Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Connection Blues

This weekend I went up to Pittsburgh for the wedding of two of my favorite people, Snarkout and Redfox. I just wish to re-emphasize (pre-emphasize?) the wonderfulness of the ceremony, in which I got to read a passage from Italo Calvino's "If on a winter's night a traveler," and of the weekend in general, in which I got to see some great friends from college I hadn't seen in far too long and in which we all got to go dancing to really bad club music. That out of the way, the following is copied (with minor revisions) from my notebook:

8/10 10 PM

The wedding was lovely.

And yet here I sit, a man utterly defeated, too discouraged even to muster the energy necessary to walk all of a dozen yards to ask the cheapest hotel in the area of the Newark airport. For that is where I am, stymied by a nearly 3-hour delay at the Pittsburgh airport. I missed my connection (by how many hours I do not know) and the earliest flight to DC is 7:30 AM tomorrow morning.

The airport seems to be shutting down. I fear if I attempt to sleep here (the immortal cliche of airport travel, though usually combined with holiday blizzards) I will be roused and possibly arrested for vagrancy. Possibly some coffee and staying awake all night would work, though such would be possibly ill-advised and, if in fact the airport will shut down, ultimately futile.

Oh look! Just running past, likely on her way home, was the nice woman who so sweetly told me I had missed my flight and advised I proceed to customer service. Customer service, in its turn, was swamped by half my flight, its depleted late-night Sunday contingent of two representatives tragically inadequate.

My reading materials were similarly overwhelmed by the unexpected circumstances. Vonnegut's "Mother Night" [which explains so much of the tone seen here] gets added to the pile marked "read," along with Allen's "Without Feathers."

Three fellows apparently from Terminal A have wandered over to flirt with the ladies of the Ground Transportation Information desk. I grow hungry and begin spinning fantasies of all-night diners with free refills and colorful patrons.

It is now 10:15. 6 hours and 45 minutes stand between me and check-in. I should admit defeat and add another night's hotel stay to the weekend's already hefty tally.

In any case, my despair has somewhat lifted. It seems that any problem that can be set down in writing cannot possibly be so insurmountable as it first seemed, able to be captured handily in something so flimsy as language.

Are all of these people in the seats around me similarly stranded, or are they awaiting their rides? Friends or family to come by and rescue them?

And here I have my answer. The woman at the desk calls out two numbers and two of my fellow sitters jump up. A man arrives all of forty seconds later and begins calling out names, at which more folks arise and gather their things to go. I am alone in my predicament and must take control of my own fate.

11 PM

Any ridiculous situation is made more ridiculous by a liberal addition of the German language. I am currently in the P4 area of the Newark Liberty Airport, where the hotel shuttles pick up poor stranded souls. I just got to watch a dozen German tourists try to pack themselves into a smallish Ramada van. A man was shouting to a woman, presumably his wife, presumably that she needed to get in the (already packed to its proverbial gills) van, while she gestured at her suitcase -- cold and alone on the wet street behind the packed van, the luggage child loser of a luggage game of musical chairs -- and answered back, "Mein zutkase! Mein bak!" until finally the the driver came back and picked it up and told her she could carry it on her lap (if, indeed, there was any room for her).

Then I noticed a companion from my flight, who also had happened to have been directly in front of me in the endless customer service line. She had missed her connection to Manchester, England, she explained, for the second time that week. She had gotten a voucher to stay at the Holiday Inn. I was headed for the Econo Lodge, I responded, and she said that I had just missed the shuttle.

Then some other people mentioned that they were waiting for the Howard Johnson shuttle. Howard Johnson has the cheapest rates of all the Newark Airport area hotels, I now know, but when I had called them they told me they were full for the night.

So I asked the people if they had reservations.

"No, we have these vouchers from the airline."

"They're putting everyone up but me!" I exclaimed in mock exasperation.

"We missed our connection."

"Oh, I did too."

"Well then they have to put you up! They have to! Go back and tell them to give you a voucher!"

But I realized that it was too late-- the area where the customer service desk was had already closed for the night.

While I was feeling like an idiot for not demanding my rights, their shuttle arrived. They had already left before I remembered the original reason for my question. I have to wonder if they arrived at the HoJo to find no room at the inn, their vouchers useless. I feel bad for wishing this, though it affords a small amount of shadenfreud and makes me feel slightly less the ijjit.

And here's my van.
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