Chicago A movie with George Clooney and the fascinating Montreal born director, Jason Reitman, is getting rave reviews about the life of a professional traveler who flies full-time almost to go around the country firing people and loves the perks of life on the road in a super elite status. And, then there’s life for the rest of us on the road…as I was reminded on my what is always my iconic “last business trip of the year,” where I express my thanks for having made it to another year end.
It seemed golden. No snow in Niagara on the Canadian side. A great last session going through the lists, setting goals, and locking down the calendar with the ACORN Canada head organizers before jumping into action for the border crossing. It should have been an omen when Judy Duncan, crack head organizer for ACORN Canada suddenly couldn’t put her hand to passport as we prepared to drive south. With that momentary distraction averted we made our usual bumbling exit unable to find the Rainbow Bridge on our first shot though it is hardly 50 yards from the entrance to the hotel parking lot, but that was another momentary delay, and we were on our way.
But, driving across having handed our passports over to the heavily harmed, faux military Customs guard, we were pulled over for a routine inspection, possibly because I made the mistake of mentioning that I was trying to catch a plane, and it seems they like nothing better than to mess with the natural world order. Sitting like criminals on the group double bench, we were surprised at a momentary power failure, and even more unhappy when called to the counter and told that our passports were frozen by the shutdown somewhere in the pneumatic tube system that shoots the passports from the auto lanes into the main office. We would have to wait for the system to be rebooted to spit out our passports, then have our car inspected, and then be on our way…maybe. No cellphones are allowed. A jail house atmosphere predominates. A heavily armed agent sat by the door to count the people who stopped to walk up to look at the Rainbow Bridge, and mainly tell them to walk only in the crosswalk. This took forever until we were released only moments before we were all prepared to confess to whatever might work to move us to some next step in this hell.
Making it to airport was all good until you see the endless line at the United counter and numbingly keep trying to enter your info into the monitor and pretend that it’s refusal to issue a boarding pass is a simple malfunction rather than a systemic breakdown. My problems were minor. The guy ahead of me had driven down from Toronto to fly from Buffalo to connect to Moscow and was being told the next flight he could get would be Christmas day, almost a week later. I was ready for abuse! It seemed blizzards had closed all East Coast airports, so my only guarantee would be dawn the next day unless I was up for waiting listing a fully booked flight to Chicago which would get me back to New Orleans.
Why not? What else was I doing at the Buffalo airport, eh? Not like they were going to pay for a hotel or anything else – weather is an act of God after all. The stories from fellow passengers were horrendous. A couple from Orlando had gone to NYC for the night. Unable to go home they had been sent to Buffalo to try for a AirTran. That was 18 hours before and the AirTran was now 6 hours late. The fella on my bench had been standing by unsuccessfully for 4 flights already and was finally on this 535 pm shot.
I got lucky. Made the flight to Chicago and in an O’Hare rarity, that unforgiving airport actually let board me and the others folks to New Orleans. My seatmates were in from Edmonton on their way to try to catch a cruise ship but their luggage had been misplaced from Edmonton to Calgary, which is like losing it across the street. We talked fondly of Guelph where they were from, and being Canadians they were looking for the best bars that would keep them from having to find a hotel for the night.
After a six hour delay I was due to arrive at midnight and my last day in the air saga for 2009 of life on the road would finally be over for another year.
Eat your heart out, George Clooney, this is what air travel is really like: constant abuse leavened by small acts of humanity, just like the rest of business in America 2009