Monday, July 14, 2008

The tiniest wrinkle in time and space

Here it is 5 hours after the last posting. I said my wait had expanded from 90 minutes to 100, well, it went downhill from there.

I was originally scheduled to leave ABQ at 6:15 with a 6:30 arrival in PHX. I left home knowing the plane was already delayed to 6:40, but I figured as always, it's better to sit around the airport than to sit around home, because things change. Sometimes delays disappear, sometimes you get off at Gibson and end up lost in a neighborhood at the extreme edge of University Blvd.

At 6:20, I checked the board and discovered that we were now delayed until 6:50, that other 10 minutes added as mentioned above which almost always means we're heading down the slippery slope to "it would have been faster to drive." But the gate attendant came on the speaker at about 6:35 and said the plane was on final approach, good news, because for a moment it looked like we would be on our way.

We lined up and while waiting I had a chat with a young woman who was carrying an Amazon Kindle, the electronic book reader that competes with my Sony. I've had a lot of debates with people about which one is better, and it always devolves into a "yes, but" discussion that centers around the Kindle's wireless capability. I for one doubt I will ever want to download a book while sitting in a Starbucks in Poznan, but the device's proponents insist they will not be caught out wanting some book while crossing the Urals and so the argument ends in a stalemate.

She told me she loved it, and was about to return it because it did not live up to her needs or expectations. Little things like a proprietary book format and bad ergonomics. She loved the wireless for surfing, but I countered that I was so wirelessly enabled that one more device wasn't going to make my life any better. And she agreed and went on to tell me about Amazon's generous return policy. Enough for me to decide that my plan to "buy one for grins" was now out the window.

We boarded and sat for a bit and then the pilot came on with the good news - bad news scenario. Seems the weather service was reporting good conditions in PHX, so good that the pilot told us he doubted their update since we were now in a "ground hold" for one hour. New term on me, it's apparently what they call it when flight traffic control tells you they'd really rather have you spend an hour on the ground without leaving than add you to the queue in the wild blue yonder. He didn't know why, or how long but promised timely updates. So we sat there and wondered why they hadn't just let us sit out in the waiting area where there was actually some air to breathe.

He did give us updates as promised, each time with a tidbit more of information. Turned out not to be a weather problem, but rather a plane with a blown tire (not a Southwest plane he insisted) that was sitting on the runway, gumming things up. And so we waited some more while the attendants handed out cups of warm water to delay everyone's inevitable bout of dehydration.

Finally after 45 minutes we were on our way, yet another case of the delay being longer than the flight itself. Turned out I could have just taken the 7:50 flight and stayed home for a couple of hours.

I hate arriving at my destinations in the dark, even the ones I know like the back of my hand. It doesn't really make it harder, it just makes it disheartening. But you play the hand you're dealt and so once on the ground I went looking for dinner, figuring it was easier to find something edible at 7:45 in the airport than 8:30 out on the street.

Had a nice Thai chicken wrap with peanut sauce at the Paradise Bakery on the main concourse, my current favorite noshing spot in this airport. While sitting there, a loud gang of young men speaking in some odd Mideastern tongue came rolling into the eating area with one Anglo in two. He looked completely forlorn, as though he had been swept up by this exotic wave and was trying hard to swim across the current to escape the pull. Naturally, they chose to sit right next to me despite the place being empty, continuing on with their unintelligible banter (to me anyway) while I tried to eat in peace. Reminded me an awful lot of the two French guys who insisted on sitting with me on a little 3-seat bench on the Denver rental car shuttle last Saturday, eschewing every other empty seat on the bus. You see, we were the only 3 people riding it.

The Anglo got his food and continued to looked perplexed when the whole lot of them got up and swept off like a strong desert wind. Peace again.

Once done, I headed down to the rental car bus and was reminded by the oven blast that came through the open doors as to where I was. Darkness doesn't matter here, it's hot all the time.

The ride over to the rental center continued to build my arriving in the dark funk, people just look peeked, greasy and rattled when illuminated by shuttle bus neon. Some guy got on at Terminal 3 and went straight for my knee with his 1980s briefcase, you know, the heavy leather version with the metal reinforcements on the corners. He must have been bothered by the sickening "crack" as it connected with my leg, because he looked back as he sank into his seat. He said something to the effect of "guess I hit something solid" to whit I answered "don't worry, I have another one." To his credit, he did apologize.

Down into the center and into my rental car and immediately to the point where my space-time continuum became distorted.

Two days ago, I was in Colorado, visiting my kids and driving around in a Chevrolet Malibu. Now I'm in Phoenix, driving around in a Chevrolet Impala. What's weird is the fact that the inside of these two cars is identical, right down to every little knob and the controls for the outside mirrors. The beep of the radio buttons, the little symbol on the fan and the fact that the lights stay on until you lock the doors with the identical key fob. For about 30 seconds I really didn't know where I was, and whether I'd even been home in the intervening time. It was as though I turned in my car in Denver, walked across the lot to space L15 and got into another one. And it didn't get any better after that, because I got on the road and drove to an identical hotel.

That routine though was broken by the guest who checked in before me. We both rounded the corner heading for the front door from opposite sides of the parking lot. I immediately began doing the math, to see if I could get there first, but he had a bit of an edge on me and so he hit the desk first.

I knew I was in trouble the minute he opened his wallet. There, arrayed in neat little rows in credit card slots were those little plastic "price saver" scannable thingamajigs that grocery stores give you in order for you to save on the products they mark up for those shoppers unwilling to join their shopping family. I get and promptly lose them, never returning to shop because I can't stand the embarrassment of telling the cashier that I didn't bring the card. This guy though clearly takes his price saving seriously, because there they were in their little blue and green and red neatness, just waiting to be deployed at checkout time.

What I could tell was coming was "a problem", because guys like this always have one. I waited while the clerk ran his card and just as I was about to take command, he turns and asks if his rewards number had been added. She said "no" and he said, "I stay here many times a month, why is it not there." I ran both hands down my face and looked aghast and then realized he was watching me on the closed circuit TV behind the clerk. I wasn't worried, he was short but I did harbor a bit of concern due to the damage my knee had suffered in the earlier briefcase incident. I might not be able to dodge a vicious assault at this late hour.

He went back and forth with the clerk while she explained that they don't check every single guest as it would take all day. I slumped, placing my head on the desk. He finally offered that it was probably his travel agent's fault. Who even uses a travel agent for domestic travel in 2008? I guess guys who line up little plastic scannable cost savings thingamajigs in their wallet do.

Finally he was gone and I got checked in and she laughed, telling me that he was a Marriott Platinum Member but that Marriott had (in its infinite wisdom) upgraded my room and not his. She asked me not to tell him, I told her he deserved it for making me wait.

Off to my upgraded room and a quick return to my temporal displacement - it's identical to the one I left in Lousiville on Saturday, right down to the mirrored closet doors and the little soaps, shampoo and lotion bottles.

I suppose there should be comfort in familiarity, but it does feel weird to go from one place to another while the little details remain constant. Sort of like those times when you wake up in the night and wonder where you are. Perhaps nothing more than another night in another hotel and another day driving another rental car. I think though that I prefer it when things change a bit.

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