The bottom line is: I screwed up. I completely underestimated how long it would take to get through the security line at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on a Thursday morning at 5:30 am.
As I made my way from the check-in kiosk at the Southwest Airlines counter I was confronted with a line of people extending far beyond the switch back of the cattle lanes and out of my line of sight. Crap. I made my way to the end of the line and began to study my watch. Five-thirty for a six am flight was clearly not early enough.
Miraculously, the line moved quickly enough and I managed to slide through with the hope that I might make the gate in time. In my defense I did make the gate by 5:55–only to be informed that the plane had already left.
The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport was experiencing some technical difficulties; power had gone out in the night and the restoration of air conditioning was of prime importance. The restoration of the public announcement system was lower down the list of priorities which is why I missed hearing my name called.
Having missed my flight my only option was to wait stand-by and hope a seat came available on another flight. I opened up my laptop and started to write. Within minutes I was interrupted by a tan bottle blonde in her early sixties with one of those super short “sensible” haircuts. She told me all about her grandchildren, the graduation she was going to in Chicago, her husband in Munroe, her daughter and her jailbird husband and how he had cut her with a broken bottle, her own various medical ailments and a desire to go to Texas. She also showed me with a visible tear in her eye a photo of a bearded dragon she had kept as a pet and dear companion for six years. It’s sad, lifeless body lay alonside a lily in a tissue paper lined shoebox.
My first standby option was to fly to Chicago and then catch a flight on to Newark from there. It occured to me that I might just have to fly with this woman. If that was to be the case then so be it–perhaps it was my penance for having missed my original flight.
Not so. The flight was full and I had to wait. My next option was a flight to Baltimore and then a transfer to Newark. The Baltimore flight left at 11:05 and when it landed would give me fifteen minutes to get to the gate for my flight to Newark. In order to hedge my bets I checked in with Delta. I could get a flight to Atlanta and then on to Newark for $215. It left at 1:15. A costly mistake to be sure but certainly better than missing the conference. I hung up with the operator saying I’d call back and checked in with the attendant at Southwest.
“That’s a pretty good price,” she said. “I think I’d probably take it. There’s no gurantee you’re going to make the 11 am to Baltimore.”
So I called back Delta only to find that the only seats left on the 1:15 to Atlanta were now $400. Crap. Now it was time to do something. I bought a ticket to Newark via Atlanta through Delta for $215. It left at 6:30 pm and I’d land in Newark after midnight. For fifty bucks more I could take a standby seat on the 1:15 if one was available. I then made sure I was on standby for the 11:05 to Baltimore with the intentions of cancelling the Delta flight if I made it.
I made it.
The next to last person to board a full plane, I managed to score a seat between a very large couple escorting their one year old grandson up to Boston. They were originally from Pennsylvania, he’s a bridge builder and they now live in Gadsden, Alabama. I made eyes at their tow headed grandson and assured his grandmother that I had three daughters of my own and was quite comfortable with whatever he could dish out.
As it turned out both the boy and his grandfather sacked out for the better part of flight. Leaving his grandmother and I to discuss the culture shock of transferring from New England to rural Alabama, the complete lack of decent bread in her area, her husband being mistaken for a Soprano style wise guy by the locals, tattoos and finally the death of her teenage son, Anthony, nineteen months ago for whom her grandson was named. How do I do this?
My transfer time in Baltimore turned out to be closer to five minutes. I made the flight to Newark with seconds to spare and was blissfully ignored by my seat mate for the better part of the flight. Once in Newark I took the Airtrain to the train station. Four stops. Count ‘em and for godsakes don’t get off in the wrong place. Actually the airport isn’t that bad. As big as it is there are lots of guides all standing around in red coats ready and willing to direct you. And yes, I asked for directions and often.
Once at the train station I caught the train to Metuchen. Apparently the air wasn’t working or was non-existant on the train. The Arabic guy in front of me was about to lose it from the heat and stuffiness and kept hoping up and pacing and standing in front of the doors for fresh air every time they opened.
In Metuchen I shared a car with a young African woman, who was very pretty and very quiet. I kept to myself and gave her her space as we rode in silence. Hers was the first stop and within minutes of her getting off I got to know Marty, my driver.
Understand, it wasn’t like I said, “Hey, my name’s Dave. I’m from Alabama. What’s your story?” But by the end of the ten dollar fare I knew he’s lived in New Jersey since he was five, is originally from Naples, Itlay, that New Jersey drivers are the worst and that Europeans and especially Italians are the best drivers. Indian women are in his opinion the worst drivers and he cited a few outlandish stories to back up his claim. Just how does one drive through a liquor store to such an extent that you demolish five rows of liquor? I tipped him five bucks because he took me by an ATM and if he wasn’t already he is now my new best friend.
So now I’m sitting in my hotel room, decompressing really, and looking forward to getting something to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention? I’m on the Warrior Diet these days and haven’t had anything to eat since coffee at 6 am?
The Underground Strength Conference, hosted by Zach Even-Esh, is tomorrow. It’s why I’m in New jersey and I’m totally stoked. There will be all kinds of speakers over the next few days: Elliott Hulse, Matt Wichlinski, Jason C. Brown, guys I don’t know but am excited to meet and a mystery speaker Zach’s been raving about for weeks. I know it will be exciting, but can he top today?