Ah, December. It’s time to go out and pick out a tree, bring it home, discover it doesn’t fit, return it and pick out another one, take it home and decorate it. It’s time to brave the traffic on the freeway and go to the local malls where normally civil people have turned into grunting barbarians who are on hair triggers. The season is Christmas (or Yule, Hanuka, Kwanzaa, whatever your holiday of choice may be). For many, it’s a time of getting together with family to celebrate. And for some, getting together with family requires travel plans.
I hate planning travel. I hate the holidays, too, but for an entirely different reason. My birthday is December 25.
I live in sunny California with my husband. My family lives in freezing Pennsylvania. They wanted us to fly to Pennsylvania to spend some time with them over the holidays. Okay, no big deal, right? PRICE GOUGING at the airlines! To fly from LAX to PHL (that’s Los Angeles to Philadelphia for those not in the know), it was going to cost us over $1000. Who has that kind of money at Christmas? Normally to fly across country, it will cost the two of us approximately $650 on Southwest Airlines. My sister and my aunt decided to go in together and purchase my husband’s plane tickets while I purchased mine. Great! Not a problem. We picked a flight that gave us a short layover in Chicago and put us in Philly about 9:15. We then purchased train tickets from Amtrak to leave from Philly at 10:45pm (the last train to Harrisburg) and everything was set.
Until we landed in Chicago on December 21st.
We deplaned and went to our next gate only to find that Philadelphia International Airport had overbooked their terminal. How, may I ask, does one overbook an airport?! Do you have no idea how many planes are coming in? So, we were stuck, in Midway airport, for two hours. Which, is not in and of itself bad. But, when you have a 10:45 train to catch and your plane isn’t leaving the Central time zone until 8:15, it causes a bit of stress.
The Amtrak people were very nice when I called them and explain the situation. They politely told me that there were no more trains leaving Philly that night and that the next available train was at 7:20am. Yay. I called my family in Harrisburg and explained the situation. They were no help.
Finally, we got on the plane and took off. When we arrived in Philly, we found that not only had we missed the last train, we had missed the last bus, as well. So, I called my mother to find out if she could get us a hotel room. She called one of the local hotels and explained our predicament and wanted to pay for our room for us. The hotel would not accept her credit card information over the phone without a faxed authorization from her. She as at home. At 1am. Now, I understand there are security measures that need to be in place, but I’m just wondering how frequently this particular scenario happens that you would refuse lodging to someone who is stranded by no fault of their own.
Plan… M? My husband called his brother in California. His brother was very gracious and loaned us some money to rent a car/get a room/get some place that wasn’t freezing cold. We decided to rent a car and just get the heck outta Dodge (or Philly in this case). As a side note: Philly is not more fun when you sleep over. At least not at 1am on December 21. We finally saw the Alamo/National Rent-a-Car bus drive by. We tried to flag them down, but apparently, they were full. So, we waited another eternity of 10 minutes for the next one. When we got to the rental center, the manager on duty directed all those with reservations to the kiosk. When we didn’t move, he said, “Do you have a reservation?” We said we did not and he said, “I don’t know why the driver brought you. We don’t have anything available. I need to tell him to start telling people that…”
We started to leave and by this point I was pretty upset. I think the long string of words that shouldn’t be uttered from a woman’s mouth caught the attention of the manager. He brought us back inside and miraculously, a car was available. Pontiac Vibes are very nice. It was 1:45am and we had an hour and a half to drive to Harrisburg. We were both pretty awake since, for us, it was only 10:45pm (that whole time zone thing). By the time we got to my parents’ house, however, we were delirious and exhausted. It was about 3:30 to 4:00 in the morning. We clamoured to the guest room and crashed till about 10:30am Saturday morning.
The visit was wonderful. We had forgotten, mostly, about the Trains, Planes, & Automobiles type experience of Friday (which, we found out at church on Sunday, was National Humbug Day. When queried as to how many celebrated that day, my husband and I raised our hands). We met with friends, spent time with family, wrapped presents for my nieces and nephew and just had a blast. My birthday went by without too much pomp or circumstance (though the circumstances of our travel loomed in the back of my head). Wednesday, December 26th came and our flight out was at 7:15pm. With two hours, tops, of a drive ahead of us, we set out.
It was pouring rain.
When it pours rain in Pennsylvania, the normally intelligent drivers become severely asinine and the idiot drivers become…well, let’s just say replace the “inine” from “asinine” with “sholes” and you’ll have it. Four hours later, we were dropping off the rental car and riding to the airport. Four hours–and most of that was on 476, not the Turnpike! We missed our flight. My husband and I waited to talk to a Southwest representative and explained the situation. She asked us, “Do you have any friends in Chicago or Houston?” I am an internet junkie, I suppose, and have friends all over the place. I called my two friends in Chicago, explained our conundrum, and pleaded with them to pick us up and provide us lodging. One said he’d pick us up and the other said he’d provide us lodging and alcohol. Our flight out was originally scheduled for 12 noon, but they found an earlier flight that would suit us better. It left at 6:55am. Both of my friends lived about an hour from the airport. So, Mike picked us up and the four of us went to Eric’s house for alcohol and chatter. We stayed up all night–really, what choice was there? We got into Chicago at 10:45 and had to be back by 5am. So, we stayed at Eric’s with Mike and just hung out. When Mike drove us back to the airport, we very groggily said our goodbyes and went inside.
We got settled into our gate area only to be told that we were switching gates. So, at the new gate, we settled down and watched the time tick by. About 7:15, we started boarding the plane. Once we got seated and the flight crew went through their annoying spiel about seat belts, air masks, and smoking, we finally took off. Once the captain said we could use our “portable electronic devices,” my iPod was on and I was out…for an hour. I woke up and started working on puzzles to keep my brain from self-destructing. My husband rested, but not well. He was getting sick from exhaustion. When we finally touched down, we went straight to the baggage terminals and grabbed our stuff, then headed for the shuttle to the metro station. Our shuttle driver, apparently, was going for land speed records. If you saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then you remember Ernie the Bus Driver. I swear, he was our shuttle driver. “Hang on! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!”
When we got to the metro station, we once again, had to wait for the bus to be ready to leave. I had my iPod and was crazily dancing to the Safety Dance and other tunes. My husband was sitting on the bench looking rather green. We climbed onto the bus, huddled into our seats and took off. Stop. Go. Lurch. Stop. Lurch. Stop. For forty minutes. We got off the bus and started toward our apartment and I could tell my hubby wasn’t happy. We got upstairs and before we could hug the cat (who was quite upset with us for having left him alone for five days–and didn’t care that we’d been stranded), he went straight to the bathroom and proceeded to regurgitate whatever was in his toes. I had some coffee and decided to watch a movie. I popped in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and promptly fell asleep somewhere around the time the earth blew up.
All of this would have been wonderful and fine. Except…my husband has children from a previous marriage. And they were visiting. We had to pick them up from his parents’ place (which, fortunately) was ten minutes away. And they wanted us to open presents, etc., etc. We woke up about 4pm, having slept for about 3 hours, showered (to which I said, “YAY! CLEEEEEEEEEAN!), then piled into our ’68 Beetle and made the trek to his parents’ place. Thank god not much can happen between here and there! It is, after all, Sunny California!
Happy Holidays and may your travels be…smooth. And don’t forget your towel!