The Secret Diary of TRAVELMAN: the Sequel

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 03:11:51 -0800

[Begin draft on Tuesday morning, aboard UA2005 to LAX]

So after Thursday's thirty-five hour ordeal getting to Boston by way
of Pittsburgh and an overnight in Baltimore, I was hoping my
triumphal return after a successful strategy consulting engagement
(*) would be mercifully hassle-free. That was fifteen hours ago..

After all, it was *only* rain at Logan -- 5 degrees above freezing,
but at least the airport's open. I was there uncharacteristically
well in time for a 5:44 departure, but the plane wasn't. After delay
by inches, we finally boarded at 6:30 -- and only took off at 7PM,
dooming my 8:15PM connection to Los Angeles in Pittsburgh.

But I didn't know that yet.

In fact, I didn't know that until I arrived in Pittsburgh and merely
saw it wasn't on the TV monitors anymore.

I ran down to special services, just past A2 since I'd become so
familiar with USAirways in Pittsburgh from my last enforced hold
there on Friday. This time, their computers *did* automatically
rebook me -- for tomorrow morning at 10:10 AM. I simply said arriving
at 1PM for a 9:30AM class was unacceptable (I fibbed a bit and said I
was teaching it, instead :-) It was 8:34 and I saw an 8:45 SFO on the
board and demanded a seat -- which, after some warning that my bags
were a lost cause, they conveniently printed and handed over. Fine.
So I asked, "and where's my SFO-LAX segment?"

"Oh, we don't fly that route."

Then, to my utter astonishment, rather than rebutting and arguing I
was on a no-name fare, she turned around and issued a flight
interruption coupon to United Shuttle the next morning at 7AM, which
I'm typing this aboard.

All that was left was to notify someone -- anyone -- that I'd be
stranded in SFO Monday night, for what it was worth. I bounded aboard
that flight, cell-phone in hand as I winked at Steve Deering and
headed back to my own seat. Only to be hauled back out by a very
agitated Captain.

"Have you already been warned about Federal regulations prohibiting
cellphones onboard the aircraft at any time?!?"

Well, like, duh, but not just sitting at the gate. Anyway, it's a
very light flight, so it's no problem to hang out by the doorway and
do it in the jetway. It doesn't help to be dealing with a very
uncomprehending mom and having the connection keep cutting out. Nor
the continual threat of closing the door as maintenance people board
and leave and board and leave. Finally, the door shuts. It's maybe

And then it opens again -- the rear lavatories need to be serviced
again. So I hop right out to finish my conversation. This time the
Captain comes back to tap me on the shoulder while I'm *outside*, and
I hang up flushed, only to hear him reiterate that "Sorry, just
wanted to make sure we enforce the rules now, you hear. You're not
gonna make any trouble for the F/As, are you? You're going to be a
happy passenger."

I would have, if he'd let me finish my call. I had to explain to him
that yes, I did know the physics of a Faraday cage. Later in the
flight, the EE comments induced him to send back the marked-up
PC/Computing and Yahoo! Internet Life he'd been reading for my

This turn in favor only made sense later. When we came back to the
gate and opened the door yet again, at about 10PM. To arrest a

Some 20-something punk in First who wouldn't even take his Walkman
headphones off to talk to the Captain -- or the Pittsburgh police --
had been hassling the F/As throughout this boarding process and the
Captain announced that in his 29 years of flying he's had to do this
4-5 times, and wishes he'd done it 4-5 more. So we all got to watch
this whiner fail to beg his way back onto the flight.

Once that was taken care of, things got better. Free booze and
headsets, for one. For another, the inflight movie was Ronin, the
first one I've cared to see in a long time. Waay too violent for an
airline film, I thought, but just right for me.

So coming into deserted San Francisco Terminal 1 wasn't too
surprising. After only the usual amount of hassle filing a lost-bag
claim ("you have to file in your final destination" "I won't be
landing at USAirways, you put me on United tomorrow" "Well, I can
file a report in SFO, but it won't do you any good"), and getting
overnight hotel accomodations (the Doubletree, which indeed hands out
fresh-baked cookies even for a five-hour stay). Their driver was an
Indian from Fiji -- apparently we're a big chunk of the population

All in all, I think USAirways may have an edge on customer service. I
was traveling on a consolidator's convention&meeting fare from Cheap
Tickets (not even a price on the receipt!). The downside is that in
20 or 30 tries, their baggage service 800 number never ansered the
phone, always hanging up after a 'sorry we can't take your call'
notice. As for the helpless cattle milling about without any
information about the hangman, well, that's symtpomatic of every
airline. At least it ain't Tower...


(*) after a recent price-hike, I just love the sound of "I made more
in a morning than I make in a month" -- gotta love that fellowship :-)

[.......... and you know what, I just finished editing the story
above today, four days later, to convey precisely the spirit of
victory and stoicisim I felt upon arrival in LAX. I thought I'd won,
snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and would indeed make it to
Dick's class at 9:30 AM with time to spare. I was even standing in
front of my car in Lot B, hard by the Proud Bird, by 8:30.

Except I didn't have my keys.

Dumbstruck that I could be screwed on arrival by a few grams of metal
just like after IETF-Chicago, or FSE-Orlando, the first person I
called unstuck me by reminding me of my secret backup credit-card
plastic Pontiac key. So I got in, collapsed the Club I luckily never
actually lock, and searched for the backup ignition keys that are
supposed to be in the back. Bzzt!

I had lent the keys to my parents before the Hawaii trip (I left a
day before they arrived, so they had a day to retrieve my car from
the lot and visit folks in LA). I even found the envelope they
returned the keys to me in, but my sinking suspicion was eventually
right: it was left at home in my Hawaii backpack. So I call AAA and
ding for a locksmith -- on a near-dead cell battery, of course.
Eventually, word comes back that the $26 key would cost $170 from a
mobile locksmith: $70 above the deductible. So I called in a tow
instead, figuring it would be easier to stomach a 'free' tow 50 miles
back to Irvine than have a constant reminder of my incompetence
floating on my keychain... In the meantime, I took the bus back to
the airport, ran back to the gate, and asked if there were any keys
lost on the flight. After all, they could only be on one of oh, six
aircraft or three bedrooms in five cities. Instead, I got another
runaround at United, all the way back to a baggage service office
lined up four-deep whence six (!) employees wandered through without
acknowledging a single one of us as we rang the bell for assistance
("Would you like to search through our bucket of glasses for yours,

Race back to Lot B, wait for the tow truck a little longer. Decide to
at least push the car out when I realize that -- bingo! -- GM cars
won't get out of Park without a key in the ignition. I'm suddenly
afraid I *still* need to call the locksmith and wait another hour in
this birdshit-strewn lot when the driver shows up and tries to
hotwire the transmission linkage with a screwdriver. Much to my
astonishment (and not a little pushing and puffing), we rolled it out
of the parking spot and off we go.

Watching the tow slalom through the 405 at 70mph, he relates to me
that by law, it's illegal to have any passengers in the towed car --
except bona fide handicapped folk. They say it's the ride of their
life, in a rear-wheel drive car, tipped forward, facing backward,
with no control, in Los Angeles traffic...

Back home, he drops me off from a rolling truck outside ICS just in
time for... the last five minutes of class.


Dick's only comment is: "But you seem to *thrive* on this sort of
thing, Rohit!" I can only hope he's kidding...

I go upstairs to plead for a master key to get into my office, which
is checked out at the moment, so I go plead for a new set of keys
until I can check my (lost) luggage or with my (traveling) Boston
host to see if they're left behind there. I get a frosty look, a
blank form, a closed door, and a muffled admonition that "this time,
I want to see Dick's signature!"

I go home, and get another round of "Oh, I'm sorry, we'll have to
rekey your door locks again, at a cost of $100". I say "again?! we
didn't do it last time..." and I get hauled in front of the Director
of Palo Verde housing who perhaps-vengefully notes that they did not
agree to skip rekeying because my thefy was reported 3,000 miles ago
in another Orange County long, long ago -- merely delayed it, due to
incompetence at Facilities. I'm tired, I'm cranky, I'm in high
dudgeon, and I'm not ready to get jerked around a few dozen more
times as Housing passes the buck on whose damn fault it is I can't
get a backup key to my own apartment for after-hours lockouts.

Exhausted, I come home to do battle on the phone, spending twenty
minutes at a time on hold with US Airways baggage claim, the
Doubletree, etc in hopes of recovering the keys and my bags. By 3PM,
the bags have arrived in Los Angeles, and I'm promised to see them
within '4-6' hours.

I go to sleep, exhausted and depressed and resolved to never travel
back East again.

The next morning, there's still no sign of my bags. Another 20 on
hold with USAirways -- hey, at least Baggage services is picking up,
unlike Friday's fiasco -- only to be told the courier service placed
it on hold for a phone number. Which I had given them two days ago.
Which was on my reservation. Which was on my bag. Last night, they
wouldn't even give me the courier's phone number, hiding behind the
4-6 hour 'guarantee'; today, it's *my* problem to go track them down.

And why wasn't it delivered -- not even attempted -- the promised
day? "Are you in the University?" "Well, do you see any other Palo
Verdes in Irvine? Did you even call me?!?!" So no, there's no excuse
whatsoever, and I hold again to vent my spleen back at USAirways and
demand compensation. No they, won't pay locksmithing. No, they won't
pay for the non-availability of my critical supplies in my suitcase
-- that's supposed to be carry-on. I grimly remind them that this bag
*IS* a carry-on they forced me to gate-check. They offer me an
unspecified number of frequent flier miles. I quit.

And of course, when the bag arrives at noon Wednesday.... no keys!

Still depressed, I can't seem to rouse myself to do anything, not
even email. It's a sad bipolar cycle after a rush like consulting.

Of course, I have much to be depressed about. The next day, for
example, MCI shut off my long-distance phone service. This took
**SIXTY-THREE** minutes on hold in various robot voice mail jails to
establish: yes, MCI had blocked it; yes, I had paid my bill in full
ten days ago (and indeed was holding the MasterCard bill to prove it,
in turn); and it would take 72 hours to reinstate. THREE DAYS?! I
could get NEW phone service from AT&T by next morning, and they
wanted to treat a $250/month customer -- who, mind you, was only
delinquent because they'd silently stopped auto-biling by e-mail --
like shit? I demanded customer-service addresses and reminded them
the only reason they were even going to get the courtesy of being
*informed* of their collosal (and rude!) screwup was my residual
loyalty as an employee.

At least the South Coast Repertory's production of Tartuffe was a
success. A few beers at Sid's helped calm my nerves, too. But other
than that, I wouldn't wish my life on anyone.

Except, perhaps, the 4,000,000 people on the planet who won't even
have 3% of these luxuries to go sour on them...