Wednesday, March 28, 2007

You're Freakin' me OUT, man!

Ever since my second-grade trip to the moon (dressed as Flash Gordon, riding an abandoned hot water heater with half-melted camera flash cubes - remember those? - taped to it that served as spaceship control panel buttons) occasional “things” about traveling have freaked me out. Things like watching an automobile accident unfold in front of me, cars whirling and twirling this way and that. Things like getting rear-ended by someone traveling 40 MPH while I’m stopped behind a commuter bus or at a traffic light (yes, BOTH of them happened to me).

Things like missed airplanes due to late airplanes. Things like burning towers, crawfish runway landings in high winds, hacking seatmates, unidentified gooey substances down in the slot that the bulkhead tray table folds into, blue water in airline toilets, the sudden squealing of train brakes, scary editors at writers’ conferences, mascara (not mine) on hotel pillow cases, elevators that won’t go up … or down, or a wad of chewed gum (not mine) in my nachos (yes, that really happened) .

Yes, there are plenty of things to freak me out on the road.

But last week I encountered The Worst Freak-Out, which was that I freaked MYSELF out! Let me tell you a story.

Back on January 4, I decided to book my first ever Jet Blue flights for an April event, this after deciding that using my AA frequent flyer miles when I could buy $39 one-way tickets wasn’t a prudent use of hard-earned miles. I’m moderating a “Selling Fiction” panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in NYC, and I’m flying in a couple days early to get in some face time with my publishers, take in something on Broadway… enjoy the razzamatazz of the Big Apple before the ASJA conference begins. Since all traveling expenses are on my dime, I’m trying to cut corners where I can, and hotel rooms alone just about broke my bank. So, I set up my online Jet Blue account, booked my reservations and Voila! Such a deal!

In a follow-up flurry of plan-ahead details, last week I forwarded my Jet Blue confirmation e-mail to my husband. Right after I pushed the “send” button, a FREAK-OUT sensation zinged up my mouse arm and exploded my brain. TELL ME I DIDN’T SEE WHAT I THINK I SAW! With racing heart, I dared to face the ominous details head on. Details of the reservation I MADE ONLINE with MY OWN BLAZING POINT-AND-CLICK FINGERS, in case you missed it.

“NOooooo!” My wail careened out of my gut, flew through my lips, bounced around my office walls, out the door and into my startled husband’s ears.

“WHAT? What’s wrong?”

“I canNOT believe what I’m seeing!”


“I made my airline reservations backwards! I have me flying out of JFK the day I’m supposed to be leaving Chicago, and visa versa! HOW DID I DO THIS? I’ve NEVER done this before. Hundreds, dare I say THOUSANDS of reservations! This is a first! I cannot imagine. . . . .”

I immediately clicked to the Jet Blue site to see what kind of tricky, backwards, ill conceived setup they offered that caused me to do such a stupid thing.

“Round Trip” - “One Way” [click your choice]
“Where from?” [pick your city from a drop-down menu]
“Where to?” [pick your city from a drop-down menu]
“Date to leave?” [pick your date from a calendar]
“Date to return?” [pick your date from a calendar]
“Number of adults?” [I’m thinking at the moment that this is DEBATABLE!]


HOW COULD I HAVE DONE THIS?” (That’s about half of what I screeched.)

“Just phone the airlines and explain what happened,” my husband calmly said. My husband who barely ever travels on airplanes and never makes the arrangements. My dear one who therefore hasn’t dealt much with airlines and customer service.

“This is gonna cost me HUGE!” I bellowed, then moaned, then dialed the number with one hand while cradling my forehead in the other.

Let me cut to the finish line here. After much gnashing of teeth, explaining, pleading and especially admitting how DUMB I am and how this is my first Jet Blue “experience,” and how I FREAKED MYSELF OUT with this discovery (and how much MORE I’d have FREAKED MYSELF OUT if I didn’t discover this until I went to check in online the night before my flight!), I ended up paying $40, the difference in available flight fares. Even though the Jet Blue agent didn’t think they’d do it, after putting me on hold and, on my behalf, fighting the good fight with whomever she had to fight it (I can just hear her now, “I have this insanely incompetent, verge-of-tears, self-deprecating, slightly hysterical, pleading woman on the line”), Jet Blue kindly waved my $30 change fee.

The moral of this story? Always check the details in your e-mail confirmations. Watch your fickle online booking fingers, no matter how seasoned they may be. If your assistant makes this type of doofus mistake when making your flight arrangements, know that he or she is already FREAKED OUT about it and yelling won’t help.

Admit your fault to customer service. (Your stupidity, your disbelief that YOU could have DONE such a thing, your utter despair that you are losing your mind since, after all, your grandmother had Alzheimer’s and . . . ) Maybe they will give a rip and extend grace to your poor demented soul (and pocketbook).

Or maybe you’ll have booked on an airline that recently made it’s own massive mistakes and is still working to make amends, which, in my personal humiliation book, they certainly did—even though their debacle hadn't even personally debased me. As it turns out, I’m good enough at doing that myself.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Traveling Calories

Casts, crutches, canes, leg braces. Swinging through, hopping, gimping, hobbling. The past two months of traveling bouts moved us no farther than from this chair to that, and to the doctor and back—again. All the while, get-well "things” (delicious, fattening, tempting things) continued to arrive on our doorstep, ultimately adding to the amount of "baggage" we had to hop, gimp and hobble around. Yes, through the wonders of kind-hearted friends, the Internet and speedy delivery, traveling calories swiftly surrounded our Control Central Lounge-cum-Convalescent Chairs and away we . . . sat.

Today I shall share (although not literally, since they’re gone—every last crumb of them) a few of my faves. To share them all would be a daunting task. I receive no kick-back or free product for doing this; I just want to offer up a few tried-and-true solutions for those of you out there on the go-go-go. Should you be on the road when a friend becomes ill, or an anniversary or birthday arrives, or you need to apologize for your snarky behavior, or you just want to have something waiting for yourself when you get home, here ya go. Bookmark the links in your laptop, just in case.

Fairytale Brownies. These things are so rich and sweet, gooey and ooooo-laden that your tongue will curl in a fit of rapture. I received a dozen Fairytale Sprites® from my agent. Each sprite is a different flavor, one as fabulicious as the next. (Interjection: my Spellchecker wants to correct fabulicious to ferulaceous, but I fought it off since let me assure you, these chocolately brownies have nothing to do with the parsley family or “strong-smelling resinous gums,” as the Encarta Dictionary would have you believe.)

The great thing about the spite size is that they’re Just Enough. It’s fun to pick through the variety, each time deciding which creation you’ll savor during your next bout of intake, which sometimes immediately follows your immediate bout of intake. But let me give you my best hint: if you’re saving that which you’re sure will be your FAVORITE for last, do not offer visitors their pick. Remove it immediately and imbibe in a remorseless bout of intaking. Why do I recommend this? Because I watched my good friend swipe it right out of my box-offering hand. I didn’t have the heart to tell her to PUT IT BACK! After all, she’d brought us dinner.

Fairytale Brownies are made with and around nuts, so if you’re allergic, steer clear. But they’re Kosher. I just noticed they also sell sugar free brownies. I have no idea how they compare in flavor and texture. If anyone out there has tried them, please let me know so I can keep them in mind for my diabetic and/or dieting friends. Or me when I find I can no longer remove myself from my Control Central chair.

Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge chocolates. I can’t personally vouch for the rest of the selections, but Ethel’s collection delivered on all levels! The pictures on the website do not do them justice. They are MAGNIFICENT to behold and wondrous to taste. Truly, just staring inside the box was like studying an object of art. But I dare you to stare for longer than two minutes. You simply HAVE to find out if something that beautiful can really be tasty.

Edible Arrangements. If you’re in the market for something healthier than chocolate (although you can get them chocolate dipped, if you so choose), these fruit arrangements are another treat for the eye and the palette. The surprising thing was how good the fruit tasted. Our arrangement was so artistic I was sure the fruit would be bland, or soft or. . . . But it was delicious.
In order to prolong the beauty of it, we stored the whole arrangement in our fridge (tucked in its original plastic bag) completely assembled, withdrawing only the picks of our choice during any given fruit attack.
Best hint: If you’re coveting the stars, EAT THEM. Otherwise your friend’s kids will. Guess how I know? (I cannot believe how immature I can be. Thank goodness I didn't yell out loud. Just in my head. Promise.)

In conclusion, now that I’m nearly done traveling via cast, crutch and leg-brace, I shall begin rolling my way to the airport. But I bet that’s obvious by now.