Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What every good Scout knows

United Airlines out of O'Hare. I'm running late to the gate but think, "Oh, you should buy a bottle of water!" Then I check my watch again, swallow a couple times (okay, spit still goes down so I'm hydrated enough for now) and board. After all, the drink cart will be coming down the aisle before you know it. (You feel it coming, don't you? But still, there might be a surprise, so keep reading.)

The jam-packed plane (is there any other kind?) departs on time. Oh, happy days! We launch into the air, fly for a while, then a while longer, then a LONG while longer. My swallowing mechanism is starting to bog down. I keep turning my head hoping to see the aisle clogged by liquid refreshments heading my way. Nothing. Like a director on a movie set, I want to yell ACTION!

Eventually, a voice crackles over the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, we were going to serve beverages, but it seems food service"--or whatever they call them--"didn't provide us with any cups. We only have four cups. If you are really in need of a drink, please ring your call button." I don't remember this being followed by an apology. After all, it wasn't their fault. Dumb food service.

I think to myself, oh, yea, fly the "friendly skies" where fists and briefcases fly as dehydrated people brawl over four thirst-quenching cups. But what followed stunned me: silence. Not a DING to be heard. Was I the only nincompoop without a water bottle? Were people too dehydrated and therefore too weak to lift their arms? Have business travelers gotten so used to today's travel oddities that we all now just shrug our shoulders and say, "First we lost the pillows, then the five pretzels, then blankets and now the water. Ho-hum. Whatever."

Then a sinister thought tries to take hold: Maybe the airlines are testing us to see if we CARE about beverages and the entire cart will be next on their list of take-aways if we don't rally. I almost leap to my feet to strike a kung-don't-mess-with-me stance.

Then another thought occurs to me. Perhaps people, OTHER people, were smart enough to say, "Hey, just give me the whole can." I actually lift myself out of my seat and cast my eyes about. Nope. The masses are simply reading, sleeping, chatting--sipping on their own water bottles. Those "safe" water bottles they were smart enough to purchase on their way to the gate. Those water bottles that need no cups and no cart service.

You know, for someone who was a short-lived Girl Scout and long-time 4-H gal (I made the switch when I realized there were no boys in Girl Scouts), you'd think I'd have learned by now to be prepared for . . . just about anything the airlines can throw at me. Back in the day when I could travel with my good old Tupperware container full of my own water (far left in the photo of what used to be my travel essentials), I was. But things have changed and so, therefore, must I. In fact, I'm going to stop typing right now and pack an extra seat belt and call button in my bag. Just in case.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Time Travels

Like millions of others, two days before Thanksgiving I was on the road. But rather than heading to Granny's house (since I AM the Granny), I was traveling home from yet another road trip. Home to no company for the holiday. Home to Black Friday sales I would not attend.

Home to blissful tranquility and a day of rest. Perfect.

But even so, yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, was not without travel. At 10 A.M. I set out for the nearest White Castle to partake in a decade-old traditional Thanksgiving breakfast with a friend. Okay, MY traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of jalepeno burgers, cheese fries and a diet cola. This year my friend went for the sausage and egg sandwich on toast, which, in my personal opinion, is not even remotely related to Slyders [and I should know since I was a 1996 celebrity judge for White Castle Hamburger's Fifth Annual Cravetime Recipe Contest--HONEST] but which he nonetheless enjoyed.

Between beverage refills and memory lapses, for nearly ninety minutes we nibbled and chatted. It was like modern day Time Travel for the over sixty set: we transported ourselves back to the good old days by recounting a few stories (no seat belt required); some timelines were blurry; we couldn't explain how we "suddenly" got this old but it all turned out well in the end since we still recognized we each.

While I was Time Traveling (and later belching), my husband stayed home and traveled from his comfy bed to his cement driveway to retrieve the newspaper, onward to his coffee pot, then to his familiar lounge chair where he checked out the sale flyers. After I arrived home--and was happy to learn we still recognized each other, too--I cooked us a simple turkey dinner; he cleaned the kitchen afterward.

I fly all over the country for business; he holds the fort down while I'm gone. I drive to White Castle for breakfast and he remains sane. Two old married folks, each traveling to their own tune while freeing the other to do the same.

For all these things I give thanks, even the day after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Happy Connecting

After the terribly tormenting tragedy I INDUCED the first day of my week-long, new-state-every-day leg of a book tour, things perked up--well, for the most part. Due to the immeasurable doofusness of my own self, it seemed I had nowhere to go but UP. Yes, my own fallible humanness set the mental bar for my expectations, point of view and attitude as it applies to traveling snafus.

Keeping all that in mind, I decided to focus on what went RIGHT during my traveling days (okay, traveling daze), so here ya go with a happy-happy spin on some not-so-happy moments.

*Since I was determined I would not check luggage (different airline and state every day), I loaded carry-ons to the max. With a backbreaking lack of speed, I drug, kicked, grunted and hip-checked my way down the ever narrowing (in part due to my ever widening) airplane aisles.

HAPPY SPIN: Without solicitation, kind and gallant gentlemen offered to help me with my overhead bags. Anything to get me out of the aisle and settled down, I'm sure, so they could relax, but nonetheless truly appreciated, no matter what their ulterior motives. They didn't have to offer but they did.

*Even though I was nestled in a soft luxury bed at a many-starred hotel the two mornings I could sleep in a bit, housekeeping had not seen fit to make sure unrequested radio alarms wouldn't go off before the crack of dawn. (These things are no doubt certified by James Bond against anyone's ability to figure out their secret codes) Thus, with no assistance from me (I swear I never TOUCHED those radios!) by 6:15 a.m. either a CD started playing, someone on a static radio channel suddenly blathered into the darkness or a LOUD buzzing sounded.

HAPPY SPIN: I was already awake due to a banging door, or elevator ding, or ship's blast (along the ol' Mississippi), or ambulance siren, or train whistle (or all of the aforementioned) and once by the 5:45 a.m. arrival of a bell hop knocking on my door to pick up luggage--at the wrong room. ("Sorry, ma'am," I heard through the door after my loud "WHAT?!?!?!")
HAPPY SPIN DISCLAIMER: Sadly, the HAPPY SPIN (okay, I stretched the happy-happy factor there) was also slightly tainted by the fact these morning alarms usually surprised me while I was on the toilet. I'm sure my neighbors hated the length of time my "alarms" were ringing/singing/talking/buzzing and in one case started out singing then relayed to buzzing, but some things just can't be rushed. Plus, maybe it was THEM who awakened me with their slamming door! (Payback, as it turns out, is often accidental.)
HAPPY GONE BAD: Then again, by default and through no fault of my own--aside from not being smart enough to UNPLUG the radio immediately after checking in--I became the perpetrator who awakened my neighbors causing someone else to likely be writing about their rude hotel neighbor.

*Brilliant planning found me traveling with no laptop, just my good old HP iPAQ (love that thing) with Wi-Fi and a portable keyboard. Too bad so many hotels offer Wi-Fi that doesn't work, employees who don't have a clue how to help you and maintain no business center. My e-mail stacked up for days at a time. (I'm due for my "New Every Two" and I'm seriously considering a Smart Phone after this trip! But honestly, do you think I'm smart enough to run it?)

HAPPY SPIN: Upon my arrival home I read a brilliant article that affirmed my wireless (aka connected-less) trials. Misery does love company, at least company that "gets" life on the road as well as life on the wild, bumpy, often frustrating Internet highway. THANKS, Will Allen III. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Turning Beet Red

Sunday past. O'Hare Airport. United Airlines terminal, concourse C.

I've purchased a sandwich and a side of beets (do you read an error there) from Berghoff's and I'm looking for a place to sit down to eat them because I dare not eat beets on my lap since there are about 20 of them with a circumference about the size of a fat quarter, all swimming in JUICE. The bar side, which is the only seating Berghoff's offers, is mobbed due to the Bears' game. People are standing 2 and 3 deep (plus out in the concourse) watching the the big-screen TV in the corner.

I ask a gentleman if I may share his table to eat my beets. He's not too thrilled, but he lets me. We're sitting under the television in good viewing range--not of the TV, but of the 50+ (I'm probably underestimating) people watching.

I decide the sandwich is too salty for my blood pressure so I only eat a few bites, then concentrate on the beets. A few beets goes a long way (see the windup?) so I decide to dump the rest of the remaining 15 or so in the garbage. I stack up my containers, grab the handle of my roller bag and make my way to the receptacle, which is also in viewing range of everyone because it is in the proximity of the TV. I'll be glad to get these things disposed of since, well, HELLO! BEETS and BEET JUICE. It was a dumb choice since I'm just heading out on a book tour with limited clothing because I don't want to check any luggage.

As I try to cram the stuff through the stiff swinging garbage door, the backlash
catches the plastic container of beets and beet juice and sends it flying. The red explosion lands on the floor -- on top of a man's cashmere coat (in hindsight, it could have been camel hair) rolled up on top of his briefcase. Since I am in viewing range of EVERYONE, there is a collective gasp, a nervous chuckle or two and it is then the man who owns the coat appears. He is wearing a pinstripe suit and an unhappy face. "I just BOUGHT this coat," he says, watching me pick beets from its beige beauty while trying to decide how to best be helpful. I'm afraid if I pick the coat up, the beets and juice will run even more places.

"I am so sorry. What can I do?" He doesn't speak for a moment while he watches me remove the remaining beets, then he picks the coat up. I mean beet juice is everywhere!

"Go to the bar and get a glass of soda water." I squeeze my way through the mob to get up to the bar. The room is LOUD and I'm yelling to get the bartender's attention, which she's ignoring since I'm YELLING! After a L-O-N-G while I get the goods and make my way back to the man who is now dabbing at his coat with paper napkins.

"How can I help?" He has me hold the coat while he carefully dips and dabs, wipes and assesses. I see the Brooks Brothers label. I think about this poor man on the road with THIS mess. I think about my savings account. I am mortified as this plays out in view of everyone.

The man--the handsome man with a tan and beets all over his expensive coat--smiles. SMILES. He tells me he bought the coat because it is "cold here in Chicago." I ask him for a business card so I can pay the dry cleaning bill, a process which I am sure won't work. So I can buy him a new coat, send him flowers for the smile. He HEAPS kindnesses on me while he tells me that just last night, two waiters collided and spilled lobster bisque on it.

Because of the man's kindness, and the fact he won't hand me a business card, I am overcome by the gift of his grace and I start crying. I KNOW THIS IS NOT PROFESSIONAL but I seem to have no control over my emotions. Equal parts of mortification and gratefulness squeeze a well of tears out of me. The nicer he is, the more I cry. He tries to distract me with small talk, asks me where I'm off to. Anything to stop the crying. All the while he keeps dipping and dabbing at the beet juice as quickly as I'm swiping tears off my face.

Eventually he says, "There." He looks at the coat as though it's as good as new, which it is not. One last time I ask him for a card, again he SMILES and refuses. He tells me he shouldn't have placed his coat there on the floor near the garbage in the first place, owns part of the blame. I'm all but SOBBING now.

It's time for us to part; I need to get to my gate. I cry as I walk. (Who knows, maybe the man cried happy tears too that I was finally out of his range and he was now safe!) I find a seat. Call my husband and tell him the story. The woman sitting next to me busts out laughing when I get to the "and all of it, beets, juice ... ends up on a man's cashmere coat." When I hang up, she apologizes for laughing, says she didn't mean to be listening but she couldn't help it.

You know, a few tiny things have gone wrong for me on this book tour since this incident, but I say to myself, "Charlene, remember the beets."

Next time when something goes wrong--REALLY wrong--on one of my sojourns, I hope I find the strength, courage and good humor to Remember The Beets and respond in the same kind and grace-filled way. My life feels remarkly better because of the kindness of a stranger.

Bless you, kind man. Bless you.