The Weekend the Pope was in Town

The past several years have been quite the adventure and full of stories, most of which, I haven’t been able to share until now. In part due to being smart about the timing of when to share certain adventures and for some experiences, well, just being ready to tell them.

My travel misadventures during the weekend the Pope last visited the U.S. falls in the first category.

In the late summer of 2015, I was working remotely for a company located in Long Beach California as an SEO Specialist. I was also doing a fair amount of free-lance consulting in the hours before and after the office in Cali came to life. For a variety of reasons, it became obvious to me that it was time for a change and I added a full-time job search to my already full plate.

My goal was to get back into a leadership role, be a part of a team and return to the world of eCommerce and making websites easier for people to use. Much to my surprise and delight, I didn’t have to wait long until my first in-person interview.

On the evening of September 24, 2015, I boarded a plane to Indianapolis. Indianappolis Boarding

I lived in Philly at the time but had the company I was interviewing with make my flight arrangements through Newark, N.J.

Knowing that the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and NYC that weekend had the potential to make local travel a hassle, I figured it was safer to suffer finding my way around the airport in Newark rather than risk missing my flight.

The flight went off without a hitch, I landed on time and felt like a fairy princess when a limo picked me up from the airport and again in the morning at the hotel the next morning.

One interview blurred into the next as I answered what seemed to be the same questions over and over again. Midway through the back to back day of interviews, the executive admin assistant who had made my flight arrangements burst into the conference room.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but your return flight was canceled and we had to rebook you. We’ll adjust the remaining interview schedule and the limo will be here to pick you up an hour earlier.”

I looked at the itinerary she handed me and replied, “This will actually work out well, this flight will get me home an hour earlier than the original flight.”

A final limo ride to the airport, a glass of wine and some dinner to celebrate the day and the flight took off on time, I made my connection without missing a beat. And then…

About 45 minutes before landing, I pulled the itinerary out of my bag to double check connecting gate and the details for my final destination. My heart almost stopped.

I turned to the young man sitting next to me, “Am I reading this right? Does my flight land at LaGuardia, in the middle of New York City?”

“Yes, you’re reading it right.”

“But, my car is parked in Newark. I’m supposed to be flying into Newark, not New York.”

“Let me start checking train schedules for you. Oh,… but wait, the Pope is in town. The train schedule will be completely unreliable. Let me see if I can think of something else for you.”

While I appreciated his optimism and desire to help, it seemed unlikely that he was going to be able to help me out of my predicament. I was on a plane that was about to land more than 30 miles away from where my car was parked. Thirty miles in the Midwest is nothing, it’s thirty minutes or less depending on how fast you drive. However, thirty miles between NYC and Newark is an hour’s drive under the best traffic circumstances, let alone on a Friday night when the Pope was in town.

I turned to my journal and started listing out possible solutions while bargaining with my travel angels. If perhaps I could get a taxi from LaGuardia to Jersey for $100, the day would be saved. The chances of finding a hotel room were none, so images of myself on a bench in Penn Station or on a chair at LaGuardia, one eye open, seemed to prevail. I had no idea how I was going to get home that night.

I closed the journal with the realization that I would just have to figure it out.

The young man next to me flagged down a flight attendant, “Her flight was booked into the wrong airport and she needs to find a way to get to Newark tonight. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Well, a cab is out of the question. The fare between New York and Newark is normally at least $100, but with the Pope being in town, the traffic is crazy and it will cost at least double that.”

There went my hopes.

“But, there is a bus that shuttles passengers between JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. I think it costs around 30 bucks.”

Hooray! The day had been saved, or had it?

My flight into LaGuardia landed late. Like a madwoman, I made my way through the crowd – down the escalator and to the ticket counter for the airport shuttle bus. The agent was just turning the sign from open to closed, the hours said 9 am to 10:30 pm. It was 10:33.

I must have looked like I was going to burst into tears, or perhaps I actually did. At any rate, he turned the sign around and asked, “How can I help you?”

I explained my situation and he nodded along.

“Here’s the thing,” he said.

“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, but the Pope is in town. This has changed our regular route. Normally my bus would take you to the parking lot at Port Authority and the next bus would pick you up from there and take you to Newark. But because the Pope is in town, the roads have been rerouted.

We would drop you off near the Port Authority parking lot and then you would need to walk about a mile to a temporary lot. From there we can get you to Newark.”

This was not what I wanted to hear as the hour was nearing 11 pm in the heart of NYC.

Just then, a man near my age turned to face me.

“I’m in the same boat and am trying to get a cab. Would you be interested in splitting the fare with me if I can negotiate it?”

Without thinking twice, I answered yes. Somehow, he miraculously negotiated a fare of $160, to be split between us.

My share, plus a $20 tip equaled a $100 taxi ride from LaGuardia to Newark.

I never saw the Pope in person, but I’ll never forget the weekend he was in town. It was quite an adventure.

The Miracle Comes Quietly and When We Least Expect It

We’ve all heard the expression, “it’s darkest just before dawn,” or some variation of it. I didn’t realize until today that it’s actually a proverb, first committed to print by the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller in his religious travelogue A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650, citing this view:”It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.”

It can be viewed as an annoying cliche’ or bromide that people use to offer comfort and hope to someone who is going through a tough time, or as a truism that really should offer us hope. For me, it’s a little of both and it’s right up there “it is what it is,” “everything happens for a reason,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I’ve come to believe that there’s something else that happens just before the metaphorical “dawn.” We become quiet and still and our needs are met in unexpected and often-times wonderful ways. We tend to think about how being still and asking for help apply only when it comes to major things happening in our life, but miracles small and large are happening all around us every day.

A few months ago I was traveling for business.  Normally I make my own travel arrangements, but in this case the company I was visiting took care of the planning and booking of airline tickets, limo transportation and the hotel. My area airport of choice is in Philadelphia, but because I was traveling the weekend the Pope was leaving NYC and headed to Philly, I flew out of Newark to avoid the crowds and potential travel delays. I made it to the airport without getting lost, boarded on time,
General Boarding

had a smooth flight, a ride in a limo and stayed in a beautiful hotel. The following day was filled with productive back to back meetings and conversations. Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my  much needed break was interrupted by news that my return flight to Newark had been cancelled but new arrangements had been made.

The updated travel plans meant cutting my day shorter than planned but it also meant I’d be home before midnight (or so I thought).

I said my farewells and was whisked away in the limo,

limo

rode in style to the airport and zipped through security with my TSA pre-check boarding passes in hand. Half-way through the first flight to Chicago I decided to check the boarding pass for my connecting flight into Newark.

Much to my dismay and borderline horror, my next flight was headed to JFK in New York City, not to Newark, New Jersey. How could this happen you ask? So did I! It never dawned on me to look at the flight details other than the times – after all why would someone book a return flight into a different city than the originating flight?

My best guess is that one of two things happened – one theory is that whoever made the original reservations said Newark really fast and the person who made the revised arrangements either heard New York or they’ve never heard of Newark. The other theory is that they looked and found that Newark is “only” thirty miles from JFK and it would be easy to get from one airport to the other.

My heart pounded against my chest and I wouldn’t want to know what my blood pressure was in that moment.

One thing I knew was clear, I had no choice but to board the plane in Chicago and figure things out from there.

In addition to highlights of the Pope’s visit to NYC, the news was also filled with updates about modified train schedules and street closings throughout the city so I knew my options could be limited. The first thought I wrote in my journal was, “If I can get a cab for less than $100, I’m going for it.”

The nice young man sitting next to me tried to help by pulling out his app with the NYC subway schedules, “You could take the X line to the Y line and then hop on the Z line and maybe make it to Penn Station before the last train leaves. Of course I don’t know for sure if they’re running on schedule because of the Pope’s visit.”

Thoughtful as he was trying to be, his assistance only conjured up images of myself spending the night at Penn Station with a colorful cast of characters from NYC nightlife.

I asked the flight attendants about cab fare. “You’re looking at a minimum of a $200 cab fare; your better option is to take the airport bus from JFK to Newark, it’ll cost you about $30.”

Hallelujah!

A $30 bus ride was totally reasonable and sounded like an easy solution to my dilemma. For the rest of the flight, my heart was still and the worries were put aside.

As explained, the booth to buy tickets for the bus between airports was at the bottom of the escalator. The sign said it closed at 10:30 pm, I looked at my watch – it was 10:32 pm. Not one to give up, I approached the man at the booth and asked if I could still buy a ticket to Newark.

“We can hold the bus for 5 more minutes, so you’ll have to decide fast.”

I pulled out my wallet to pay and asked, “Does the bus go directly from here to Newark?”

“No, normally you get on this bus and it goes to the Port Authority parking lot where you would get on another bus, but since the Pope is in town, that area is blocked off and so you’ll need to walk 12 blocks to meet up with the connecting bus that will take you to Newark.”

Schlepping my suitcase for 12 city blocks alone, at night, in NYC did not seem like a very appealing idea.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” said the man who had arrived at the booth a few minutes before me. “I’m in the same situation, if I can find us a cab would you want to split the fare with my daughter and me?”

He didn’t need to ask me twice.

This kind stranger negotiated a fare that cost me $80 plus tip.

When we are facing a problem, sometimes a peace and quiet comes over us because we think the problem has been solved and we know what the solution is. Other times we become quiet and still because we “give up” and make a conscious choice to quit trying to chase after the solution and control the outcome.

In those moments of  quiet and letting go, miracles happen.

The Miracle Comes Quietly

Aloha and Mahalo, My Trip to Hawaii

Aloha,

Several months ago my parents called and asked me if I’d like to accompany them on a trip to Hawaii in February of 2016. As you can imagine, it took me less than a nanosecond to say, “Yes!”

I’m a toes in the sand kind, warm weather, sun and water loving kind of girl, so a trip to Hawaii was like a dream come true – especially during the month of February when there’s not a lot of sunshine and it’s cold in the state of Pennsylvania. As happens when you’re anticipating a big event, from the time we made the reservations through the end of the year it seemed like February would never get here, then all of the sudden I was boarding the first of three flights – final stop the Kona airport.

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After picking up the rental car, the first order of business was to find the local Walmart and stock up on breakfast, lunch and snack food; we didn’t want to hassle with going out for breakfast in the mornings and it also seemed smart to reserve our eating out dollars for dinner. The second order of business was to check into a beautiful two-bedroom condo at the Wyndham Resort in Kona while my dad looked into the possibility of booking an excursion to the peak of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Hawaii.

The expeida.com girl remained cheerful, but carefully calibrated our expectations by explaining that this particular expedition is usually filled within weeks if not months of the available dates. She called to make the inquiry and her smile broadened as she said, “there was a cancellation for three people on Monday?!”

My dad didn’t waste any time, “That’s amazing, let’s book it.”

It was the first of many serendipitous moments throughout the upcoming week.

My parents are not exactly what you would call planners when it comes to traveling; they like to take more of a “figure it out along the way” kind of approach so on Sunday we gathered information about the various excursions and booked a Volcano Tour and a luau in addition to stargazing on Mauna Kea. The remaining days were left open for exploring the island on our own.

In order to keep the roadside views uncluttered and natural, there are very strict signage rules on the island, so it’s not uncommon to receive an answer like this when asking for directions:

“Oh, you want to visit the coffee and nut man? Ok, here’s how you get there – go out of the driveway to the right and at the first stop sign, go right to the top of the hill, Lunapule Rd. Then go to the top of the hill and turn right at the stop sign, that’s Walua Rd. 

At the intersection, go to the yield sign and turn right on Kuakini Hwy; this will merfe into Hwy 11 Southbound. Keep going until you reach the 5th stop light, Halekiki St, and turn right – there’s a gas station on the right side. Now go down the hill to the second fire hydrant on the right.

You’ll see a driveway and a sign that says “Captain Cook Trading Place”, pull into the driveway. The coffee and nut guy is next to the granite and tile warehouse on your left – you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see boxes piled up to the ceiling.”

Thank goodness the directions were also written down!

Between counting stop signs and fire hydrants, trying to find the coffee and nut guy was a lot like being on a scavenger hunt. I have to confess that we ended up using a bit of modern technology to find him, but only after we tried and missed the destination more than once.

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The coffee man was nowhere in site (apparently he works his own and very elusive hours) so we opted to have lunch at the local eatery next door to the Captain Cook Trading Company.

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When the first bite of my crab-cake melted in my mouth, I would have sworn that I was dining at 5 star restaurant rather than sitting on a folding chair and sharing the equivalent of a card table with strangers.

As luck would have it, another serendipitous moment occurred and the coffee man arrived and opened for business just as we finished our lunch.

Surrounded by boxes of coffee beans and macadamia nuts, Emmerich (aka the coffee and nut man), shared his wealth of knowledge about the island and the process of roasting coffee beans to perfection. I didn’t get a chance to sample the coffee, but if it’s half as tasty as the macadamia nuts, it’s wonderful.

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Each one of our excursions deserves it’s own narrative, so for now I’ll just share a few of the highlights.

Monday we headed to Buns in the Sun, a local bakery and the meet up place for the trip to the peak of Mauna Kea. I’, not sure which was more amazing to be “walking in the clouds” at 9,000 feet above sea level or seeing the galaxy just beyond the Milky Way first hand.

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On Tuesday we set off with no particular destination in mind other than to visit a small artist’s community on the northeast coast of the island. Our adventure led us to the edge of the island and one of the most spectacular views of waves from the Pacific Ocean rolling onto a sheltered black sand beach.

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The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

The drive there was almost as exciting as the actual zip-lining experience, but that’s a story for another day. The tour guides were awesome – two young guys who had just the right combination of personalities to be encouraging without being condescending and enthusiastic without being annoying.  I never imagined I’d see a waterfall in Hawaii, let alone while I was zipping across a valley going 50 miles per hour.

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Thursday, where to begin? There’s no way I can capture the day in only a few words. To sum it up, we had a private tour of parts of the island and the National Volcano Park. Yep, as it turned out, the other six people who had made reservations for the same day as us cancelled at the last minute and we ended up with a personalized adventure.

We saw sea turtles sunning on a black sand beach, walked through a lava tube had lunch on coffee plantation and learned about the rich history of Hawaii from our guide and companion for the day, Jim Carey (not the actor in case you’re wondering). Thanks to him, it was an incredible and unforgettable day.IMG_2706

Last, but certainly not least, on Friday we had a free day; I hung out by the pool and my parents spent more time gallivanting around the island, in the evening we attended a Luau – apparently it’s “state law.” 🙂

The dancers were mesmerizing, the food was delicious and the setting was spectacular.

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Some days it still seems like the trip was just a dream, but the pictures prove it wasn’t.  Words cannot begin to describe how absolutely magical this trip was. I will never forget it and will always treasure the memories.

Mahalo (many thanks) to my parents for this amazing experience, I’d have to say that I think I have the coolest parents on the planet!

A Case of Mistaken Identity

A few years ago I splurged and bought myself a new suitcase. At the time I bought it, I thought it was the most brilliant purchase I’d ever made. It’s purple, one of my favorite colors, and also a color I figured would stand out from the typical dark green and black bags we all see swirling around the baggage claim carrier.

In the store I loved the fact that it has four wheels and is as tall as my kitchen table. I thought to myself, “This is going to be awesome! Finally a suitcase that will hold everything I need and will be easy to roll through the airport.” I’m not exactly famous for packing light. 🙂

giant purple suitcase

I continued to think it was brilliant right up until I packed it for it’s maiden voyage and had to figure out a way to get the darn thing down the stairs without killing myself. I managed to slide it down without too much trouble, problem solved and the suitcase’s “brilliant” status had only been slightly tarnished.

Each leg of the trip it became more and more obvious that the purchase was not brilliant at all. I couldn’t get the bag into the trunk by myself, the shuttle bus driver could barely hoist it onto the bus, and it weighed in at just under 50 pounds. If that wasn’t enough, the raised eyebrows and out-loud-laughter from friends and family confirmed that I had actually purchased one of the most ridiculous suitcases on the planet.

The only thing that’s turned out to be good about the bag is that I never have any trouble identifying my suitcase in baggage claim, until recently that is.

The night before my annual trip to Big Sand Lake, I first packed the essentials: walking shoes, ink pens, a drawing tablet, and my hair dryer and then I threw in my clothes. (you can see why I first thought this bag was brilliant, right?)

packing for the lakeAfter 7 hours of travel, including the trip to the airport at 4 a.m., I was more than thrilled when I saw my giant purple bag was the second suitcase off the plane and onto the carousel. I retrieved it and rolled it outside to wait for my parents to pick me up. (I have to admit that the one thing I do still love about the bag is how easy it is to roll around the airport.)

We spent the afternoon in Fargo, and after a leisurely lunch with my aunt and uncle and a short visit with my cousin and his beautiful wife and cute, cute babies we started our 1 hour drive to the lake. About 15 miles into the drive my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize so of course I didn’t answer it, they left a voicemail.

“Hi Beth, this is the supervisor here from United Airlines calling. We have a big purple bag here at the Fargo airport with your name on it so it looks like you picked up the wrong bag from the baggage claim area this morning when you landed. There’s a passenger here who is missing a bag that matches the same description, so we think you have hers.”

Yikes!

Thirty minutes later I confirmed that there was indeed at least one other person in the world who must have initially thought this suitcase was awesome – they were identical.

We made the swap and I learned that the bag I mistook for mine belonged to a group that was originally traveling through Chicago, but had been re-routed through Minneapolis due to a cancelled flight. Unfortunately for both of us, their giant purple suitcase caught the first flight out of Chicago which put it on the same flight as me. What are the odds of that?

All’s well that ends well. I just hope they’re laughing about it as much as we are.

Weekend Shenanigans and Celebrating Friendship

Seven years ago, I stumbled across an online community for wannabe triathletes as well as triathlon veterans, not a place I’d ever  have imagined myself fitting in. Much to my surprise, through online fitness challenges, mentoring forums, and individual training blogs I’ve “met” and formed friendships with people across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Over the past seven years, many of us have also become friends on Facebook, but the connection on BT (beginnertriathlete.com) remains a special one. People check in on each other weekly, if not daily.

We’ve “watched” each other’s children grow up, celebrated personal victories, and mourned together over the loss of friends and parents. We’ve sent virtual hugs and cried real tears during times of personal hardship and have kicked up our heels with joy for the good and happy times. We’re cheerleaders and confidants.

On more than one occasion I’ve taken a train, plane, or automobile to travel hundreds of miles meet one of my virtual friends in real life. What may shock some, will seem cool to others – not only did I travel to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms, amazing hospitality, and a place to rest my head for a night or two, even longer if needed.

The majority of my trips have been related to participating in a race. There’s nothing better than having a safe and welcoming place to stay the night before an event. It’s also awesome to share the early morning pre-race ritual and jitters with someone who is experiencing the same feelings.

Being connected on more than one social platform has its advantages. You always know when one of your friends is planning a party and can casually take them up on their “open invitation” to come visit. It’s simply a matter of keeping an eye open for pictures of large shipments of Mardi Gras beads to posted on Facebook and inviting oneself in a comment.

inviting myself to the party on facebook mardi gras beads

The response was almost immediate and I was DARED to attend.

the dare to attend

I made some noise about accepting the DARE, asked for some details and started to seriously consider making the trip from Philadelphia to Lake Lure, North Carolina to attend the party.

the details

The party was scheduled for February 28th, so the weather forecast played a role in the final decision. As it turns out, I threaded the needle and made the 12 hour drive (each way) in between winter storms.

The weekend shenanigans kicked off on Friday night in Roanoke, VA. I made it to my halfway point just in time to see the lights in the hotel restaurant go dark. Fortunately the Holiday Inn that Hotwire selected for me offered complimentary shuttle service to and from any of the local eating establishments.

I chose TGI Fridays because it was close, I had a coupon, and figured it would be laid back and quiet since it was fairly late. My expectations were more than a little off; there was only one seat left at the bar and a ten minute wait for a table. I opted for the bar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a place where everyone gets carded, the females are on the prowl, and the males are primed for the hunt. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much bling, leather, and leopard print in a single room. Too bad the fashion police weren’t there to call out the woman in the skin tight body suit –  embellished with tiny imprints of the “hang loose”surfer hand symbol (can’t even describe how bad it was).

Who knew that I’d picked one of the local hot spots for singles to hang out? So much more I could write about the evening, but it’s time to move on to the main event.

I arrived in Lake Lure on time and not in the least bit frazzled. Between Google Maps and my friend’s most excellent directions there was no way I could make a wrong turn or miss my destination.

We had just enough time for a hug, a walk around the property, a glass of wine, and a bit of gabbing before the co-hosts and guests began to arrive. The house looked spectacular, every inch of the main floor was covered in beads and sparkles.

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Of course, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without costumes and masks. After much laughter and exchanging of hats, we concluded that Robin’s outfit called for the Jester’s hat and the 1920’s circa feathers worked best for me.

mardi gras party

We looked cute, but I’m fairly certain the cape won the prize for best costume.

the cape

The food was incredible.

Amazing food

Once the party started, the dining room was the most popular room at the party, well maybe with the exception the other side of the house where the Tarot card reader was burning incense and tapping into the future.

Each guest picked a number when they arrived and when their “number was up” it was time for their reading. Somehow or another, my number was 3, not saying it was rigged in any way – just saying I’m lucky. 🙂

The night was filled with toasts to newly wedded couples, explanations of why I was there, wine bottle opening demonstrations, roulette for high stakes prizes, and most likely some neighborhood gossip which went over my head. It was a wonderful evening, but there seemed to be too few hours between putting my head on the pillow and the knock on my door in the morning.

A sinfully delicious breakfast was followed by a long, long nap, and a delightful dinner. What could be a better way to spend a day?

Sadly the party is over (for this year). The beads and masks have been gathered, the dog and kitty cats are once again free to roam the house, and I am safely back in PA.

the party is over

The story is far from over though. I look forward to future shenanigans and an ongoing friendship.

See You at the Station

It’s been eighteen days since the last episode of getting lost, that is if you don’t count losing your car in parking garages or missing an exit due to traffic, neither of which count in my book.  After more than one occasion of wandering for over an hour through the parking ramps and in once case between two different garages before finding my car I’ve learned to be very careful when leaving a parking garage. I take note of the floor and row, any color clues, the names of the intersecting streets when I exit, and I learned the hard way that it’s not worth the effort to remember the make or model of the cars parked next to you.

I’m leery of the facilities that require you to bring your ticket with and pay before you pick up your car.  What happens to people who are unable to find their vehicle and exit the garage before the allotted time has expired?  Nonetheless they are a necessary evil and sometimes the only option if you’re running late for the train and the street level parking lot is full.

One of the many changes in my life since moving to the East Coast from the Midwest is that in addition to Google Directions and MapQuest I also have the Pennsylvania and New Jersey train schedules pinned to my bookmark toolbar and I think about travel in terms of train stops and not rest stops.  The mass transit systems that connect cities along the coast make it easy to meet a friend for lunch or dinner without having to fight traffic or worry about getting lost.

When I learned that a colleague from Nebraska is now working in Edison, New Jersey a few times a month I immediately checked the train schedules and suggested we meet for lunch.  We set the date and time and confirmed the meeting spot not once, but twice.

My train arrived promptly at 11:48 am and I weaved my way through the commuters to the parking lot.  The only cars that were waiting for passengers were a line of taxi cabs and a rusted red four door.  Thankful that it was sunny and warm I sat on a picnic bench and tried to relax to the heavy sound of rap pounding the air from one of the houses along the track.

At 11:56 am my email alert dinged and I checked my iPad.

“In silver car outside door,” he wrote.

I glanced at the lot, “I don’t see you.”

“Call me,” he replied.

Forty minutes, eight emails, and three phone calls later we figured out where we had gone wrong and were on our way to lunch (who knew there was more than one train station in Edison, NJ).  We Yelped for restaurants based on our location and decided on a place with Indian cuisine; it had a four star rating and was purported to be “delicious.”  We found it nestled in next to a nail salon and the sign outside supported it’s delicious review.  The décor consisted of a few chairs, a counter, and an empty bench.

We were greeted by the man behind the counter, “Take out only.”

In spite of our laughter and efforts to find the restaurant recommended on our way out the door it seemed that it would remain a mystery.   Instead we opted for Italian cuisine and agreed that if it didn’t work out the bowling alley located a few doors down would be the backup plan.  I’m not sure what was more odd, the authentic and elegant décor behind the door at the end of the strip mall, the beautiful presentation of food, or the snippets of the blue tooth conversation from the table next to us.

“You do that, I swear I’ll kill ya.  Nah really, I’m just kidding.”

On that note, we made our exit and I soon was homeward bound courtesy of New Jersey Transit. Safely at the train station, I retraced my steps to the carefully noted intersection only to find the door to the stairwell was locked.

I took a deep breath and followed the signs to the pay station behind the pink column, found my way to the stairwell and located my car in more time than it should have taken but without the assistance of parking lot security so I’m calling it a victory and the counter for days without getting lost will flip to nineteen.

On the Road Again

the joys of travel

I’m beginning to think I should hang a sign from my rear view mirror similar to the safety record signs in factories, only mine would say “Number of Days Without Getting Lost is ___.” It had been ten days since the Tarot card vs Tax Firm debacle and I was feeling pretty good about the fact that five of those ten days included finding my way around an unfamiliar city without my GPS.

I made it all the way to the last day of my trip until the imaginary counter had to be reset to zero.  I’m not sure how it happened, but in spite of the written directions I picked up at the front desk at the hotel, the map on my iPad, and the detailed verbal instructions from the valet parking guy I still ended up going in the opposite direction of the airport.

Maybe it was because the directions were delivered with a southern drawl so thick I wasn’t sure if he was speaking English, or I lost my concentration when I tried to guess which car would go where as the valet guys shuffled cars around like they were playing Chinese Checkers.  It could be that directions that begin with “go south on…” rather than “turn right at Starbucks” make no sense to me, but whatever the cause, I found myself once again trying to figure out how to turn around when possible.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I stay calm and remember to breathe I can usually figure things out. And in some cases I can even save twenty cents a gallon by topping off the tank of the rental car while lost rather than waiting until I was closer to the airport.  Needless to say, I was happy when I saw the exit marked Airport Boulevard.

I followed the signs to the rental car drop off which seemed very clear up until I had to choose between All Day Parking and Short Term Parking.  I’m not sure if the guy who drove up beside me and shouted “Rental return?” while he pointed toward the All Day Parking option was frustrated or amused by my obvious confusion but I was glad he shouted directions instead of just honking his horn like the previous car that passed by me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the number forty-seven flash on the luggage scale.  I’d managed to transfer five pounds from my suitcase to my carry on and although I try to be an optimist, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to have the ninety dollar overweight fee waived two flights in a row.  As the gate agent reached for my boarding pass the lights in the airport flickered, the fans whined, and the airport was suddenly silent and unlit.

She handed me my ticket without looking up, “Y’all got lucky, everyone behind you has to wait for the whole system to reboot.”

Twenty minutes later they opened one security lane, powered by a back-up generator. I passed through the metal detector without so much as a beep only to learn that I’d been randomly selected to receive a special screening. I seem to be “randomly selected” for security screenings almost as often as I get lost.

I felt more than a little exposed standing in the rectangular glass cube between the security lanes and was relieved when it turned out that unlike my last trip only my bags and not my body had been selected for inspection.   I settled down some when I saw there were no changes to the schedule and I was breathing normally by the time I dropped off my duffle bag at the end of the jet way.

All seatbelts had been fastened and the flight attendants had readied the cabin.  Just as the pilot announced, “At this time all passengers must be seated,” the woman in front of me stood and her husband climbed into the aisle with a toothbrush in hand and headed toward the lavatory.

I’m not sure what was more comical, the fact that he brushed his teeth on the plane without regard to the pilot’s announcement or watching him maneuver his six foot plus body into the window seat while his wife remained seated.  I’ll give him this, he did manage to take care of his dental hygiene and still snap his seatbelt buckle in time for the final pass through the cabin.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Traveling by plane used to be fun, well maybe not fun, but at least pleasant and certainly much easier than it is today. I think we all used to look forward to feeling a little special when the stewardess, now flight attendant, actually seemed to enjoy serving us a beverage and choice of in-flight meal.   Of course if you were in the back of the plane, you most likely got whatever was the least popular of the two choices, but it was food, and best of all it was ‘free.’

We used to complain about the food, but now we consider ourselves lucky if a bag of peanuts is tossed our way, and we rave about the airlines that hand out chocolate chip cookies (what happened to the champagne and strawberries?)  Today we hope there is enough time between security or our connecting flight to grab a bite of overpriced food while racing to the gate. For me, it’s a toss-up: airport cuisine may be a step above airline fare, but it’s ten times as expensive as it should be. This morning, I paid ten dollars and fifty six cents for a bagel, a bottle of water, and a cup of bad coffee; I think I’d rather have ‘free.’

A lot has changed about travel. I miss the lingering farewells, boisterous homecomings and hugs experienced at the gate; they’ve been replaced with hasty hellos and rushed goodbyes in the ‘drop off zone.’

It seems that the only thing about traveling that isn’t rushed is going through security. ‘They’ don’t advise you to arrive two hours before departure for no reason.  My flight was at 6 a.m., which made for a very short night or a very early morning, depending on which way you look at it. Either way by 4 a.m. I was in a cab and on my way to the airport.

Surprisingly there was no line to check in. I guess I was one of three that chose to pay the fee and check my bag rather than go without my perfume or necessary hair products.  Judging by the long security line and the caterpillar pace, airlines charging to check baggage may have caused more than one unintended consequence.  Nearly every person in line had a carry on, hmmm – more work for TSA, less revenue for the airline, and it takes longer to get through security.  In the end the plane weighs the same and doesn’t cost any less to fly.

Early morning staffing must be a problem because there was only one TSA agent checking IDs, one droning instructions, and two security belts open for scanning bags. I shifted from one foot to the other and tried to be patient as the line inched forward. I wasn’t late for my flight but I was in dire need of coffee and food. Forty-five minutes later, the clatter of a metal gate being raised and the words, “Folks, move along and fill the line to the station that just opened up,” was music to my ears.

Within five minutes only one person stood between me and the next point in the security process. There were twenty people between me and the newly opened station, so I pretended I didn’t hear the instruction to wrap around to the new line.

This did not make the TSA man happy.

He bellowed rather than droned, “Folks, if everyone would just follow directions and go to the next open station rather than stopping at the first person you see, everyone will get out of here just a little quicker.  It’s YOUR choice and YOUR tax dollars, if you don’t go to the open position, you’re paying someone to sit and do absolutely nothing, and you’re NOT getting your money’s worth.”

The agent checking my ID raised his eyebrow, shook his head and muttered, “That’s a new one.  There are twenty people in line for the other guy. Tax dollars at work, getting your money’s worth, is he for real?”

There was one last obstacle between me and a bad cup of coffee.  I filled the totes with my laptop, shoes, jacket, and purse; ready to face the metal detector.  Much to my chagrin, I got ‘the hand,’ the stop, do not enter hand. It was followed by a sideways wave motioning me toward the entrance to the body scan.

I stepped onto the footprints outlined on the squishy black rubber mat, raised my hands above my head like it showed in the picture, and wondered what the security people could really see.  Relieved to be done with the body scan I stepped out of the contraption ready to gather my things and find the nearest open coffee shop.  No such luck, instead I was greeted with the phrase, “Female traveler, need an agent for a pat down.”

I guess you could say on this trip, I ‘got my money’s worth.’