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The Week of Stupid begins

As I write this, we are about halfway between Oakland airport and Dallas, with the sunset behind us. I can tell because the clouds ahead are all lit up in peachy-orange colours, and the ground far below is in shadow now. I can see the rear edge of the wing all gleaming in the sunset.

We're finally in the air on our way to Little Rock, AR, for yet another quarterly team meeting. Actually, to say that we are "on our way" is a bit misleading, because in fact, early observations indicate that yet another Week Of Stupid may be in the offing.

Those of you who read my Dispatches on a regular basis will remember the last time a Day Of Stupid took place, and have an inkling of the kinds of things I am about to relate. Those who don't read, or don't remember, are probably not missing much.

I should have had more of a premonition early this morning when, for some reason, I woke at 5:50am. I guess Kami The Cat (or Pontoon as she is now colloquially called) may have made a loud noise out the window, demanding to come in, but this is unlikely because when I staggered up and opened the sliding door to the back yard, she meowed a greeting but made no effort to actually step through the doorway.

My Mondays normally begins with an 8:30am teleconference. 8:30 Central time, that is! So I was fully expecting the phone to ring at 6:30 anyway. Given this fact, I stayed upright and logged in to the Internet and checked my various mail accounts. No messages. Checked the UserFriendly, Doonesbury, and For Better Or For Worse comic strip web pages for my daily chuckle, and then checked Slashdot.org for geek news.

At 7:00 I decided that somehow, they knew that I was not going to be woken up out of sleep by the teleconference, and therefore it evidently wasn't worth having one. In other words, the phone didn't ring. (For reasons too stupid to relate, the meeting organiser always rings me from a conference room... I am not allowed to ring them.)

I went back to bed.

Sometime later, we got up and performed a short ceremony of feline farewell, i.e. grabbed Kami The Cat and stuffed her into her personal travel pod ready for the trip back to Santa Rosa with Derek.

Summer break is nearly over for Derek, and he'll be spending more time up north, so with us being away this week at Acme in Little Rock, it made sense to say farewell to Karma's houseguest at this time.

(Karma, of course, was oblivious, as we had packed him off to Cat's Cradle and Spa Resort the previous day.)

The espresso machine got its daily workout, and a mug and two bagels later I was finally alert enough to think about helping Lisa close up the house and pack our clothes and other important things like that.

(No, I *don't* have to be alert for the 6:30am conference call - long story!)

Anyway - this time we decide that we can stuff all our clothes into one bag, rather than taking separate luggage for our clothes and stuff. This we manage to do, rather astounding considering that I'm taking more clothes than usual *and* we're packing the camera... optimistically thinking of taking some pictures of our work buddies. (Well, you see, we'll set up a website with a mock video screen so that when we're on the phone we can see navigate to the appropriate page and see who we are talking to! You didn't know that Grover worked in Logistics did you - thought not.)

OK, we're packed and ready to go in plenty of time. Our flight should leave at 12:45 and we're out of the house by 10:00, ready to drive across the bridge to Oakland airport. (That's OAKLAND, you fool - get in the left lane - THE LEFT LANE - NO, YOUR *OTHER* LEFT)

...OK, so now *I'm* the person that the guy in the other car gets to yell at. We made the exit, what's the big deal?

(The irony escapes me here, but in hindsight, we should have kept going to San Francisco airport and just dealt with the fact that our tickets were for a flight leaving from Oakland once we'd got there and parked the car. But no - we took the exit and headed on 550 for Oakland.)

After making good time (45min) we got a slot in our favorite long-term parking lot, and climbed into the shuttle bus for the short jaunt to the terminal.

The check in counters weren't busy at all, and we checked our one bag in, and even remembered to check that we had adjacent seats for both this flight and our connecting one from Dallas to Little Rock.

No problems at the security gate - at least, not once I'd placed keys, change purse, Palm Pilot VII, and wallet into the bowl to bypass the magic doorway - and they didn't even check our laptops for drugs (do laptops take drugs? I guess not any more...)

Our gate is Gate 15 as usual - right down the end of the Terminal 1 corridor.

Our first hint of warning came at 12:30 when we were expecting to hear the boarding call. It didn't come. Then, 10 minutes later, the man at the gate announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, there's going to be a slight delay - the co-pilot opened his window and it won't shut. We can't take off with an open window, so we are working on shutting the window now. We'll start boarding in 10 minutes or so."

15 minutes later: "We can't shut the window, so we just sending for another window from maintenance, but we'll have that installed, the mechanics are working on it, won't be longer than 30 minutes, maximum."

OK, fine, we had a 1h45m delay between arrival in Dallas and the scheduled ETD of our connecting flight, so this shouldn't be a problem.

20 minutes later: "We haven't been able to locate a replacement window that fits, so we have to send to San Francisco for the part. It'll be a 3-4 hour delay, so those of you with connecting flights, or those people who don't wish to wait that long, should probably go back to the check-in counter and see about getting a replacement booking..."

Before he even stops talking, everyone at the gate moves as one and rises, grabbing bags and children and starts moving back down the corridor towards the security gate.

Lisa and I look at each other, say, "We're screwed", and start running, ducking around families and trash cans and lost children, fully intending to get to the check-in counter before chaos descends upon it. We almost managed it, we were about 15th in line - out of about 50 or so in the queue.

There was only one check-in desk staffed, and each person was taking several minutes to be processed. Everyone was getting very tetchy... after about half an hour of standing in line and not moving, we got the impression from those with cellphones that all the other airlines were booked out of flights to Dallas, and we weren't going to make our connecting flight - the last one to Little Rock today, of course - but the question seemed to be whether the flight we were originally booked on was going to fly at all. If it didn't, there was one that would leave Oakland at 11:45pm (it was now 1:30pm) and get into Dallas at 4:30am...

Seeing as we were pretty sure we would now not be in Little Rock before August, we weren't particularly worried about anything except whether we would be sleeping in a hotel in Dallas, or on the red-eye.

As it turned out, by the time the line had moved far enough so that we just about to reach a check-in desk, we got the announcement that the flight *would* be flying, expected to leave at 4:30pm - too late for our original connecting flight, that was a given.

They had some baggage handlers come out and offer to bring out the luggage that we had collectively checked in previously, but they found this a bit time-consuming to sort out, so by the time they got to us, they just said, "come back and find your bag in the pile," so I ran back through a maze of corridors and doors and eventually found myself in a big open area - where the luggage tractors come with their trailers I guess - and rummaged through this pile of suitcases looking for our tan leather bag. It stands out well, which is good.

I got back with our bag to the line at the check-in desk, just as we were being called up to the next available booth. At the desk we made sure that we would not have a problem sorting things out like connecting flights at Dallas, and then found a phone and rang Acme, leaving messages about the change in our travel arrangements, so that we would still have a car and hotel when we finally arrived in Little Rock the following morning.

We arrived in Dallas and as we got off the plane there was an official looking guy who directed us to walk down the corridor and turn this way and that until eventually we reached the service desk. The service desk confirmed that we were booked on the 7:30am flight to Little Rock the next morning, and handed out hotel and meal vouchers, which was nice. Then we had to run downstairs and catch a shuttle bus to the hotel, which for us was a place called "Comfort Inn", about 20 minutes away from the airport. The shuttle bus was completely full, and we were sitting next to a young woman with a Curious George stuffed toy poking out of her bag.

We had gone all the way to the back of the bus, so when we finally pulled up at the entrance, everyone else got off first, and we were basically last in line. We checked the shuttle bus schedule, and yes, there was one due to depart at 6:15am, which seemed appropriate. Finally we got a room key and trundled up in the tiny lift to our room at about 11:00pm.

Why do motel rooms smell funny?

We set the alarm and wake-up call for 6:00, took showers (I really felt like I needed one by this time!) and climbed into bed. No trouble falling asleep, despite the crazy mattress.

No sooner had our heads touched pillow than the phone rang - our wake up call! Had we actually slept at all? Was it a dream? Argh. Threw clothes on, went downstairs. Skipped breakfast (ugh) and found the check-out desk surrounded by italian tourists, or a mexican bowling team, or something equally bizzare. I honestly couldn't tell. One generously proportioned woman was asking for help from the "doughnut lady", and then as soon as someone paid her attention, started complaining that they hadn't received the $10 rebate they should have done for each room - or something like that. All we wanted to do was hand in our room key and run for the shuttle bus, but instead we had to wait impatiently as time passed and $10 bills were thrown about. After we eventually took our turn at the front desk, handed in the keys, ran quickly to the front of the hotel - and to the back of the line of people wanting to catch the shuttle. In other words, there was no point in rushing. If they didn't send two shuttles, we were in big trouble.

We were in luck, they sent two shuttles.

The first one filled up with tourists (or whoever they were) pretty quickly, and then the remaining crowd of people stopped trying to board the bus and ran to the second one pulling in just behind. Weird, we thought, and climbed on to the first one.

I threw our bag on to an empty space on the luggage rack, and started moving to the back of the bus, intending to stand up and hold the rails.

"You can't stand up in here, you're not allowed to," said some idiot sitting down in the back of the bus."

The Day Of Stupid was still in full effect, I noted. "What do you mean, we can't stand up in the bus," I replied, plaintively.

"The driver said you can't stand up!" the guy repeated.

I hauled the bag off the rack and we fell down the steps and went to the second bus, which of course was filling up rapidly. This one apparently did not obey the same laws of physics as the first bus, because we were encouraged by the driver to stick all our bags on the rack and cram in somehow.

On the way to the airport, the driver asked us to call out our flights and destinations so that she could look up the gate numbers and figure out where to stop first. There were 32 people on the bus, and once again we at the back were last to be asked. It turned out that the people at the front of the bus had a flight at 9:30, then a little further back it was 9:00, then 8:30, and so on until we told her 7:30. Poor woman, I can just imagine her thinking, "ok, so we'll stop here first, no wait, maybe this gate, hang on, better make it *this* terminal..." She stopped at the Delta terminal first, of course, and we pushed our way to the front of the bus, grabbed our bags and clambered off the bus and through the doors, up the escalator, and ran to our gate.

Thankfully we were not really late or anything, and we boarded the flight to Little Rock with no additional delays or problems.

We ended up driving out of the Avis section of the carpark in our rented red Pontiac Grand Am with a stupid spoiler on the back (it's all for show, the thing's engine had almost no pick-up whatsoever. The bucket seats were comfortable, though) and drove straight to the Acme office. If we were lucky we would only miss one meeting, which we could reschedule. No time to check in to the hotel that morning....

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