Sunday, March 18, 2007

Exton, PA (part 2)

Sorry to leave you hanging. If you haven’t read the blog below, you should do that first as this entry is a follow-up.

Well, I’m finally back in Columbus. The drive yesterday was pretty smooth. I meant to leave at around 6am, but that didn’t happen. I was tired, apparently. After checking out of the Hampton, grabbing some free continental breakfast, and helping a girl get her car uplodged from the icy hotel parking lot, I set course for Ohio... at about 9:00 am. The drive was pretty smooth, except for some snow/rain in the middle of PA. Otherwise, the roads were mostly cleared. I drove straight through, stopping once for gas, and a bite to eat at a Quizno’s. The GPS was great. Amazing and scary how accurate these machines are. The GPS was pretty much dead on, within a matter of feet. If I drove over a river or crossed a road, it was tracking with me, leading with its alluring robotic voice (actually, the voice was really realistic).

From Exton, PA to Columbus, it is about an 8 hour drive. I arrived at the Port Columbus Budget Car Rental center about 4:30. I was disappointed that the GPS didn’t say goodbye to me... it didn’t even thank me for the ride home. How cold! So, this is one lesson I learned... fill the gas tank up before you return the car. I got charged a whopping $55 for the half of tank of gas I should have put in the car. So I’m retarded... or maybe I was just excited about getting home. I will take the blame for this one.

Looks like I should get my luggage back sometime this week. As of yesterday, it was probably still in PH, but they will deliver it to me within a couple days. It felt good to put a clean shirt on as I got home on Friday. I had been wearing the same clothes for two days straight. I still really miss my electric toothbrush, for sure. As I stood in line at the baggage claim counter, I heard a guy mention that he had just arrived from PH... he was supposed to fly out Friday, just like me... interesting. We both arrived around the same time... I drove, he flew... he got to sit frustrated in an airport for hours on end, I got to drive a sweet Taurus with a GPS while enjoying the PA turnpike scenery.

As I got on the shuttle headed for the Port Columbus Red Lot parking area, I overheard a conversation... a man was talking about how he had waited some 33 hours at the Philadelphia was sleeping on the floor, stagnant lines, etc, etc. He was also booked for an early flight to Columbus on Friday, and he had just recently arrived on US Airways. He said there were 1000’s of passengers stranded at the airport... some were in planes, waiting on the runway for some 7-8 hours. That could have been me. It was indeed a nightmare for many people. Most flights were grounded by about noon on Friday, and from what this guy said, car rental companies were denying people one-way rentals, in fear that there wouldn’t be enough available rental cars left in Phili for the Monday crowd. I rented my car around 11:30 am. I was quite fortunate to get out of there when I did.

So yes, I’m glad to be home... although I haven’t had much time at home... I had to spend several hours at the tv station Saturday evening prepping for the shooting of Taylor’s Attic episode 205 in Thornville this Monday. I travel back to NJ the forth week of April and the third week of May. That should be last time for a while.

So these are the lessons I’ve learned from this trip:

(1) Don’t put your cell phone charger in your checked luggage.
(2) Don't believe the hotel when they tell you they don't know what their rates are for long distance phone calls. That means they don't want you to know until you see your bill.
(3) Fill up the gas tank of the rental car before you return it.
(4) Don’t ever fly US Airways.
(5) Be ready for the unexpected at all times. You’re not flying until you’re in the air.
(6) Pay the extra $9.99 for a GPS.
(7) Realize that when crisis comes, everybody’s schedule has been compromised. Chill out, breath normally, and try to help your neighbor instead of being a selfish American demanding immediate service.

Friday, March 16, 2007

There's No Place Like Exton, PA (I Mean, Home)

As some of you know, I am stranded in Exton, PA. It has been an interesting day. I was supposed to leave the Philadelphia airport for Columbus this morning at 7:20. I was there plenty early, arriving around 4:30 am, as Paul (the writer for Taylor’s Attic) had a 5:30 flight, and with all the recent issues with US Airways, I decided it would be best to go with him and get to the airport as early as possible. I will begin by encouraging each of you to avoid US Airways when traveling. They just recently installed a new reservation system, and I have had some long wait times with them repeatable over the last three weeks.

I write the following just to give you an update. Not trying to complain. There is good in all of this. Anyways, here’s what happened after I reached my gate at 5:45 am, about an hour and half before departure. We first found out that the flight had been delayed because of some mechanical problems. It was 7:20, and there was still no plane at our gate. We saw one plane which they kept towing around in and out of the mechanic hanger. I was guessing that was our plane. No big deal. Then, eventually they told us that the repairs would take a couple hours to perform, setting our departure time back to about 10:15 am. They said that it might be possible to get some of us on another flight which was leaving around 9. All 40 some passengers jumped up from their seats and filed in front of the US Airways service desk. Some of the flyers were able to switch their flights... I saw them walk away looking relieved. However, it literally took 10 or 15 minutes to make these changes for each costumer. I put my iPod on and tried to relax. Then, all of sudden, after waiting a good 1/2 hour or so, they made an announcement telling us that we could all leave on another flight at another gate at 8:45. Everyone started to scurry that direction, leaving the costumers who had just switched their flights rather confused, I’m sure.

We arrived at the new gate and continued to wait. Again, they made the announcement that there were some mechanical problems which they were checking and it was going to be a little longer. Then, out of the blue, an announcement was made telling us to return to our original gate. So we did. A young woman from Chicago. A young guy trying to make it home to watch a Miami game while he relaxed at a local bar. Four business men talking on their cell phones trying to reschedule their meetings. So here we went. Walking back down to the original gate. So we get there, and what do they tell us? They explain that this announcement was a mistake and we needed to again return to the gate we had just come from. The exercise continued. We got back to the other gate only to discover that they were still waiting to confirm that all systems were a-go. Mechanical problems apparently. By this time, my laptop was running low on battery power, so I sat down on the floor near an AC outlet, only feet away from a dot matrix printer which continued to spit out yards of random information, all the while a US Airways clerk looking terrible confused as to why his printer was on a rampage.

Finally, around 10:30 am, we started to board the plane. “Finally,” I thought. You could feel the relief in the air. It took us a good 20 minutes or so to get out to the runway. I picked up one of those random SkyMall catalogs and started browsing through the pages of solar powered flood lights and remote controlled UFOs. My iPod was consoling me with Miles Davis. Then came the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may have already figured it out...” The captain then went on to explain that there were bad weather conditions, namely sleet, which prevented smaller aircrafts from traveling safely. After driving out to the runway, our flight had been cancelled and they were taking us back to the gate. However, “an agent would be available to help us make other arrangements.”

We walked down the “tube” and as we re-entered the airport, many of us quickly jumped in line at the US Airways service counter... again... with hopes that we could be put on another plane. We waited and waited... again, each customer taking up to 15 minutes to serve. Eventually, the lady at the service desk told us that we all needed to go down to the Service Center, to reschedule our flights to another airline, if we would like to be on another airline. So, a number of us proceeded down to the Service Center. As we arrived, we were shocked at the line... there were probably a good 75 or more people in front (and also random people sleeping on benches, kids running circles around the bench seats), all in a single file in line which was about the consistency of molasses. A 17 year old girl behind us was hysterically complaining to her friend on the phone about how "US Airways had terrible service, and didn't know what they were doing, and she was never going to fly with them again" and how "she was stuck in a big airport with people who couldn't help her, and she wanted to get home." After waiting another 15 minutes or so, one of the women on our flight decided to return to the original counter we were at previously to uncover some more information. She came back to report that the line we were standing in was only for people who wanted to reschedule their flights. This was not the place to be if you wanted to cancel your flight. The strange thing is, the flight had been cancelled according to the pilot, but our money wouldn’t be refunded unless we went down to the ticketing area outside of the security area. The line continued to sit. I was trying to decide what to do. Let’s say I cancelled my flight... how was I going to get my luggage? Eventually, I made the jump and decided to head down to the ticketing area to cancel my flight. This line was going nowhere fast. On my way down to the ticketing area, I stopped and asked a US Airways personnel how I could reclaim my luggage. She pointed me to a line near baggage claim. So that is where I went and stood. The line wasn’t too long... about 5 people in front of me. There were two girls in front of me who were going to drive to their destination, and were trying to figure out how to get their luggage... a similar situation to my own. Turns out US Airways had no idea where our luggage was. It was somewhere. Maybe on a plane, maybe in a storage area, maybe soaking out in the rain for a good 1/2 hour... something which I had observed that morning while sitting in the plane which never took off. I would have to file a claim in Columbus to get my luggage back. There was no other way to do it. “Thank you sir,” I said, and continued towards the ticket counter to cancel my flight. Here was another lengthy line, which wasn’t going anywhere. I saw a lady from our flight... she had left the line upstairs a good 45 minutes or hour before (she had been talking to us) and she had just finished... so I had a long wait ahead. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. This was ridiculous. Basically, I could see the airport shutting down, and the weather just continued to worsen outside the big airport windows. If I was going to drive, I needed to leave now.

At this point, I just bolted out the door and jumped on a Budget rent-a-car shuttle. They took me back to the rental station and I picked up a Ford Taurus with a GPS system (to help me find my way home). The guy working the counter was taking other calls while he was waiting on me... and it took him three times to input the correct destination in the GPS. At one point, he was about to send me to Cleveland, OH. I was seriously losing my cool at this point. Finally, I said to him, “What else do we have to do here,” implying that I was ready to leave. I think he got the point.

As I walked outside, the sleet was almost painful against the face. I jumped in the white Taurus chick magnet. The GPS system started talking to me and guiding me towards Columbus, OH. I flipped on the AM weather report, and from everything I could tell, the weather was going downhill quick. An ambulance came rushing by us, as I continued to hear on the radio that there were multiple accidents in the Phili area. A caution to drive slow. I was pretty hungry at this point, not having had any food except a banana, pastry, and coffee at 5:30 am. I was also getting concerned about the weather. This was an accident waiting to happen. I needed to get a hotel... and a meal. So, I pulled off at a Hampton Inn in Exton, PA, checked in, and grabbed an overpriced wrap at the UNO next door.

I’ve spent most of my day in the hotel room today, watching tv and listening to sleet against my window, and salt trucks in the parking lot. I could be editing puppet audio, but I need a break. Today has been a test of my faith for sure. I’ve probably looked like any other impatient American, wanting everything to revolve around number one. Is't it easy to complain? Isn’t it easy to forget how much we take for granted?

The headaches have been great today. To add to all this, my cell phone charger is in my lost bag, and my battery in my phone is extremely low. There is a Verizon store down the road, but they don’t sell the charger for my phone, and they can’t even sell me a new phone because I am “out of their service area.” I’ve already spent $30 making long distance phone calls from my hotel room, trying to figure out how to pay for this whole unexpected extra day (so far) on a credit card which is now nearly maxed out. The company is thankfully covering the hotel at this point.

Tomorrow, I hope to leave early around 6am if possible. My goal is get the car back to the rental office by noon, but it all depends upon the weather. Stay tuned for more updates. Consider it pure joy, right?