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Today’s Travel Insanity

I’m in Chicago for a job opportunity, checking out final plans for the job along with places to live and whatnot. Flew in this afternoon and spent a good two hours flogging my way through airport and rental-car hassles before the voyage into the west suburbs via clogged highways.

What endless fun!

I flew United, a Boeing 757 that was 2/3 full, which was quite nice. The center seat on my row was empty, the window seat occupied by a mid-20s woman with three nose rings, two lip piercings, each eyebrow pierced, and more metal pieces in each ear than I could count quickly. The security folks must have loved her. She was very quiet, speaking so low that when she asked me to excuse her so she could use the lavatory, I didn’t hear a word she said. I’m pretty sure she was speaking, because her lips moved, but no sound came out that could be heard over the jet whine.

Anywho. We left Seattle about 45 minutes late due to a “maintenance concern” the pilot had to iron out with United Maintenance World HQ, so we sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes while that happened. I was almost certain they were going to cancel the flight and return us to the terminal, but we finally trundled down the runway and lurched into the air. They never did tell us what exactly the “maintenance concern” was, so I’m thinking it could have been anything from a burned-out control light to an engine on the edge of flame-out, but in the end it didn’t matter much. Flight was pretty uneventful, only a bit of turbulence here and there.

They showed a movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, as the flight was over three hours long. I didn’t watch in part because I don’t like the way they chop the hell out of even the most innocuous movies when they show them on airplanes, for God knows what reason. Also because I wasn’t in the mood for a feel-good “woman makes big life change and finds romance in exotic locale” movie. Instead I whipped out my laptop and fired up disc 1 of the first season DVD set of The West Wing, while the window-seat girl acted like she was reading her stack of Hemingway, Faulkner, and similar authors when she was really just flipping pages aimlessly.

The flight landed 30 min late, and off I trekked to claim my suitcase and find the Hertz rental-car bus. I got to the bag-claim area just as the luggage from my flight was appearing on the track, but mine never came. The passengers from my flight gathered ’round, grabbed their own bags, and disappeared, leaving me wondering where the hell my suitcase was, and checking with the baggage-service folks about it. They helpfully informed me the bag was in Chicago, according to their claim-ticket scans (they do it kinda like UPS and FedEx nowadays, scan the barcode and in theory know what’s going on), but they just weren’t sure where exactly it was in Chicago.

They dispatched a squad of minions into the bowels of O’Hare International Airport and appeared about 20 minutes later with the bag, an hour after I got off the flight and long after the bag-claim area had emptied. The bag was none the worse for wear, had simply been loaded onto the wrong conveyor and had been trundling around a Northwest Airlines bag claim in another terminal. Satisfied that I now had clothes beyond the ones on my back, I angled off to the ground-transportation areas.

Hopped a Hertz bus right away and the driver helpfully took my name (thank God for their #1 Club Gold program). We made the usual stops at other terminals and headed directly for the Hertz lot, where I was greeted with what would soon become the next problem of the day: My name in lights over slot 130, which held a Ford Mustang.

The car itself caused me few problems. The trunk, which was only slightly larger than my left pocket, was a bit of a tight squeeze for my suitcase, but I managed to get things arranged suitably. And I was thinking it might be kinda fun to have a little sporty vehicle like that, even if I ran into traffic all the time and didn’t get to open it up on the straightaways. It was a little small for me—I had the driver’s seat jammed as far back and down as it could go and I still had to raise the steering-wheel tilt to its highest setting to avoid banging my knees against the steering column, but I could deal with that.

It was when I tried to leave that I met with difficulty.

The exit gates at the ORD Hertz lot have barrier arms both before and after the attendant booths. You have to wait for the attendant to raise the barrier before you pull up to the booth, and the barrier immediately drops behind you to bar the next vehicle’s approach. After the attendant’s checked your paperwork, he raises the outside barrier, drops the tire-ripper teeth into slots in the ground, and you’re released to the wild.

So I drove up, no cars ahead of me, and slowed to a stop before the inside barrier. The attendant leaned out the window of his booth and waved me forward, at the same time raising the barrier. So forward I drove, and then I saw the attendant’s face change from mild disinterest to an expression of utter horror and surprise. About 0.1 seconds later I heard a mighty FWOOSH and the nose of my Mustang settled sickeningly as the tire-ripper teeth bit into the front tires.

Seems the barrier is the lesser of the two protections at the exit gates. There are also those WARNING DO NOT BACK UP SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE devices that are supposed to drop into the metal slots of the speed bump below the barrier as the barrier is raised. I hadn’t noticed the rippers, they didn’t go down properly, and the attendant didn’t spot it in time, so I was dead in the water.

That kind of quick tire deflation gives an interestingly sickening feeling as the nose of your vehicle settles rapidly.

The attendant rushed frantically out to make sure I was okay. Of course I was fine, apart from the surprise of it, and in fact I was laughing weakly when I rolled down my window to talk to him. He turned and flashed back into his booth, and what seemed like 3 seconds later the location manager was there, apologizing profusely for the inconvenience and telling me that the only other car type they had instantly available was a Ford Taurus and would that suit my needs?

That suited me fine, I told him. I was mostly interested in getting the hell out of the airport before rush hour started in earnest. He barked a command into his portable radio and the Taurus appeared seconds later, driven at about 230 mph across the lot by another terrified-looking Hertz attendant who pulled up next to the Mustang, yanked open the Taurus’ trunk and then the Mustang’s, and manhandled my suitcase and my backpack to the Taurus with such alacrity that he nearly lifted the Mustang off the ground. I think he would have tried to carry me to the new car had I not already stepped out to walk over by myself.

By the time I was stepping into the Taurus, they already had a tow truck to start moving the Mustang. The location manager personally raised the barriers on the other exit booth lane and double-checked to be sure the tire-rippers were down, and waved me right through, mouthing endless apologies the entire time.

The airport craziness finally ended, I cruised into the western ’burbs, encountering slowed traffic only at the tollbooths and again on Roosevelt Ave in the Glen Ellyn/Lombard area.

Finally arrived at my destination around 18:00 and had dinner at Macaroni Grill with my friend Matt. Probably going to crash pretty early—only 22:00 CST but I’m feeling the day catching up with me.

Travel insanity will do that, I s’pose.