Miscellaneous Musing |On The Road by Judy @ 6:59 PM

I love to travel for pleasure. Traveling for business is another story that usually consists of a series of rather mundane plane/train/auto trips with meetings sandwiched in between and not much time for sightseeing. What I usually see on business trips is the inside of airports (mostly looking the same), the inside of hotels (mostly looking the same), the inside of conference rooms (mostly looking the same), the inside of an office building (mostly looking like offices everywhere). It can be hard to remember what day it is and where you are. Nonetheless, I was happy to get the opportunity to travel to Miami for a yearly meeting that is usually quite interesting and that I’ve been unable to attend for several years. So Monday started out with promise.

I arrived at the Portland airport with plenty of time to spare and breezed through security with no problems. I had been booked on Continental with a plane change in Houston. The plane arrived at Portland on time. It left on time. The flight to Houston was uneventful. The only rather sour note (pun unintended) was my seat. I was in the very last row in the plane, on the aisle, right across from what Mama used to euphemistically call the little girls’ room (little being the operative word, here). A steady stream of travelers paused by my seat (some actually leaned on it), on their way to visit the necessary. On the other hand, it was convenient. On the whole, so far, so good.

I had been lulled into a false sense of confidence.

As we started our approach into Houston, the Captain came on the intercom: Ladies and gentlemen, due to severe weather in Houston we will have to circle for approximately an hour before landing. (collective groan from the captive audience) We don’t have enough fuel to do that, (gasps all around) so I am diverting to San Antonio. (sighs of relief followed by groans) We’ll refuel there and then be back on our way to Houston. We won’t be using a gate, so just sit tight and we’ll have you back to Houston as soon as possible.

people on a plane

I was scheduled with 45 minutes on the ground to make my connection in Houston. I looked up the long row of seats, each filled with a person who probably had a bag to get down from overhead storage. I kissed my connecting flight goodbye.

We sat on the tarmac for 3 hours. 3. Hours. We were allowed to get up and walk around and use the necessary. Cell phones were OK’d. The flight attendants passed out free soft drinks and, when I asked for it, coffee. But. It was. 3. Hours.

The woman sitting next to me actually lived near San Antonio. She asked the flight attendant if it would be possible to get off the plane. She called her husband and he was on the way there to pick her up. It required what amounted to an act of Congress to finally get stairs pulled up to the plane and and find someone to escort her to the terminal. The captain offered to let others off while the door was open, but, he added, if you get off now, your flight with Continental has ended and you’re on your own. I had a long way to go yet, so I stayed on the plane.

When we finally taxied down the runway and the wheels left the pavement, the passengers erupted in spontaneous cheering and applause. If we could have given the captain a standing ovation we would have. Except we couldn’t because, you know, we had to have our seat belts fastened and all that.

It was late when we arrived in Houston. We were told to see the gate agent when we deplaned. The people ahead of me — that would be the entire passenger list minus the woman who deplaned in San Antonio — were told go to gate such-and-so for standby or even we have you booked on flight 999 and it’s waiting for you at gate blah-blah. When I got up there, I queried Miami?? I was told go up the concourse, and take a left turn to the ticket counter. I knew what that meant. No more flights tonight.

I have what might be called incredible, amazing expandomatic hair. Just add humidity, and watch it grow. Even in Portland, by evening it’s usually bigger than it started in the morning. It was very humid in Houston. I could actually feel my hair begin to expand.

As I walked to ticketing, hair growing larger with every step, I noticed that all of the restaurants were closed. All of the shops were closed. There weren’t a lot of people around at all. At the ticket counter, there weren’t many people in line. As we all waited our turn, a helpful Continental employee told us that there were no hotel vacancies in the immediate area, but we could have a cot in a group room. No, there was no food. No, there was nothing to drink (even water). The woman behind me in line offered to share 1/2 of a cookie purchased in Seattle, but I declined.

I was booked on a 7:30 AM flight to Miami. I didn’t think the group room cot without even bread and water experience was really what I was looking for. The baggage area of every airport has a kiosk with lists of area hotels. I stood around the kiosk with a bunch of other stranded people and dialed hotel numbers. I had about a bazillion conversations that all went like this:

me: I’m looking for a room for tonight.
hotel: We’re all booked.
me: Do you know anywhere there’s an available room?
hotel: Nope.

The very last number on the kiosk was for the Hilton. The conversation changed slightly when the wonderful front desk person at the Hilton offered to connect me to their 800 number, where they could check hotels all over Houston. And they found one room. One. It was downtown — a 30 minute cab ride — there was no airport shuttle, and it was expensive. I said: I’ll take it.

When I hung up, I was mobbed by fellow strandees wanting to know what I’d found. Hilton downtown, I said. Only one room and I took it. Sorry. Groans from the crowd. I left them to their fate and headed for the taxi stand.

Pounding his hand on the wheel in time to the dulcet tones of very loud hip hop, the cabbie drove at 20 MPH over whatever the local speed limit was. I’m not a wimpy passenger usually, but I spent a good deal of time first closing my eyes because I didn’t want to know and then opening them again because I thought I should really see it coming so I could brace myself. I reduced his tip. He left his windows open. My hair reached maximum expansion and stuck straight out from my head.

At the Hilton, the front desk guy looked at my drivers license, then at me, then at my license, then at me. He seemed puzzled. With both hands I pushed my hair back from my face and held it forcibly down. Ah! he said. I see the resemblance now! Gentle reader, I am not making this up.

Do you have room service? I queried. Yes ma’am! Our room service is open 24 hours a day. I knew there is a god after all. I ordered food. I ate food — I don’t remember what. I remember that the room was obviously set up for business travelers as it had a huge marble table with an internet connection, and a 25″ flat-screen TV, and a humongous tiled shower. The bed was exactly perfectly firm and piled with down pillows and a down duvet. I would so stay there again if I am ever in Houston and money is no object.

I fell into bed. It was midnight. At 4:30 AM my alarm went off. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to get out of that bed. I started a pot of coffee, showered, and liberally doused my hair with what my long-suffering and wonderful stylist euphemistically calls product. I poured a coffee into a to-go cup, checked out and, leaving my key, headed down to the cab stand. The valet banged on the cabbie’s window to wake him up, loaded me in the taxi, and we were off. To the airport, please, I said.

I realized that I’d left my untouched coffee upstairs in my room.

Then it occurred to my sleepless and caffeineless mind that there are two airports in Houston, and I couldn’t remember the name of the one I’d arrived at. I started to babble You know. The international airport. The big one with all the planes. Continental airlines. Right?

The cabbie smiled and nodded. Yah, mon. George Bush. No worries. I doubled his tip.

We drove at a sedate 10 MPH under whatever the local limit was, listening to the dulcet strains of Bob Marley, while I pondered the absurdity of George Bush and no worries in the same sentence.

moon rise over Miami

On the plane, there was coffee. The plane left on time. The plane arrive in Miami on time. There was an airport hotel shuttle for which I only had to wait about 10 minutes. My hair, that had congealed into waves in the cool, dry plane-cabin air, began to loosen up and threaten bigness, but contented itself with simply curling a bit extra.

The Portland area used to boast a business that was a combination Radiator Shop & Deli. They had wonderful sausage, and you could pick up a few links while your radiator was being flushed. I chalked it up to keeping Portland weird and was sorry when they closed quite a few years ago. In Miami, I saw a sign that promised: Auto Insurance, Acrylic Nails & Puppies. I felt almost like I was home.

The picture is moon rise over Biscayne Bay. I don’t remember much of Tuesday. I remember that when the front desk clerk asked brightly You’ll be with us for two nights? the ability to subtract whatever the current day was from Thursday and come up with two totally escaped me, and I finally replied, I’m leaving on Thursday. She nodded wisely and asked what size bed I wanted. Just a bed, I replied. Any size that’s bed-like.

I think she felt vaguely sorry for me because that was the view from my room.

On the other hand, she booked me into a room that was right next to an ice machine that sounded like a plane was about to land in my bathroom. I kept thinking that I’d left the fan on. Except there wasn’t a fan. I decided to call it white noise and ignore it.

I was in Miami.

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