New York in 24 hours on Tuesday/Wednesday followed by an 8:25am flight to San Francisco on Thursday morning makes for a busy week of traveling.

There were signs that this morning might be an issue. It could have been the blazing migraine and incredible dizziness and nausea Wednesday night—hopefully not from the Hotel Pennsylvania—or the fact that I was overwhelmed with all the things I hadn’t done that I was supposed to for this trip and the trip next week to Tanzania…but things were definitely off.

At 7:15 AM, pretty much packed, but not close to exiting the house, I said to Jon ‘Ok, I’m ready when you are!’ He came in and asked if I had any stamps. I did. I handed them to him, ‘Ok, ready to go?’ I asked. He nodded and walked into the other room. At 7:20, I asked again. He said he was ready. At 7:30, we finally left the house—I should say  I was also dithering about.

In the car Jon asked what time my flight was supposed to leave. I said ‘8:24, I’ve got plenty of time.’

Did I? Actually I wasn’t sure what time we left the house and looking at Jon’s car clock didn’t help—it moves faster than time and is generally somewhere in the range of 15-25 minutes ahead of the time.

When we arrived at the terminal, I saw a bizarre sight: a snaking line outside of the First Class/Priority Check-in. That’s usually the area I breeze through utilizing the computer check-in and move through the priority access security line. Both were backed up like I’d never seen at Logan.

I walked up to the computer but was intercepted by a woman keeping track of the line. ‘What’s your flight?’ she asked. ‘San Francisco,’ I replied. She looked at me wide-eyed. ‘What?! You gonna missa your flight! Come with me’ and she indicated I should follow her to the front of the line.

This did not go over well with the other passengers waiting in the line. ‘There’s a line for a reason!’ ‘My flight’s at 8:45 I’m not gonna make it.’ ‘Are we penalized for coming early? Maybe I should show up minutes before and get special treatment too!’

Apparently there was a cancelled flight—shockingly not mine—and it was causing a lot of angst, anger, and rescheduling. And rescheduling takes a lot of the American Airlines desk attendant’s time apparently.

The woman ‘wo-manning’ the line asked for my credit card and bustled off to check me in on the computer. I watched nervously and unsure why she needed to do it and not me. She returned a few minutes later with my boarding pass. I eyed the people talking to the agents—who had been the same for the past 15 minutes. Finally there was a break in the line. I jumped up to check my bag and then sprinted to the security line.

At first it moved like molasses. I checked my watch. 8:05…still time. I made it through. I even made it to the Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel before the flight. Here’s where I made the critical error. Instead of just asking for a bagel, I asked for a bagel, egg and cheese—and paid. I checked the time, 8:10 and no boarding calls. Except, wait, was that my name being called? ‘Passenger Fowler to gate 35 for final boarding. Last call for passenger Fowler.’

I made a scramble to grab the attention of the Dunkin Donuts employee. ‘Excuse me, can I grab my bagel?’

 ‘Which bagel?’

‘The egg and cheese bagel.’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

‘What?’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

Out of eggs between when I ordered two minutes ago and right now?

‘My flight is calling my name, can I just get a bagel?’

‘No eggs. You can get in line?’

Ugggggghhhh. Seriously? How difficult is this?!

‘You can keep my $3 thanks!’

I sprinted down the corridor to Gate 35. Another woman was waiting at the gate telling the gate attendant that her other party members were on their way. Did I have time to go back and claim that bagel? I decided against it. Given my travel karma, it was too much to temptation to be left on the wrong side of the closed plane door.

I handed over my ticket, walked down the gangway, and was the last person to join the exit row, much to the chagrin of my seat mates. There was a smile between to two other seated passengers. I laughed, ‘Hoping I wouldn’t make it? I do that all the time when there are free seats.’ And sat down, appreciating that I would make it on time the best Bachelorette Party ever, but really hungry and craving that bagel, egg and cheese.

Rocking chairs are not new to Logan, but tonight—the first time I’ve actually snagged one while waiting for a flight—I realize their true meaning: rocking away your frustration at waiting for a flight that threatens half hour by half hour never to come.

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

My colleagues at work this afternoon were nervous that I was going to miss my flight. At 5:15 I was still sitting at my desk, pretty calmly addressing some last minute needs (despite the fact that my bag was still sitting unpacked on my living room floor a few miles away). “Shouldn’t you leave now?” a few of them asked when I told them that my flight was scheduled to depart Logan at 7:30—“scheduled” being the key word. “Are you heading straight to the airport?” another asked. “No,” I replied, I still had to head home to finish packing. I received a rather shocked look in response.

But I had no fear that on a rainy, Friday night, after receiving updates that my mom’s flight from California to JFK was delayed a few hours, that my tiny Embraer flight from Logan to JFK on American would almost definitely be delayed.

As soon as I left the office (a very generous colleague offered to drive me home to avoid the delay of the bus), I received my two hour pre-flight call from American letting me know that my flight was “scheduled” to take off at 7:30. Surprised, I had a brief moment of panic—maybe I wouldn’t make it. As I hung up, I turned to my colleague to express a brief moment of concern. Then my phone buzzed again. American Airlines. They were sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for departure at 8. I hung up and returned to my conversation. A few minutes later, a third call. American’s electronic voice recording was again sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for 8:30.

Thank god.

Now I could actually pack. And find my international charger. And figure out international calling for my phone. And set my out of office messages. And attempt to pick up my bag with my right hand, left hand, and back and forth to guess if it was actually under 40 pounds (ok, yes I could have put in on a scale, but it wouldn’t have been as fun).

I relaxed at home. Guacamole was made. Final travel needs addressed. Then a leisurely trip down the rain soaked Pike to Logan. Bags checked (weighed in at 43 pounds!), security breeched and then passed. And then waiting. And rocking. And waiting. And listening to announcements saying the flight is again delayed. And waiting. And rocking. And relaxing because I’m on vacation. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

PS- Once I arrived at JFK, we taxi-ed around the tarmac for about 35 minutes–or more than half the time it took to fly to New York in the first place. At one point we pulled up to a gate, then suddenly did a 180. Apparently it was the wrong gate…overall, fun times 🙂

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This was the line for cabs at Logan circa midnight on Sunday. It was a good time. Guesses as to how long it took to get a taxi?

This was the line for cabs at Logan circa midnight on Sunday. It was a good time. Guesses as to how long it took to get a taxi?

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Returning from Denver was both eventful and noneventful. Having woken up Saturday night with a tear-inducing sore throat, fever, and body aches, I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted to do less than get in a car for 1.5 hours and then a plane for 4.5. In addition, the idea that I might get others on a plane full of recycled air, sick, had me on the phone with United asking about their policies regarding changing flights due to illness.

Turns out, they don’t really have one. Really? Ok, well, maybe I needed to speak to someone else. United’s official policy is that you can change your flight if you’re sick—if you pay $150—and then if you receive a doctor’s note about your illness, they will refund the $150. For my travel partner and I, betting $300 on the possibility that I might be able to get a doctor’s note confirming I was contagious was a little more than we could afford. So we decided to fly. If anyone on my flight caught a sore throat, please take issue with United, not me. I did sequester myself away from as many travelers as possible and tried not to breathe—for 4.5 hours.

More eventful however, was what we experienced in the airport itself. As we drove toward the circus tent (and for anyone who hasn’t seen the Denver airport, while meant to evoke the Rockies in winter, it does look like giant travelling circus tent), billowing stacks of looming dark clouds shifted across the horizon. Behind us, the Rockies were all but obliterated from view, as thunderheads came across the plains and bumped up against their majesty.

In all the approaching storm’s beauty, I was left awestruck. My love of Western thunderstorms melted away the aches and pains of my throat as I sat in the car, enthralled by the looming power of these enchanting clouds. There is nothing I love more than the deep, heart palpitating rumble of thunder as it spreads across an open prairie.

Under the Circus Tent

Under the Circus Tent

In the airport, the thunderstorm hit. We were seated in the upstairs section of the big tent nibbling on snacks, when the canvas ceiling started rippling with the sudden downpouring of rain. Rivulets of water erupted from the sides of the building. It was incredible, and also, somewhat shocking. As much as I had thought the building looked like a giant tent, I never imagined that the roof was in fact some sort of canvas tension material (to read more about the architect Curtis Fentress, click here).

The rumbles, the deluge, the wind, and lightening (sadly only distant rumbles of thunder) were amazing to experience from the main concourse. The storm passed through ferociously,  albeit briefly. And amazingly, despite the weather, our flight was not listed as delayed.   

Of course, just because it’s not listed as delayed doesn’t mean a delay won’t happen. We then sat on the tarmac for an hour. Luckily, I promptly curled up to the sound of rain and the hum of the plane engines, and fell asleep.

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Last Thursday I flew to Denver for a family trip to the Rocky Mountains. Four members of the party were coming together at the airport on three different flights—quite the coordination campaign. From Boston, two different airlines: United and American. From Manchester: Southwest. I was on a direct flight to Denver on United after deciding that for such a short weekend, being on multiple flights was too much of a risk for cancellations, delays, and angst. Turns out, all three airlines experienced postponements of some sort or another.

Unsettled weather in the Denver area the last few weeks has led to baseball size hail, tornadoes, and lightening/thunderstorms. We weren’t sure what to expect for our flights–but I was anticipating some sort of significant setback. On United, our delays were fairly minor. After pulling out of the gate, we sat on the tarmac for about half an hour; in flight, we did some circling around Denver and experienced some bumps. But we managed to arrive only about 15 minutes past the anticipated arrival time. In fact, our flight was supposed to be the last to arrive, but we ended up being the first–a rare feat.

Southwest had been delayed in Philly (surprise, surprise!) and the American traveler had been rerouted from Boston-Dallas-Denver to Boston-Chicago-Denver. She had then waited in Chicago for hours. I found it interesting that my least favorite airline (United) was the most on time, whereas my usually favorite airline (American) was the most delayed.

Overall our success on United seemed more a product of airports less inclined to delays, the right timing regarding the weather, and most importantly, direct flights, than to the individual airlines. Nevertheless, I might be inclined to check out United again. Well…only if it’s direct.

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Perhaps it was my rant against the 57 on Monday, but for some reason, as luck would have it, for two days in a row (Monday night and Tuesday night), I stared longingly at a 57 bus across the Watertown intersection only to have it pull out and not pick me up.

It’s basically an emotional rollercoaster. I cross the Charles River bridge and can see the yellow markings of the bus with the 57 in lights across the top. Elation! I’m just in time! I jog to the curbside to await the light changes. I watch others across the intersection slowly filing onto the bus, swiping their Charlie cards, or carefully counting out change. Perfect! People are still loading. Then I wait. I shift from foot to foot anxiously staring at the swirling traffic as it haltingly moves and honks and shifts through the intersection. Can I go now? Can I cross? I put a foot into the street. A car whizzes by snapping me back onto the safety of the curb. I glance at the bus yard—no other waiting buses. I glance up the street to see whether any buses are approaching the bus yard from the opposite direction signaling that even if I miss this bus, another one will swing around soon. Nothing. Now my elation turns to angst.

Can I cross the street? When will these lights change?! Avoiding a right-on-red car, I make my way partly through the intersection…maybe I’ll make it! I wait. I wonder why there are so many people on the bus. It can only mean one of two things: 1) there has not been a bus I a long time so that means there might be another soon even if I miss this one or 2) there hasn’t been a bus in a long time and that means there probably won’t be another one soon because the schedule is messed up.

The lights switch and I bound across the intersection, freed by the solid white walking man. Yes! I can make it. But then I hear the shifting breaks and gears of the bus and see it rumbling forward from Watertown Yard. No! Seriously?

I’m three feet in front of the bus as the driver distinctly avoids looking at me and turns out onto the street—refusing to acknowledge my attempt at a stare-down or my frantically waving hands. Utter dejection.

I glance at my watch. Five till six, near to the time on Monday night when I waited more than half an hour after watching a bus pull out as I was trying to cross the intersection. That night I watched nine other buses (not 57s) pull out through the yard while I waited—including three 57s that pulled into the bus yard with passengers, but exited with ‘Out of Service’ signs.

As my friend Neal wrote to me yesterday, “What’s the point of having public transit if it completely sucks? ([My girlfriend] keeps writing to the T to complain, and they just send her a free token—which is pretty lousy if the bus won’t even stop to let her on!).”

And perhaps the frustrating thing is that the bus drivers are all pretty nice people. I like to think it’s not that they intentionally don’t pick people up or mess up the schedule. I understand they don’t have control over the lights, or traffic, or buses breaking down.

However, I question why there is not some way of figuring this out. Why are other cities able to get their public transportation working in a way that benefits the public but Boston is not? Until that question is answered, I guess I’ll just continue to face the emotional ups and downs of my favorite, ridiculous 57 bus—but I may need to do some zen breathing this morning before I walk out the door.
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I am a firm believer in public transportation. Despite owning a car, I’ve been riding the 57 bus from Brighton Center to Watertown and back home for almost two years. However, there are many days when I question my enthusiasm for environmentally friendly transportation alternatives. Today, after again waiting for an inordinate amount of time on my return ride, I decided to calculate (roughly) how many extra minutes and hours of my life have been spent waiting for the 57 bus.

I’m no math whiz. But given that on average that I wait about 10-15 minutes for a bus that’s supposed to come every 5-10–on many occasions I’ve waited upwards of half an hour–and factoring in weekends and vacation, I estimate I’ve spent about 10,000 minutes, or 166 hours, or 6.9 days waiting for that damn bus. That is a lot of time I could be doing other things.

It’s fair to say that if I were driving, I might sit in traffic some similar amount of time. However, I have driven to work on a few occasions and 1) the door-to-door trip usually only takes a total of 10 minutes and 2) if there is traffic, I find it generally does not border on the absurdity of the 57 bus.

Take this morning for example. As I rounded the corner of my street to meet a friend for tea before work, I looked over to see three 57s barrelling toward me. So tempted was I by the sight of a 57 actually arriving on time, I almost suggested cancelling coffee with my friend–or at least changing venues–so that we could take advantage of the approaching buses. But then I paused. Three 57s? Three? All butting up against one another? This from a bus route where they are supposed to be spaced 5-10 minutes apart. Good luck to anyone arriving after that trio passed. There probably wouldn’t be another bus for at least half an hour. And then, perhaps the most absurd, none of them stopped at the set bus stop–despite the fact that several people stood waiting.

It was a brilliant example of my daily frustration. Poorly timed buses, that then, in their rush to separate from one another and create spacing, actually pass waiting travelers. Bravo MBTA! Another stellar example of quality programming.

Realizing that there wouldn’t be another bus for half an hour, my friend and I decided to just enjoy our tea. And sure enough, as we emerged half an hour later, a 57 was perfectly arriving at the bus stop as we walked up–the only one to arrive since the previous three.

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