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Days of Stupid

I'm sitting in a team meeting in Little Rock, AR. It's pretty laid back... Our friend Duke is giving a tutorial on Macromedia Flash 4.0.

As I don't happen to have it installed on my laptop, and therefore cannot follow along with the other, I'm taking the opportunity to write this post regarding recent events...

*

On Sunday we were really organised for our Trip to Little Rock for our latest periodic visit to Acme Head Office. It is not a straight-forward flight, because there is no direct flight from San Francisco, CA to Little Rock, AR. We usually have to switch aircraft in Dallas, or St Loius.

Usually we fly from the Oakland airport (over the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay area). This time, Lisa did some research on the web and found some cheaper flights from San Francisco airport (over the Golden Gate bridge and through the city to the South Bay area).

We actually prefer the Oakland airport, because it is smaller and the long-term parking is cheaper. But the car trip there and back is quite a bit longer and a little more risky, particularly at night when we tend to take a wrong turn and get lost.

The drive to SFO is more direct and shorter, and what's more, the flights worked out at a better time for us - we'd arrive there and back at a more respectable time of evening. This time the connecting flight will be from Houston, TX.

So, we were encouraged when we packed up the house and drove into the city with plenty of time in hand.

The Day of Stupid officially began when we noticed the signs on the freeway to "Long Term Parking - Left Lane" and we were keeping right, following the signs to the regular airport parking. Then, at the last minute, just as we were about to descend under the terminal to the carpark, we saw a sign "Long Term Parking - turn here". We followed the turn, which curved away from the terminal, all the way back around the front, under the freeway, and back along a road parallel to the freeway, back the way we'd just come. Then, we turned into the first parking place we saw, which turned out not to be the place we had the coupon for, but rather, the more expensive parking lot run by the airport itself. <sigh>. Ok, no problem, it isn't that much more expensive and it is only for a few days.

Our flights - according to our itinerary emailed from the Acme Travel people - were Northwestern, so we jumped off the shuttle at the Northwestern section of the terminal and stood in line for the e-ticket machine. The queue wasn't moving, and no-one was actually using the machine, so we queue-jumped and tried entering our e-ticket number. First, though, it demanded a credit-card for id purposes. OK. It rejected the first couple we tried, and then finally correctly identified Lisa from one of hers. Then, when she typed in the e-ticket number from the email message, the machine retorted, "you must see a representative for your reservation". When I tried the same thing, none of my credit cards were "readable" by the machine. I was beginning to wonder if we'd walked through a magnetic field or something.

Anyway, we got back in the queue and finally got to talk to a human. He checked our itinerary and said, "This is not a Northwestern flight. It is operated by Continental. You have to go to their check-in." So we picked up our bags and schlepped around the terminal to Continental. They had an e-ticket machine, so we went up to it and started to get our credit cards out, when the woman behind the counter said, "It's broken. You can go straight to the gate if you have an e-ticket."

So, we go through the x-ray checkpoint, handing our PalmPilots and wallets to the security people so that they don't trigger any stupid alarms, and trudge all the way to Gate 72. At the desk, we explain to the check-in clerk that we have reservations and here is the e-ticket number, etc, etc, and she checks the computer, prints out boarding passes, rips them up, pokes the computer again, prints out boarding passes, then rips them up again, and then turns to her colleague and says, "I need some help. This e-ticket isn't working." They check the numbers, and then say to us, "Are you sure this is an e-ticket?"

We look at each other, and Lisa brings out the envelope of stuff that Krystal from Acme sent us the other day, and inside are some real tickets! We hand them to the guys, apologising, saying, "We thought they were e-tickets. They always used to be etickets. We're really sorry!"

Anyway, no more problems. We got our boarding passes and go to wait at the gate, and of course the flight is delayed. Instead of 12:30, it's due to leave at 1:15. As it turns out, the aircraft doesn't arrive at the gate until 1:00, and then everybody gets off, and then we line up to get on.

We made a conscious decision this time to pack with carry-on luggage only, to make the process of planing and de-planing (their terms, not mine) easier and faster. Of course, we clamber on to the plane and struggle to our seats, and all the overhead lockers are full. We began to wish that we had checked our bags... anyway, we manage to find spaces above other seats.

The plane doesn't leave the ground until 2.00. There is no way the plane can make up the time delay in flight, and we figure that we are going to miss our connecting flight.

After we put our watches forward 2 hours and the plane lands at 7:30, we know that our connecting flight left 45 minutes ago.

We are told to go see the service desk when we get to the terminal, for "information about connecting flights and accommodation options". Hmm. Doesn't sound promising.

Indeed, for us there are no connecting flights, and we are given a list of motels/hotels which offer Continental discount voucher rates. We are going to be spending the night in scenic Houston, and then catch a 9:30 flight to Little Rock in the morning. Argh.

Before we find somewhere to stay, there are important things to do: a) tell the hotel in Little Rock that we will be checking in the following day, and b) tell Avis in Little Rock that we will need the car rental for pickup a day later than expected.

Astoundingly, Avis at Houston says that the Avis in Little Rock isn't open on Sundays! So we wonder how the heck we were supposed to be collecting a car when they aren't open. We are sure that they are talking about another Avis depot, rather than the one in Little Rock airport.

Anyway, we run out to the shuttle bay to catch a hotel shuttle and wait with our bags as van after van pull up and dump passengers and pick up new ones, while we look out for a Lexington Suites bus. It finally turns up, and we drive off. Houston Intercontinental Airport is so big that you have to practically drive alongside it for ages in order to get anywhere at all.

We chose Lexington Suites because we were assured that it had a restaurant. We were so hungry, and we thought it would be nice to relax and enjoy the evening, if that was at all possible. Almost inevitably, the Day of Stupid ensured that, in fact, there was no restaurant at the hotel. If we wanted to eat out, we could order pizza... or go next door to the Holiday Inn. We elected to go next door.

We managed to call the hotel at Little Rock and explain that we'd be checking in a day late, and also call the Avis people and cajole them into ensuring that there would still be a car to pick up the following day. Also we called Duke and explained that we were stuck in Houston, would not be making the morning session, and that we'd see them all later tomorrow.

It turns out that "next door" in Texas is actually across a road and down the block. We looked in the window of the Holiday Inn and it looked deserted. At the desk we asked if they knew of a restaurant nearby and it turned out that yes, indeed, they had one on the premises and even though it closed in 30 minutes, we would be able to eat there. So we walked over to the reception desk which was bereft of personnel, and waited. A short time later someone did wander over and brought us through into the main room to show us to a table.

"Smoking or non-smoking?" she asked.

"Does it really make a difference?" we replied. The restaurant was completely empty! We sat down at our chosen table and looked at the menu.

"Continental Airlines dumped you here, didn't they?" the woman suggested.

"How did you know?" we answered.

"You just have that look," she said.

We were prepared for terrible food, but as it turned out, it was really good. We had a beef-noodle soup, which tasted fantastic, and I had a burger which was actually pretty good also.

*

The next morning we got up and checked out, and hopped in the hotel shuttle and were driven back to the airport for our 9:30am flight to Little Rock. Once again, when the airport came into view, we drove parallel and then away from it for quite a while before finally coming to a corner and turning back in a direction that finally got us to the terminal.

The aircraft was a tiny propeller craft, but luckily the flight was uneventful. We collected the car which was still there, thank goodness, and checked the map in order to drive to our hotel and eventually the Acme building where we were going to be working for the next few days.

[Later...] I'm writing this on the flight back from Houston to San Francisco. We had a mixed few days at Acme HQ in Little Rock. It was fun driving around in the rental car instead of relying on Duke to ferry us around. Of course, we like Duke a lot at very much enjoy spending time with him, both during work time and after hours. One of our favourate activities is looking for the Cafe Di Roma. We had been there twice before, both times requiring directions in order to find it. This time was no exception <s>. We have made a special note of the location, and Duke is now confident that we will have no trouble getting there next time. It's important, because it is the *only* place to get Real Coffee and Espresso in all of Arkansas. As far as we know...

I'm not going to write much about what we actually did during our few days at Acme HQ. Meetings, mostly, and a few crisis recovery moments. We didn't get everything done that we wanted, but some things did get achieved, and we attended *most* of the important divisional meetings that we were supposed to.

We're looking forward to getting home and collecting the cat and relaxing for a bit.

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