to turns the air nozzle on as i catch a whiff of a horrific fart.

and so i sit and wonder what i've done to anger the travel gods so, uncomfortably sandwiched between two large men who are larger than myself, forced to inhale stale farts, pondering what could possibly happen next.

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12/10/2003 11:47:00 PM 0 comments


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the complete tales & poems of winnie the pooh

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