Chapter 1- An exercise in futility...and patience...and coffee consumption.
It is still tiring to think about that first morning. We'd spent the night at the Sr. K's the night before in order to avoid the 80 mile drive to the airport the next morning at 1 am. However, I do not feel absolutely certain it was helpful to do this as it just gave the four of us the opportunity to sit up excitedly talking about the upcoming trip, which we did.
Selfless Brother Kyle was coming to pick us up at 2:30 in the morning to take us to the airport for our 5:20 am flight and I'm not ashamed to say that by the time he arrived, the excitement had faded and been replaced by sober disbelief at finding ourselves awake, dressed and required to think at that ungodly hour. You will never know how patient you are capable of being until you are running on 2 hours of sleep (or no sleep) and dealing with other human beings.
Aaannnyway, so we were off, or so we thought, and feeling pretty good about ourselves, too, until we walked into PDX, strutted confidently up to the US Airways counter and looked about. It was 3:15 am. There was no one there.
We proceeded to stand there like dorks for over an hour, shifting from one foot to another, sitting on our bags, cracking jokes, looking worried- when finally at 4:30 the lights behind the counter switch on and a few stragglers in uniforms come to the computers, read a fax or two, hustle about with concern on their faces...
"Well Good Morning!" says Dave to a tired looking employee behind the counter. The man does not smile.
"Which flight are you here for?" Asks the man as he takes Dave's ticket for inspection and then says those two little syllables no traveler likes to hear, especially the traveler who's been awakened at 2 am to catch their flight.
"Uh oh?" Asks Dave, and every ear in line behind him, mine, Ryan's, everyones- because of course by 4:30 the smart people had shown up and were also in line- pricks at the sound of the Travelers Doom- Uh oh.
"Yeah, this flight had a mechanical failure and was canceled. Did you check the flight schedule online this morning?"
"Yeah, well, it's been canceled. We're trying to reroute everyone."
At this point the entire body of waiting individuals disbands and simultaneously reaches for their cell phones, presumably to abuse some poor soul on the other end because they, in spite of their extra sleep, are also unhappy about this change in plans.
"So, what do we do? We're flying standby.." Editors note: Did I mention we were flying standby???- "..and we'll need to catch another flight to Phoenix."
"Standby- hmmm." Another ominous sound. At this point he calls in a manager to deal with our pitiful, non-paying-customer situation. "I'm guessing," says the manager upon her arrival, "that the 8 o'clock flight will be packed with all the people who aren't getting on this flight and you probably won't be able to get on that one either." She's furiously typing something on the computer while talking. "And...Let's see here...yep, that's the last flight to Phoenix for the day. You're welcome to try again tomorrow on the 5:20 am."
"Tomorrow." Repeats the small, frizzy-headed object of our loathing.
We fall away from the counter and into a huddle, like four middle aged football players, shoulder to shoulder.
"Here's the plan." Says Dave. Thank God we took Dave as I was ready to get a latte and forget the whole thing. "We're waiting for the 8 o'clock flight. I bet all these suckers are going to flee like rats from a sinking ship *his actual words* and book flights with other airlines. I think if we wait it out, there'll be plenty of room for us on the 8 o'clock."
We look at our watches. Only three hours and fifteen minutes to go. Kyle has long since left and is probably back in Damascus sleeping by now.
So we waited. And waited. I emailed Robin, our valiant travel agent, with the report of the canceled flight. We ate scones, breakfast sandwiches and Starbucks and shamelessly eavesdropped on other travelers phone calls to better determine their plans. We hurried up to the flight attendants when they arrived and got our names on the standby list (there's a list, you know). We again waited and watched the crowd of other waiters grow.
It couldn't possibly have been more last minute. The attendants began boarding the plane and I'm telling you, it was a huge crowd of people with real tickets. We, however, did not have real tickets. We had slips of paper that basically said, "Hey, if you have a spare seat anywhere, including in the john, we'd consider it a favor if you'd let these poor suckers on your plane. I know it's an inconvenience, and you certainly don't have to do it. But, if you wanted to, had the chance, felt even the teensiest bit inclined, we'd sure appreciate it..." That's how the fine print read anyway.
By some miracle, just as the last real customer boarded, the attendant looks over at Dave and yells, "We've got 4 seats! Hurry up!!" And with our hearts and the last remnants of stale egg sandwiches stuck in our throats, we scooped up our bags and ran for it, beggars of the skies. If this plane was on time to Phoenix, we would have exactly 62 minutes to make it to the next gate upon arrival, get our names on the blasted list and hopefully board the flight to Cabo. This could still work.
We hustle onto the plane, stuff our bags into any available compartment we could find and happily plop down into these four, random seats. The plane sits. The lights go on. The lights go off. On again, bell dings- hope. Then off. Oh for the love of God.
At long last we begin to taxi out. Things may work out yet. We sit. We taxi back. Seriously this is getting ridiculous, people.
"Ladies and gentleman..." Not a good sign.
"We're experiencing some technical difficulties. There is a warning light on in the cockpit and our captain would like to have maintenance check it out before departure. We'd appreciate your patience at this time and we'll try to be in the air as soon as possible. Thank you."
Several minutes go by. We are looking at our watches, all except Eileen who has self medicated for the flight we will perhaps not be taking. She is looking relaxed and happy and I'm wondering if she has enough to share.
Lights on. Lights off. On again. This time they stay on and the bell dings.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are set for take off. Please fasten your seat belts and place your trays in an upright position."
By the time we are really in the air I calculate that we will have exactly 21 minutes between landing and the departure of our flight to Cabo, also standby. I have my doubts. How fast can Eileen run, anyway? We'll all find out soon enough. I lay my head back and begin to calculate the speed I will have to run in order to make the next flight. The variables are frustrating. What is the distance to the gate? How far apart are my steps when running? How many people will be in the terminal upon our arrival and thus slow my speed? Will I, or will I not, be physically dragging two 60 year olds through the Phoenix airport, because that could slow progress by approximately 43%? Too many variables. We are in flight. It is Monday.
**please stay tuned for next weeks episode of Baja Tuesday's, The Phoenix Shenanigans.**