Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Day my Computer Battery Died

This is just a snippet of the copius notes I took on our last trip to Croatia, for Christmas. My last post reminded me of this. My battery power, which would turn out to be the only power I would have for my exhaustive travel journal, was exhausted by the time we hit Detroit. Here's why:

I kept a contemporaneous journal until my computer battery died (oh, yes, I carried lots of stuff requiring 110 electrical current, and special European adapters too, but not a converter, so I burned up my printer and after that, I didn’t dare plug anything in). I could have left at home the computer, the printer, the adapter kit, the digital camera, the tripod, the printing supplies, the blow dryer, the curling iron, the flat iron, and the brush and hair products used in conjunction with “styling” my hair curly or straight, depending on my many moods (and since when do I even take all of this stuff on domestic road trips?). Goodness, a whole suitcase full of useless stuff! I'll forego the 3 pages of notes related to the inept staff at Northwest Airlines, who nearly kept us in Kansas City for the holidays (and are responsible for the premature death of my computer battery), but I do feel compelled to touch on their “sendoff” just a bit. Here goes...

I’m glad we arrived 3 hours early for our departure from Kansas City. KCI is normally a very quiet airport requiring less than an hour to park your car, check your luggage, clear security and wait for boarding. I mean, heck, deer roam the halls of KCI, no joke! But after a severe winter storm hit the Midwest, I came armed with patience (they don’t let you bring guns anymore) and was prepared to spend the night in Detroit rather than over the Atlantic. I did not expect to have to draw upon the patience reserves so soon. Would we possibly spend the night in Kansas City? With self check-in the only option, except for “unusual circumstances,” we were off to a bad start because there were only two agents available to process the 200 or so unusual circumstances. We discovered, after trying unsuccessfully to check ourselves in, that we were indeed among the "unusual circumstances." This did not surprise us. We all know how quickly the processing of unusual circumstances goes! Many were angry passengers re-booking flights that were cancelled the day before, due to the weather. And then there was the guy who didn’t have health papers for his dog (since when is a rabies tag not enough?). And then, all of us international passengers who required “special” attention (I didn’t feel very special, frankly).

To help the process along, self-check-in (for the non-unusual circumstances) was conveniently located inside the traffic circle that was quickly forming around these portals by those of us with unusual circumstances, so that no one could get in or out to actually check themselves in, thus causing additional unusual circumstances. To add to this confusion, all luggage was deposited by the passengers inside a large roped-off area, on top of a growing heap of untagged luggage…to be inspected and tagged later…huh?! Couldn’t we at least have the false sense of security we get when we watch our luggage float down the conveyor belt in single file to a similar pile in the basement somewhere? At least then it has a tag on it. Okay, deep breath. Have a little Faith!

It just so happened that we were standing in line next to two other passengers headed for Amsterdam just like us (not our destination, but our first stop outside the U.S. and KCI is not known for being a big departure point for international travel), only they hoped to change planes in Minneapolis while we hoped to change planes in Detroit, even if we had to hitchhike to get there (no doubt the faster option). But still, a strange coincidence. They joked about the mess. Talking amongst themselves, I overheard them say, with Dutch accents, something like “only in America.” I interrupted at that point and told them to “hold on there!” This is how I normally strike up a conversation. Issue commands, orders, interrupt, whatever it takes. But then, they admitted that maybe the problem was not really America, but Northwest Airlines, or maybe the French because KLM, the parent of Northwest Airlines, was recently sold to a French airline. There we go. Let’s blame France! Once this was established, we became fast friends in all the mess and discussed things to do in Amsterdam on our 4 hour layover (canal boats, museums, Red Light District...would there be time for it all? The resounding answer was "no," we never even left Amsterdam's airport, due to bad weather there), their jobs (university math professor and dairy production equipment salesman), our jobs (travel writer and sea captain), and why Northwest airlines needs to hire some industrial engineers since they’re saving so much money on ticketing agents.

Then there was the small scuffle between me and a woman (an Arab woman…not that I’m profiling or anything) who cut right in front of me, coming from across the room where she claimed the line began. I will admit the “line” had become more of a circle at this point (thanks to Northwest’s school lunch lady who was doing a lousy job of organizing the masses…we formed a circle…for reasons unknown to me). The Arab woman claimed she had been waiting for 45 minutes and was an international traveler. Like that makes her special?! I told her we too were international travelers and had been standing in the “line” for an hour and 45 minutes (like this made us even more special), but that did not deter her. So I wished her a Merry Christmas (knowing this was not the “politically correct” thing to do). This elicited an “apology” but only after the agent began booking her seats. It turned out her flight was delayed. Ours left on time and made a safe trip to Detroit. Somehow, things always work out for good. Our connection in Detroit was perfect…no waiting, no delays (no mass quantities of snow), no rushing to catch it…just perfect. I sure hope she arrived safely at her destination. And we never saw the boys from Amsterdam again, each of us on our independent journey, on different aircraft, deplaning and replaning in different cities along the way, but with the same starting point and destination.
And so began the use of scraps of paper, pen and ink, to write notes by hand (gak!) in order to document the rest of our journey.


At 2:30 PM, May 20, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

As "airport horror stories" go, yours was relatively calm (no mutilations or tear gas, as far as I can tell)...but it's the uncertainty and the other people that introduce an element of adrenaline-powered despair. Remind me to share the story of flying into Miami during the infamous American Airlines strike a decade or so back.

But...wait a minute. Travel writer? Sea captain?

Don't force me to write my own version of your story! ;-)

At 1:46 AM, May 21, 2006, Anonymous Gwynne said...

Oh, no, this was by no means a "horror" story, as airport stories go. This was just the "abbreviated" version of an obsessively detailed account of the frustrating start of our trip, when I still thought I would have an endless supply of electrical current with which to obsess for the duration. Instead it turned out to be a big waste of battery power. ;-)

Fortunately, I have really not had many horific airport or airplane experiences (or I have sufficiently blocked them from memory). I do, however, recall having difficulties carrying a Masai spear on board and then clearing U.S. customs. ;-)

At 1:53 AM, May 21, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Travel writer? Sea captain?

Hee. We all have our dreams. :-)

Feel free to write your version of the story. I look forward to that. ;-)

At 2:53 PM, May 21, 2006, Blogger Badoozie said...

you crack me up. the "small scuffle" and wishing that arab woman a merry christmas made me pee a little.

ok, battery power. i was noticing the same thing last time we left town, how many dang chargers i was packing for all things plugable inable.

we own a little thingy, mabobber that plugs into the car lighter/outlet, and it looks like a little amplifier, it has an outlet on the other end of it, where you plug in a normal electrical cord.

i'm probably telling you something you already know, but anyhooooo
so, as you are driving, in whatever car, you can be re charging important things like computer batteries. or the other option is to get about 2 extra batteries and so then, well, you get the picture.

i'm outa here.

At 6:06 PM, May 21, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Susie, good ideas! I did run out and buy extra batteries for everything after that trip. In Croatia, we couldn't even find replacement batteries for anything, most importantly, my camera. I assume the car adapter would also work in European cars, so long as there's a long cord so that you can put all the stuff that's charging on the roof of the car (the cars we rent over there are exceedingly small, which is the leading cause of aggressive driving in Europe, I'm sure.) I'll look for one of those.


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