Part One: Stuff Happens
What a trip. Details are always boring and just take up space, but in this case the devil is in the details. To make it easier on all of us, and to get to the point, I’ll submit an abbreviated timeline.
Sunday, March 1st:
I make a smart ass remark on Facebook to my dear friend, Patty, after she posts a few details of her nightmare trip to California. My comment had a “welcome to my world” theme.
Monday, March 2nd:
I embark on a 4 day revenue generation trip to Myrtle Beach. There may have been some unsanctioned golf involved. I believe that I have earned this interruption in my normal work environment because I am a hard-working ambassador for my company. I have a high opinion of my professional self.
My flight from Buffalo arrives early to Myrtle. Rare occurrence. Lucky.
Working days…all good.
Thursday, March 5th:
Arrive at airport 2 hours before my return flight’s scheduled departure – back to the cold and snow of the worst place in the world. I was pouting over my situation when I should have been rejoicing in, and being thankful for, my good fortune, health, spirit, life, etc. Bad juju.
Flight delayed 2 hours. 1 hour layover at my connecting airport. Uh oh.
Arrive at connecting airport. Home leg of trip also delayed 2 hours. Lucky.
Delayed another 30 minutes at 6:00 PM. This pattern repeats every 30 minutes until 10:00 PM
At 10:00 PM, gate agent announces cancellation of flight 1885 (my flight) to Buffalo.
At 10:15 PM, gate agent announces, “I am a human being, I made a mistake. Flight 1885 is NOT cancelled. We are waiting on a crew that will be here at 11:07. I apologize.”
I felt lucky, hundreds of people were getting flights canceled all around me. I was going home.
At 11:15 PM the flight is moved to midnight.
At midnight, fight 1885 to Buffalo is cancelled. Less lucky
Friday, March 6th: (but only 30 minutes later)
At 12:30 AM I am the next person in line at customer service.
At 1:15 AM I am in front of a customer service agent
At 1:30 AM I’m told there are no flights left to Buffalo for Friday March 6th.
I think it’s important for all of you to know that even at this point, I haven’t uttered one audible swear word. I was thinking them, calmly and coolly to myself, but the only thing the outside world saw from me was an understanding smile, and all they heard from me was, “Thank you”.
At 1:35 AM I’m assigned seat 5C for a 9:25 SATURDAY departure. (Still no swearing) And, after a little bit of aggressive “negotiation”, I was given a voucher for a local hotel. I was told my bags would not be available because of limited staff at this late hour. “They are on their way to Buffalo…”, and I would pick them up when I got there Saturday. This didn’t make sense to me, but I said, “Thanks”.
…and THAT’S when it got interesting.
WARNING: The following written account of the events that took place on the remainder of Friday March 6th, and continuing thru Saturday March 7th are explicit, in some cases disturbing, and might be upsetting to readers under the age of 85. This content is intended for mature audiences.
SECTION B: A Large Man Stranded in a Town That Doesn’t Want Him
Random thoughts as I walk away from the “Customer Service” counter:
A day and a half with only the clothes I’m wearing. Tommy John underwear probably rinses and dries beautifully, it’s a sheer fabric. I’ll be OK. I guess I could shop for underwear, but I can’t go back to old school…TJs have changed my life. I hope that young girl is OK. I do this every week, I know what to do and where to go, poor kid has never flown before, she told me her parents never have either…no one to call, nowhere to turn…scared and alone. Not gonna get much help from “Customer Service” from what I saw. I’m a stranger, I’m older, and probably a little creepy to a 17-year-old girl, OR guy for that matter. Sad world where you can’t simply help someone without worrying about them getting wigged out. I connected her with those businesswomen I talked to; I’m sure they’ll take care of her…hope she’s alright. I hope this (hotel that sorta rhymes with “Tostada”) Inn is decent. I wonder if cabs are running this late? This sucks. With an internal chuckle, I never should have poked fun at Patty.
As I start to pull up the phone number for the hotel, there is an announcement that says, “All passengers on cancelled flight 1885 to Buffalo must pick up their bags on carousel C 1”. My immediate thought is, YES! But then I kinda shake my head a little…what if I had already gotten in a cab. These people don’t seem to know what the fuck they’re doing.
Whatever…I pick up my bags. I’m happy. I will have a place to sleep, and I will have clean clothes to change into. If the hotel is nice, I can office in the hotel on Friday, get home on Saturday…this is not the end of the world. Stay positive.
At 2:00 AM I call the hotel, and “Yes”, they have a shuttle. “We’ll be there in about ten minutes, sir. Go to zone C”. I say, “Thank you”, and I go to zone C. But the ten minutes became twenty, and then twenty became twenty-five.
At 2:25 AM I got in a taxi.
At 2:55 AM I got my room key. I only had a voucher for 1 night. I asked if there were vacancies for Friday night. “Yes, but you gotta pay for it yourself. This voucher is only good for tonight…” I put up my hand to stop the clerk from giving me more reasons not to stay. I wasn’t sure what my future held, but I didn’t like the tone…so I didn’t commit. I’m tired, I’m cranky, I have to pee…not a time to negotiate.
At 3:00 AM I walk into the room set my bags down and race to the bathroom. Problem is, the door to the bathroom doesn’t open up all the way…because the fucking toilet is in the fucking way. Seriously – I push the door open to walk in, and I’m abruptly stopped. My forehead hits the door, then my nose smooshes against the door, then my lips smash against that very same door, kind of a rolling chain reaction from the top down. I’m worried that my nose is bleeding.
The toilet is sticking out so far from the fucking wall that you can’t open the door all the way. What you have to do, is open the door a little, then slide sideways into the bathroom, then close the door, then stand in front of the toilet. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? “No sir, we’re not! Will you be staying tomorrow? I’m gonna need that credit card.” Decision made.
I turn on the main lights in the sleeping area. Not good. There are a few pieces of gum pressed into the carpet, the ants don’t seem interested in the gum though. They’re marching past – straight through the room into the hallway. I’m too tired now to care. I lay down on the bed – with my clothes on – and I fall asleep.
At 4:45 AM, my 55-year-old prostate awakens me for another bathroom visit. In the fog of my slumber, I get up and head to the bathroom. I open the door, smash my head against it…again…nose and lips too, just as before. This is when I started crying.
At 8:30 AM my phone rang and a very sweet lady from the front desk told me that if I wanted to stay tonight I needed to book now.
At 8:31 AM I got out of bed and booked another hotel.
Then I went to an I-Hop across the parking lot. Pancakes were cold, eggs were undercooked. When I told the waiter about it, he told me … and I swear this is true…he said, “I didn’t cook your breakfast, sir.”
Shower, thought about shaving, then I considered the frappe of airborne bacteria that had to be floating around the room. I simply could not risk a cut or a nick, so I chose the scruffy, “Bruce Willis” look.
Cab ride…new hotel…friendly clerk. Things are turning around. Maybe this town wants me to stay here after all!!
Not so much…
In all honesty, it gets a little better here. I took advantage of the hotel’s shuttle to get to lunch, to dinner, and then the next day to the airport. They were great, but they understand customer service, because tips are customary on a shuttle. The drivers were knowledgeable, friendly, and very appreciative of my cash tips. I went to a wonderful restaurant for lunch, and I was treated like an appreciated customer at The Burger Company in Charlotte. I made a point to speak to the manager about the outstanding people working in this restaurant, and I look forward to going there again.
Consider The Burger Company at 1500 West Morehead Street in Charlotte NC to be a Large Man certified establishment…I give it 5 thongs on the Large Man 5 Thong scale of establishments (TLM5TSOE) – there is NOTHING about that place I would change.
But sadly, The Burger Company was but a brief oasis, the eye of my hurricane of travel hell. My new hotel was darn near as dirty as the one I just left, but on the positive side, it cost a lot more. The desk clerk who checked me in was very sweet when she was taking my credit card, when I called to complain about the absence of hot water in my room, she might as well have told me that she wasn’t a plumber. Her second shift replacement was simply rude. So basically, more of the same. No love at the quite dirty hotel that rhymes with SlingThrill Treats.
I think the point here is that during this trip I came in contact with no less than 10 people who work in a customer service role, people who had an opportunity and the power to make my experience better. They had opportunities to make other people’s struggles a little easier too. They declined to exercise that power. Maybe they were tired, maybe they were burned out, or maybe they have been desensitized to the woes of the privileged traveler. Or, maybe they just don’t care…or maybe they just suck at their job. Through the entire ordeal, I felt like I just wasn’t wanted. I might as well been back at my senior prom.
Of the 10 people or so people who I had a meaningful interaction with, Kaitlyn at The Burger Company, and Susie B at the US Air ticket counter in Charlotte for my eventual outbound flight, listened to my situation, and they made it better…because they felt like that was their job.
Kaitlyn just gave me a cookie and a little note with a heart on it. Not ground breaking…but definitely difference making.
Susie B gave me another seat.
On Saturday March 7th at 9:05 AM I sat down in seat 5C on flight 1942 to Buffalo. My bags were checked, my mind was at ease. 45 hours after I started the journey, I was actually going home. The chief flight attendant shut and secured the cabin door, and walked to my seat and said, “Mr. Dolinger, Susie at the ticket counter said you had some trouble getting home, and she upgraded you to a seat in First Class. Why don’t you grab your stuff and come with me.
She handed me the first class ticket, there was note written on the back of the ticket that read:
I’m sorry this has been such a rough trip. We appreciate your business, and I want you to keep flying with us. Thanks for your loyalty – PLEASE don’t give up on us!! Bad week for everybody!
OK…I thought to myself. I guess that’s enough.
I sat down in seat 1C, ordered a Bloody Mary, and I went home.
Thanks for reading.
The Large Man
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