Monday, March 8, 2010

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Okay, so we ran away together again, to Washington, D.C. again. We flew Delta, the airline selected by hubby's employer. Our flight left early on Friday morning, so we slept near the airport in Salt Lake which turned out to be a wise decision as we awoke to three inches of heavy, slushy snow. So far, so good.

We boarded our jet and everything was hunky-dorey. They closed the flight and announced we would be pushing back from the gate. Groovy. Then...they reopened the flight in order to acquire some paperwork from maintenance. This took a few minutes. Then, they closed the flight for the second time, reminding us to turn off our cellular devices, etc. Just kidding! They opened the flight again because maintenance figured out they needed to repair something else. The captain apologized and said it would take ten minutes. The flight attendant told everyone to feel free to use the lavatory and all that jazz. They closed the flight for the third time. Could we taxi? No...we had to go to the de-ice pad. I've been de-iced before and I'm certain it didn't take THAT long. Long story short...our flight departed one hour late. Our layover in Minneapolis??? Only fifty minutes. We heard a lot of apologies from that Delta flight crew.

So, we made it to Minneapolis (but missed our connection) and were told to scan our boarding passes to automatically be put on another flight. The people ahead of us were getting re-routed to Atlanta. Atlanta? Not today, thank you. The gate agent gave us "Priority Standby" for the next flight, so we dutifully headed to that gate. That gate agent said, "It doesn't look good." We each got a lunch voucher for $7. We did not make the next flight but did get confirmed for the flight after that. So much for our sunny afternoon in the East. Instead, we had a cool 5.5 hours in Minnesota. We worked our way to our departure gate in PLENTY of time. At this point, we had been told we were confirmed, but we didn't have any boarding passes in our hands, so we were watching for the next gate agent. By the way, this third flight out of Minneapolis was scheduled to leave at 3:15. So, it's 2:30 and there are no Delta employees at the gate. It's 2:45 and you would think somebody would come along to start boarding procedures. Nope. Three o'clock rolls by as the crowd waited and wondered. Finally at 3:10, the flight CREW showed up. The captain glanced around and asked us all in general, "Have you folks seen a gate agent around here at all?" We all shook our heads. It took the other three crew members about three seconds to size the situation up, so they ditched the captain and took off for awhile, presumably to share a Cinnabon or something. Captain Delta jumped behind the counter and started doing stuff on the computer and making calls on the phone. Not too long after that, a gate agent arrived. They worked together to distribute boarding passes. Mr. Captain spent a long time behind that counter and left with a lot of papers in his hands. We were all so impressed that there was a Delta employee around somewhere who was willing to do something. Of course, by now it's past 3:15, so we all, like rocket scientists, figured out that this flight was also delayed.

So we got to Reagan National late. The flight attendant mentioned they had to turn around and fly back to Minnesota and "that flight should have left ten minutes ago." This is not the pilot's fault, but to add insult to injury, the landing (weather) was terribly bumpy. I know someone who started to turn green, usually his favorite color, but not on airplanes. Our bags had arrived on the earlier flight, so we wasted no time hopping a shuttle to the rental car place. We drove to Pennsylvania in the dark of night and were finally able to check in at 11:00 p.m. We were hungry and tired. Too tired to get food. We had purchased and shared a snack box on the plane. It contained a packet of green olives, the last remaining item from the snack box, so we ate those and rested our weary selves. I know, yuck. People do funny things when desperate.

The next morning was gorgeous and sunny. We ate breakfast at the hotel and headed for Chocolate World. We rode the little ride and laughed at the singing cows. We learned a bit about the making of chocolate, smiled for the camera, and picked up our free sample before being spit out into the gift shop. We bought a couple of things including the "World's Largest Reese's Peanut Butter Cups", but really, all of the items they were selling were the same products and packaging you would find anywhere. From there, we headed to Gettysburg.

Be sure to watch the film at Gettysburg. We had heard it was good, but it exceeded our high expectations. Also, you've got to see the Cyclorama, an incredible four ton painting from France that is so lifelike that the soldiers who saw it wept because it vividly reminded them of the battles. There are more than 20,000 figures painted into that thing.

We hopped another shuttle to the Eisenhower Place and then began our auto tour of Gettysburg. It was getting dark, so we got some dinner and called it a night. On Sunday morning we finished the auto tour, visited the National Cemetery, and drove to Frederick, Maryland for Church. After Church, we visited Monacacy, another battle area which includes several farms and a mill.

We then headed back to Washington, D.C. and witnessed some really fine road rage on the Beltway (people are CRAZY!!!). We made it to our hotel with valet parking. We threw our bags into the room and ran to the Metro station. Thanks to last year's vacation, we were well-versed in all things Metro. We had tickets to tour the inside of the Washington Monument at 4:30 and didn't know if we'd make it with our transfer and all. We got out at the Smithsonian at 4:20 and J gave her finest Olympic speed walking performance in a long while (quads are sore today). We sprinted up to the monument line at 4:29 where a friendly park ranger told us we were just fine. We WERE the LAST tour of the day (whew!). After the tour, we leisurely strolled back to the Metro and headed back to the hotel where park rangers were checking in from all over. K's coworker, V, was there, so we met her for dinner. Somehow, she flew on a Delta direct, nonstop flight from Salt Lake City with no problems or complaints. Hm.

This morning, we got up super early again to get the rental car out of valet parking. We found a gas station and fueled the thing up. We made it back to the airport and the rental car return area. By the way, it is my dear husband who is able to make all of these transportation things go so smoothly. I'm sure I would have paid the rental car company a hundred dollars to fill the thing up with gas for me. We hopped another shuttle to the airport to get me checked in. My itinerary said I would have a direct flight to Denver with another plane to Salt Lake City. But nooooo....those tricky Delta people said I had to go back to Minneapolis first and change planes, not to mention concourses, to go on to Denver. Ha, ha, ha! So, the captain of that flight is sort of bragging about how he was getting us into Minneapolis EARLY. Well, he swallowed that pretty fast. "Folks, there seems to be a large volume of traffic trying to land in Minneapolis right now, so until we're cleared for landing, we'll be circling for ten minutes or so." I am not making this up. We finally land and I go find my next gate. By the way, K took the Metro back to the hotel. I got patted down in security AFTER going through the metal detector which did NOT beep or anything. They said my pants looked too baggy (can't remember the last time I was accused of that).

Okay, so off to Denver. This captain is also sort of bragging about getting us in early. We taxi. And taxi. And taxi. Instead of circling in the air, we were circling on the GROUND! Finally, the captain parks the plane in the middle of the pavement far away from the airport. I wondered if we had a security issue and were being met by law enforcement. No...the captain said, "Folks, we got here early, but we're a little TOO early. They don't have any gates open for us, so we're just going to sit here for a little while. They tell me it will take about 12 minutes for a gate to become available." Are you SERIOUS??? What will Delta think of next?

Anyhoo...the flight from Denver to SLC was fine. Short compared to the others. I waited less than two minutes for my luggage and less than one minute for the shuttle. I drove out of there like a flash and headed to school for our weekly Monday collaboration meeting on our own hectic yet familiar I-15. I guess I could go on whining about Delta, but the bottom line is all five pilots successfully landed their planes and for that, I am grateful.

Thank you, Sweetie, for inviting me along on your business trip! We do have our adventures, don't we?

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