On Sunday morning, I woke up alone. This wouldn’t be worthy of remark, except (What a twist!) I hadn’t done that earlier in the week. Mrs. M accompanied me from Wednesday until Saturday, but the Spawn didn’t want me to advertise that she was home alone, so I avoided mentioning it on the blog. But now the story can be told. So I just did.
But she was gone on Sunday morning, so I had breakfast, got packed up, and checked out, leaving my bags — well really, just my main suitcase — at the hotel until I came back to catch a cab for the airport.
In the meantime, I wandered once more to the convention hotel. I hung out in the lobby, chatting with friends old and new, wishing them farewell until the next time our paths might cross. I also struck up a conversation with Abby, the author of Crime By the Book, a blog worth your attention.
After a bit of that, I decided to make one more sweep of Eaton Centre and Nathan Phillips Square, two of my frequent haunts any time I’m up there. Once more, I had a street vendor’s hot dog, and picked up a frozen coffee at a nearby Tim Horton’s.
That would be my last meal for quite some time, in Toronto or elsewhere.
I made it back to my hotel, relaxed for a minute or two, and took a cab to the airport. A cold front was coming through Toronto yesterday afternoon, and it was breezy throughout the day. At one point, a squall blew through, with heavy rain, lashed by the wind. My driver still got me there, and I checked in, checked my bag, cleared customs, walked past the “LAST CHANCE” snack shop, and made my way to the departure gate.
I had scheduled my flights to give me a little over an hour to make my connection at Dulles, but after I sat down, I heard that our flight from Toronto was going to be delayed by the weather. The departure time was moved back by thirty minutes. I was less than thrilled, but what the heck? It still gave me a half-hour and change to make my flight to Real City.
And then they pushed it back another half-hour. We were informed that the weather delay had spawned an air-traffic delay, so the dominoes fell, tick tick tick. I spoke to the gate agent. He told me that even with an hour’s delay, I might be able to catch my connector. “But it’ll be tight,” he said. I alerted my colleagues at Mondoville, letting them know that I might not be in class this morning. The next delay confirmed that, so I e-mailed my Freshpeeps and told them what was up, also posting their next writing assignment. Meanwhile, my knee, which had been troubling me for a few days, decided to inform me that there was no comfortable position in which I could wait. Standing? Nope. Sitting normally? Not really. Sitting with my leg extended? Well, maybe for a couple of minutes, but… nope.
At this point, I had other worries, as I knew my connector (which I was now going to miss) was the last flight to Real City on the night. So I got in line to speak to the gate agent once again. I stood there about 45 minutes or so, occasionally wondering if my leg was going to buckle, as he dealt with various other passengers — or more to the point, non-passengers. Meanwhile, we were informed that the plane and crew that was supposed to take us to Dulles had just gotten airborne — at Dulles. It’d be showing up in, well, 90 minutes or a couple of hours, depending on how long it was in a holding pattern.
When I was the next person in line to talk to the agent, a second one appeared and took me aside. “At this point,” I said, “I have two goals. I want to get to Columbia, SC some time tomorrow, and I don’t want to sleep on the floor of an airline terminal. How can [Unnamed Airline — heck, let’s call them Untied Airlines] help me accomplish these things?”
Untied booked me the earliest available flight from DC to Real City, leaving just past noon (and remember, per the guidance from Security Theater, that means I should show up at the airport around 10 a.m.) but there was still the matter of the son of Madge having no place to lay his head. Also, I would need the bag I had checked through by bedtime (when/wherever that would be), which meant that it would have to be reclaimed in DC, rather than just giving it a nice home at the airport until the new flight to Columbia. Oh, and by the way, Untied informed me that because the delay was due to weather and air traffic issues, they weren’t going to foot my hotel bill.
But! Out of the goodness of their hearts, they could get me a reduced rate at a hotel near the DC airport. All I had to do, I was told, was identify myself to the gate agent in DC, who would hook me up, summon the bag, and otherwise make the best of a bad situation. Well, if that’s what you can get, it’s what you can get, so I limped back to my seat as they pushed the departure time back once more.
Eventually, the plane and crew showed up, and we boarded the flight to DC at about 10:10, two hours and forty minutes after the original scheduled departure. And then we waited through the refueling. And then we were told a sensor was acting odd, and they were going to essentially reboot the plane to see if that made a difference. So they did, and rechecked everything — I looked out the window at one point to see someone (a mechanic? a baggage handler?) crouched a few yards from the wingtip, looking at… something… as machinery buzzed, whirred, and otherwise waxed onomatopoetic. Finally, though, we were good to go, taking our place in the departure line. That place would be spot #22.
The good news is that I was alone in an exit row, giving me some extra legroom. The bad news is all that really did was allow to squirm around, as every position became uncomfortable in fairly short order. But! We got into the air, and I was cheered by the idea of getting some rest at the hotel before I had to make my return trip to Dulles for Security Theater.
So we arrived at the gate, and I saw someone wearing Untied Airlines gear and carrying a clipboard. “Are you the gate agent?” I asked.
Getting an affirmative answer, I said, “I’ve missed my connecting flight, and was told that you –”
“You need to go to Customer Service. They’ll be able to set you up.”
“Okay. Where’s that?”
“[Fifty gates away]. Just start walking that way.” And poof! He’s gone. So I start hiking through the postapocalyptic emptiness of the terminal building. Finally I gimped my way to the desk — which has one of those back-and-forth rat-maze layouts, despite the fact that there are three attendants and no customers when I got there. So I do the back and forth thing, and discover that my situation is apparently unprecedented in the history of Untied Airlines. The Customer Rep was a very nice woman, and even though English was not her first language, she tried really hard to make things work. She called the hotel and got a desk clerk who apparently knew nothing about the whole “airline rate” business, but after a lengthy process involving several holds, things were squared away. She then made the arrangements to have my bag pulled from the luggage stream and sent to Untied’s office at Baggage Claim. “After you have your bag,” she explained, “all you have to do is call the number on the voucher and they’ll send the 24-hour shuttle.”
“Great,” I said, basically having been reduced to monosyllables. “How do I get there?”
“Oh, just follow the signs [past another 20 or so gates], catch the train, and then follow these other signs.”
I did as I was told, and did in fact find my way to the office, where they told me my bag would be on the regular carousel. Fine. Get the bag. Now I need to call the shuttle, and —
My phone battery is dead.
Go back to the office. Explain the deal; can they call the shuttle?
Sure! Just go to point (X,Y). Fine, I do that. Nope, I’m actually at point (X, Y-1), the cab stand. So I make the adjustment, and one of the folks from the office comes running up and tells me that they’ve decided to put me on a cab. Back to the cab stand, dragging my big bag and my right leg. She directs the dispatcher to put me on a cab to Airport Hotel, and says she’ll be back in a minute — to give me another voucher for the cab ride? To give one to the cabbie? To wave from the pier?
Well, I’ll never know, because as soon as she’s out of sight, with her “I’ll be back” still echoing in my ears, ZOOM! The dispatcher has done his work, a cab has arrived, and before I can even say “I think we’re supposed to wait for –“, we are on the road.
I made it to the hotel about two this morning, and was unpacked (enough) and in bed by 2:30. I placed an 8:30 wakeup call. I might be wearing the same day’s clothes, but I at least want to get a shower before I get back to the airport by 10. Of course, I hadn’t counted on the fact that the previous occupant had set the alarm for 6 a.m. That was only a temporary interruption, however.
After all that, today’s trip was pretty uneventful, apart from the fact that by the time I got to my car at the Real City airport, I had 56 new e-mails and realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since that hot dog in Toronto 26 hours earlier. So I grabbed a couple of fast-food burritos before I got on the Interstate to Mondoville.
I’ve been home for a few hours now — I’ve done laundry, and I’m trying to decide if I’m going to eat anything else before I go to bed. And tomorrow, I’ll be back in front of my classes, and back to my committee work and the like. But even though the trip home was considerably more draining than I expected it to be, and even though my time in Toronto already feels a bit dreamlike, I can hardly wait for my next Bouchercon, for the writers and fans (and I’m both), for the positive energy and camaraderie.
And speaking of camaraderie, this might make a nice time to mention the fact that I’ve worked with a lot of other talented writers on the anti-Domestic Violence anthology Betrayed, which is now available for purchase on Kindle. Check it out!
But right now, sleep sounds good.