Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Travelogue, part 1

Okay, first off, let me say these pics I'm posting from work (this one and maybe a couple more today even) are double hosted at this point, so even clicking on them they'll be smaller than I'd like...but you can deal, right? Cool, I thought so.

So, story time I guess! Well for anyone out there that needs to be brought up to speed, here's the deal. There's this girl. Kickass, amazing person, great friend for a whole lotta years, and for some reason unknown to my feble mind has agreed to marry me, deal with my insanity for the long haul, and buy houses and have babies and stuff. Boggles my mind, really, but that's just how it goes. I'm easily boggled. Ask her, it's true. But, the thing is...this girl...she happens to teach and live in a small village near the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska. Did I mention she kicks ass? So after some discussion and some creative (mis)management of my vacation time at work, a plan was hatched for me to visit her for a week or so in said village. Primarily to see her for the first time in months, of course, but also because as it stands at the moment, this is the village to which I will be moving at the end of this summer. Makes sense to check it out while spending some quality, non-internet-chat-based time with my honey. Of course, this plan had its risks...namely, the fact that the more time she has to actually spend with me, in person, before the wedding deed is done, the greater the chance she'll see the error of her original agreement to the proposal. But such risks must be taken in stride and delt with accordingly ;-)

Now, bear with me through the logistics. It's cheapest to fly out of O'Hare in Chicago, because it's one of the "hubs" of Alaska Airlines. So the plan was, in order to avoid the drive to Chicago and then parking for a week, to take a commuter flight there. Also found that, even on short notice (this plan was hatched mere weeks ago, dear reader!), flying out of Appleton was a better option than Mosinee...so the plan of attack read as such: 4:30pm Thursday, fly Appleton to O'Hare. 7:30pm, leave O'Hare for Anchorage, to arrive around 11:30pm, after the time change. Hang out in the Anchorage airport for 6 hours or so, leave there at 6:30am Friday for Bethel, AK. Arrive at 7:30am or so in Bethel, where my lovely Smacca will be awaiting, and then either explore Bethel for a few hours, or if the weather looked like it would be taking a turn for the worse, try to get a flight to the village ASAP.

Was it Eisenhower or Patton who said "even the best of plans rarely if ever survives first contact with the enemy"? In this case, I'll call airlines the enemy. Which is really unfair, because everyone I've ever talked to in my travels has always been nice and as helpful as they could be...likely because I asked nicely and sincerely. One thing about sitting in airports for as lengthy of times as I have the last couple trips...you witness a LOT of frustrated, angry, rude, and just plain dumb people giving airline employees a really hard time for things totally out of their control. Example - coming back, at O'Hare, the people in line in front of me when I was trying to check in to my flight at the gate had just missed their flight...like it was just pulling away from the gate when they got there. They were irate, yelling at the person behind the counter. Their excuse for being late? They had missed the earlier shuttle from the hotel, and the one that got them to the airport had put them there just late enough to see the plane doors close and for them to not make the flight. So they were yelling at the United Airlines lady at the counter. How this was her fault, it's beyond me. She put them on the next flight, didn't counter any of their rediculousness, and placated them enough to get them to leave the counter and let me check in. I gave her a little smile and eyeroll and said "I'm easy, I just need to check in", for which I got a knowing and unexpected smile in return. Not that I've worked much in a "customer-service" capacity (for preciely reasons like this, as I don't have the patience for such stupidity...I think I would have reached over the counter and bitchslapped these two. Besides, it looked like they had missed the earlier shuttle because they'd overslept hungover, and came to the airport in the clothes they'd been clubbing in the night before), but I like to think I can maybe make someone smile or at least not be premptively bitchy to me if I give them a little bit of a "yeah, I feel your pain, I know your job sucks too" kind of vibe. And it seems to work 9 times out of 10, and in this case I ended up talking to the gate lady for a minute or two and getting my stuff worked out nicely...her words were something to the effect of "haven't those two heard of walking? Or a taxi? Not much I can do when you show up to the gate after the plane's done boarding, dumbasses..."

Anyway! Tangent city! Get used to it, I have a ton of airport stories I might throw in for you ;-) And who knows how many parts this rambling mess might go!

So, back to the timeline...airlines. Decent people, alright to deal with if you're calm and realize your problem is (usually) not the fault of the person you're actually talking to. So the story starts Wednesday night, when after a stressful week (see earlier entries re: car problems, work sucking, etc.), I decided to join my housemates for some beers at a local establishment, thinking it'd help me rest, and thinking I would be sleeping in a while before having to get up and ready for the trip in the late afternoon. Beer was consumed, as was some schnapps. Maybe a little too much schnapps, but such things cannot be predicted once you start playing dice at a bar. So i get to bed around 3am, fairly drunk and beat from having only slept 4 hours the night before. Reset my alarm for 10:30am instead of 9:30. Bed was nice and comfy....

Until I'm awoken by my phone 3 hours later. Still half asleep, but subconsciously aware that the call may be important since I'm traveling that day, I find the phone and answer it. I'm wished a plesant good morning by an automated recording. The voice then tells me my flight has been cancelled, no reason given. But never to fear, I have been rebooked for another flight! As Mr. Recording gives me the number, I start chanting it in my head while I look for a pen to write it down and check out how it will affect my connection(s). As I'm typing it into the computer to search the schedule, I wake up enough that something the recording said finally hits me...the voice said I had been rebooked for March 17th....today is March 16th....they rebooked me for tomorrow? Oh HELL no! So I find my flight info and dial the customer service 1-800 number. Not surprizingly, I get another recording, United's automated service. Which is fine if you're on the road and you want to check if your flight is delayed, or you want to use a credit card to book a flight, etc. I need to talk to a person, and the menu doesn't even have a "stay on the line or press zero for assistance" option. So after exhausing my patience with the menu there, I look up united.com for info, and find another number. No dice, that number leads to the same automated menu. Now it's been half an hour or so, I'm fully awake, and I'm starting to get into panic mode. All I want is to talk to a PERSON and explain the situation and see if they can switch me to another flight...I had looked up all flights leaving Appleton for O'Hare that day, partly to see if the cancellation was weather related or if it was just random (it was random, all other flights were listed "on time"), and knew that there were two other United Express flights that day I could switch to if they weren't full...which I worried they were quickly becoming as I was struggling with phone menus and other canceled commuters were grabbing up empty seats. Then I remembered hearing in passing about a website that collects information about how to actually get through to talk to a person when dealing with automated phone trees. I googled it. Bingo. What you have to do with United, apparently, is fib a little. It told me to get to the part of the menu where you switch from punching buttons to saying "yes", "no", "window seat", or "Denver" or whatever they're asking...and then no matter what the question is, to keep saying "AGENT" until it's successfully convinced you're actually a travel agent, and automatically routes your call to the phone bank in, from the sounds of it, Calcutta.

So the nice lady in India understood enough of my english, off her script as it was, to understand I could not wait 'til the next day to get out and still make my next 3 flights, and got me on a different flight the same day. Only problem was that flight was at 11am, and it was now after 7am, and I had to shower, pack, and get a hold of my ride...who, being my father and all, dislikes driving in any weather, much less the ice/snow conditions that had developed to cause my hair to turn grey as I watched the forecast deteriorate all week. All meaning, if I wanted to get to the airport, which is an hour away, at 10:30 for an 11-something flight, he'd want to leave at, say, sometime between 8:30 and 9:00. Totally do-able, says my dad and brother (who wanted to ride along), and after a quick stop at Napa to use my brother's previous emplyment to get a discount on an alternator to be messed with after my return, we made it to the house and then off to the Appleton airport in plenty of time. Well, aside from the 5-hour difference from the original plan, of course.

More to come...I can't believe I've typed this much and I'm not even off the ground. Sorry. It'll get better, I promise you...

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