Sunday, March 4, 2007

Homo Erectus!

As I write, Gorillaz are telling me all about windmills. I loves me some new music. While I was out last week for reprogramming, I got a call from a customer on a project we'd closed out many months ago. He says the inspector finally came through, and wouldn't finish the inspection because he found some missing items. That can't be, I told him. My installer is a pro, and knows what he's doing. But, through a commitment to customer service (and really no other way out), it was decided I was going back out into the field. On Monday, I booked a Tuesday morning flight to Washington, with a plan to drive to Cambridge for a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the customer, and the Big Meeting Wednesday morning with everyone. I arrived at our local International Airport with plenty of time for an 8:00 departure. Only, the flight was rescheduled for 11:30. That would make it hard to keep my 2:00 appointment. After a 2 hour wait in line, I was rebooked on Midwest to Milwaukee, then to Reagan National Airport. It didn't make sense to go west before going east, but hey, it would get me there almost on time. I was game, and happily trotted to my gate. I asked for a window seat, and got a snort from the gatelady as she told me 'They are all window and aisle seats.' We descended the stairs and it became apparent why the snort; I climbed aboard a Chrysler minivan with wings (ok, it wasn't a Chrysler, but a Raytheon Beech 1900D). I expected to see wood on the sides. As I stepped over the hump in the floor where the wing strut went through, I found my seat near the back. The seat in front of mine flopped over forward when I touched it. The back of the airplane featured a 3-wide bus bench up against a wall which was being thumped and rattled loudly by the baggage handlers. The windows were tinted smoky brown, and there was no PA system. The enormous young copilot shut the door and checked for daylight around the edges, then thanked us for flying and wished us luck. He said if anyone needed to communicate an emergency, we should come up and talk to him. I suddenly wished there was a bathroom on this plane. As we got to the runway, I was impressed by the massive amount of thrust generated by the twin propellers. I was pushed back into my wobbly seat with considerable force, and it made me forget the peeling paint on the engine cowl for a moment. We were aloft in no time, and crossed Lake Michigan as the crunchy center of a cloud sandwich. There was a fluffy layer of thick marshmallow clouds below, and wispy cotton stretched above. It was beautiful. I arrived in Wisconsin over mini icebergs in Lake Michigan and snowcovered residential neighborhoods. Milwaukee is Midwest's bustling hub, but one entire terminal seemed deserted. I wandered around while waiting for my next flight, and spotted something... icky. It reminded me of the scene in the Eddie Murphy movie Coming To America involving excessive hair product. The second leg of the trip was AWESOME. This time I boarded a brand-new-looking Boeing 717, and they proved the Midwest slogan, 'the best care in the air.' Not only were the flight attendants friendly and professional, but the seats - They were ALL business class seats, leather upholstery, 2-2 configuration, wide enough for my fat ass AND some wiggle room. The lunches they served were delicious, and my friendly seat mate awoke me from a nap to let me know the cookies were coming. So what, you may ask? Well, let me tell you, if there's one way into my heart, it's via warm chocolate chip cookies, and more than one, thank you. They have earned a customer for life in me. Plus, the plane was on time, which is always something one hopes for. I arrived at Reagan National and got my Dodge Magnum station-wagon-with-attitude, and made the trip to the jobsite. It was a beautiful night, and I had time to take some decent pictures. Unfortunately, I did NOT have time for the meeting; the place was closed down by the time I showed up. The next morning, we met on site and began going through the inspector's concerns. Turns out his concerns were not only justified, but not hardly concerned enough. I found missing items and missed connections and enough things just plain wrong that if there was a heavy snow and a little wind, I would not be found inside that building. A long list was made and provided to my installer, and he set about making things right, which is good. That left me with a little time to kill before my flight out, so after returning the car and writing my report, I found myself at the Steven Udvar Hazy Center (silly name for an awesome airplane museum). It's on the Dulles Airport property, and features bunches of airplanes and flight artifacts. Boy and I spent an entire day in Washington DC a few years ago at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum, so this was right up my alley. It features all kinds of sweet airplanes, real adventurer stuff, and baby changing rooms. It's true. Also, it may have featured Oliver North. I walked all the way around him, but didn't ask if he was him because he was in conversation and that would have been rude. On the way out, I overheard one security guard saying to another, "Homo erectus! Homo erectus was found all over Asia, I tell you!" The hell? Is this what rent-a-cops normally discuss? Tell me, I don't know. The time came for me to sprint across 8 lanes of heavily-laden human traffic to my gate at the airport. I did so, arriving at my gate right on time (4:04) for a 4:14 flight. Only, um, wait. The display showed my flight leaving at 5:51. Which would wreck my connection in Detroit. I waited in line, which is what you do when you buy a Northwest ticket, moving at a rate of one passenger per 28 minutes. I started out #6 in line. #7, the nice lady behind me, missed a flight to Houston that would have saved her connection because of the long wait. Two hours later, I was told that the airplane that would take me from Detroit to Grand Rapids was in Washington DC as we speak, undergoing repairs, and would likely be delayed as well. I was further told that I should fly to Detroit because "chances are good" I would make it to Grand Rapids tonight. That was the best he could do, he said with a shrug. I went to the seating area to wait further. After a moment, I felt a bit peckish and picked up some pepperoni pizza from the purveyor across the parkway. Midway through my 2nd bite, I was informed that the gate had changed, pack up your belongings and trot (1 mile) to B15. B15 was under construction. There were bulldozers and open dirt at B15. As it turned out, we were to take a shuttle out to the 'remote parking area' for our airplane. My fellow passengers and I finally boarded a variable-height all-purpose shuttle bus, and waited (which, as you know, comes standard with a NWA ticket). Finally, we drove out to an airplane, parked all alone on the tarmac, and after extensive adjustment and wiggling, were able to walk directly from bus to plane. With a little rain shelter, too. That was a nice touch I must admit. After getting cozy in my $15 upgrade exit row window seat, we waited some more. Another 30 minutes or so. It was rush hour, said the pilot. Naturally, we arrived in Detroit well after my flight to Grand Rapids departed. It was at this point I began wondering about new acronyms for NWA: Not Working Again? No Way Anytime? Nincompoops With Airplanes? Turns out there were more to come, as Northwest has an entire gate dedicated to rebooking broken connections. And, as you would expect, the rebooking center features the customary long wait. 2 hours again. I found that I was automatically rebooked for 8:30 the next morning (it was now 9:00 PM or so), but I was on my own for where to stay and how to pay for it. It's a 3 hour drive from Detroit to GR, so why can't they just give me a free rental car and I'd be on my way? "Oh, we don't have any agreements with rental companies," she said. "Isn't there any other way?" I asked. There happened to be one more flight that night to Grand Rapids, but it was overbooked. I could fly standby, if I liked. Yes, I liked. So I waited in THAT line for about 1 hour while all the confirmed passengers boarded. I made it aboard as one of the last 3 allowed, and I was grateful. I slunk into the very last row, up against the bathrooms in an Airbus A320. 158 passengers in front of me continued to breathe and make the air humid and stale as we waited some more. The first officer announced he was resetting the lights, and did so. The cabin went dark, then flickered, then the lights came on. Except for the 'fasten seat belt' lights, which seemed to be the initial problem. 3 resets later, they called a mechanic. I took a nap to avoid the chatty Spaniard beside me as the mechanic worked the problem. I awoke an hour later to find myself not in Grand Rapids, but still in FREAKING DETROIT. It's a 20 minute flight. This was not turning out to be my day for travel. As I now announce, I made it home safely. Even my luggage made it home, which impressed me substantially - but I still harbor some bitterness toward Northwest.

Today, Girl and Mrs. Spiffy are in Disneyworld enjoying 80 degree swimming weather. Boy and I went to Crystal Mountain to go skiing, and had the ultimate best weather day ever. It would have been perfect except for a potentially broken thumb and a really broken cell phone. Clumsiness aside, it was a perfect day. I almost forgot how much Northwest sucks. Almost.


Anonymous said...
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Sparky Duck said...

but if you were in Grand Rapids you could have seen a Arena Football game! Football with walls!

Ok, the plane to Milwaukee?, would have scard the pee pee out of me