Friday, November 21, 2008

Sleepless (stuck) in Chicago...a story...

This has taken me a little time to put together as I've been extremely busy. I've also talked through the story several times so hopefully the written version is OK. Needless to say the animated verbal version is more fun (in my opinion), but I don't want to set up the camcorder and do some kind of YouTube experience of this and honestly the story isn't that good. Sheesh...with all this hype maybe I should just end this entry now....
No, I've got pictures so I need to do this. OK, moving right along...I went to Portland, ME on business and had an OK time - for business purposes it was a very valuable meeting, but because of where the hotel was it left a lot to be desired in terms of after conference adventures. Due to flights and airfare price I decided to leave Portland on a later flight on Wednesday, November 12th which gave me a little time to go into downtown Portland for lunch (at DiMillo', the annual trip to the Shipyard Brewing Company (here), etc.

After our downtown adventure we headed off to the airport. As we stood in line (which was a very short line) we heard folks talking about our flight and that it had been delayed. Upon reaching the counter the airline decided to put us on a flight to Washington, DC and then from Washington to SF. We went off to have some dinner and all was well. Beers later (which is a time frame, mind you) I got a call from the airline (signing up for that when you book is a good idea) which told me that my flight from Washington, DC to SF was cancelled. I approached the gate and they put me back on the flight to Chicago and said that my flight to SF from Chicago was delayed so there shouldn't be a problem getting home. Cool.
We arrived in Chicago to find out that our flight to SF had left. Customer Service told us that there weren't any more flights going to the Bay Area...SF, San Jose or Oakland...not even Sacramento. This was around 8:00 pm. In Chicago. Not a single airline had service to the Bay. Not one. I was amazed. A little rain and fog had grounded us. We were put on the 7 am flight to SF.
We called around to some of the hotels in the area. All booked. I called a buddy of mine who lives about an hour away from the airport, he was sick, was willing to pick us up, but I didn't want to put him out. He said that the traffic going to the airport was so bad in the mornings that it could take hours to get there - meaning - we'd have to get up around 3:30 am to make our flight. He called me back later and said that if we could take a cab to his place he could have a company car (from his wife's employer) pick us up and bring us to the airport in the morning. I didn't want to incur the cost of the cab (for my company) and ask him to deal with the drama of getting me a car in the morning.
So we began wandering around the airport. My buddy had told me that we could probably find a list of more hotels down by the baggage claim area. As we made our way down there I asked a security guard where he would stay if he were stuck in the airport overnight. I told him I wanted to stay somewhere off the beaten path, away from the freaks that might come out at night. He told me that they sometimes had cots set up in Terminal 3 and to check there.
Indeed, they did. A sea of cots and very sparsely populated. Nice. Airline pillow and airline blanket. There was a security guard posted and it seemed like an OK to place to park for the night. They had dimmed the lights. We found a place to park ourselves (against the wall so I could plug in my cell phone). I went to sit down....CRASH...the cot folded underneath me. One of the legs wasn't fully extended. My coworker got a pretty good laugh out of it.
Near us was a cherry picker (for a workman to change lights on the ceiling). The two guys were having a heck of a time figuring out how to drive it. Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep (you get the picture). This went on for about an hour. At this point it was somewhere around 11 pm Chicago time.
Then came the hoards of people getting off planes. What surprised me was that they set up "Cot World" in a high traffic area. All night long groups would come strolling through the area - chatting up a storm - kids excited about travelling - women (and some men) with shoes that clack, clack, clack...
At about 1 am or so a large group of people showed up to decorate two Christmas trees. These were rolled in (I recall that they were not cut, but in planters). They were put into place and the jolly holiday revellers decorated these trees loudly into the night. This lasted for about an hour.
At 3:30 am a woman showed up to collect the cots. Bang! Bang! Bang! As she stacked them she slammed them onto her cart. Such a lovely sound.
At 4 am the cot stacking lady tossed toiletries to each person (the zombies that had been trying to sleep through the cherry picker, travelling hoards, tree trimmers and cot stacking). Promptly after being hit by the bag of toiletries security came through and kicked everyone out. At 4 am we were on our own to wander through the airport waiting for something to open - coffee, breakfast or water. As we travelled from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 I found it interesting that the only Christmas trees in the whole place were the ones in the Terminal where we had been attempting to sleep. Nice.
After a gnarly McDonald's breakfast and a worse Starbucks Peppermint White Mocha (non-fat, no whip) we made it onto our plane and eventually back home. Exhausted I drove back to the East Bay and rested.

Like I said, not a riveting story by any stretch, but one I wanted to tell none the less.

Mark Harvey

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