Rohit's Realm

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December 30, 2010

Go East, Young Man

Snowpocalypse, snowmaggedon, blizzaggedon, the Bloomberg Blizzard (really, clowns, did the Mayor cause the blizzard?)—whatever it is the internets finally decide to call it, the Boxing Day Blizzard (my preferred term) on the East Coast this past weekend completely ruined an otherwise peaceful Christmas holiday for me. What should have been a six hour flight from LAX to JFK on Monday afternoon turned into a two day, four airport, two train station, five subway station, one hotel room affair; I finally made it home to New York late Tuesday night, and that was three whole days earlier than what should have occurred had I taken the airline's (ludicrous) offer to rebook my flight to a red eye on New Year's Eve. (Thanks, but no thanks, assholes.) While this colossal mess was definitely one of the more unpleasant in recent memory, there were a few surprises, and those, along with the awful story prompt me to write tonight. More (worthless verbosity) after the jump.

When I got to the LAX on Monday morning, I almost immediately realized all flights to New York City had been canceled on all airlines; none of the airports, it seemed, had even started digging out of the mess by Monday afternoon. After standing in an interminable line for stranded New York–bound passengers, I was offered the aforementioned red eye. Taking a moment to appreciate the ridiculous nature of that offer, I then requested an earlier flight to anywhere on the eastern seaboard. I was told there was nothing; the earliest flight anywhere on the East Coast was Thursday. So I took the flight they had me on, and stepped out of the line to think it over.

Two salient considerations would quickly lead me down what might then have been considered a reckless path: (1) I actually had real work to do this week, which meant dicking around at the airport waiting for standby flights all week was not an option; and (2) a red eye on New Year's Eve—really? Even for someone who revels in misery, failure, and depression, that's pretty awful. I wonder if the first glass of champagne at midnight would be gratis. (Knowing the nickel-and-dime ways of today's airlines, probably not.)

With nary any further consideration, I was back in line to switch my flight to whichever Midwest destination I could get to that night. And then what? Frankly, there was no real plan at that point. Train? Bus? Rent a car and drive? All I knew was that I needed to be moving east.

I was offered three destinations that day: St Louis, MO; Chicago, IL; and Detroit, MI. Of these, only Chicago was a real option; St Louis is much further from New York, and Detroit . . . well, Detroit is not a place to which anyone should ever venture, especially at night. So with that, I was on a late afternoon flight to O'Hare, arriving close to midnight Central Time. The airline agent helpfully reminded me that Chicago was 700 air miles from New York, that they wouldn't be responsible for my trip after I got to Chicago, and that I wouldn't be getting a refund even though I was flying a much shorter distance. (Thanks very much, assholes; I love you too.)

By this time, I had my dad looking for flights from Chicago on Tuesday morning, while my sister was researching trains and buses. The trains were all booked up for several days, while the buses inexplicably required over twenty-four hours on the road to traverse 800 miles (why, I have no idea). About an hour before I took off, my dad found a flight from Chicago Midway to Albany, NY, on Tuesday morning. While this wasn't ideal, it was probably the best I could get; at least driving from Albany would be easier than Chicago. On the off chance there was space on the Albany to New York City train on Tuesday afternoon, however, I had my sister check. Surprisingly, there was, and just like that, I had an itinerary—and more importantly, hope of somehow making it home.

Around that time, however, my cell phone died. The phone calls all day had finally taken their toll. This was when the first pleasant surprise came about: I went to the charging station, only to find all the outlets occupied, indefinitely. All of a sudden, a guy tapped me on the shoulder, said I'm going to make your day, and plugged in a male-to-female power cord extension into his power strip that allowed me to charge my phone. No prompting, no asking, just a random act of kindness. The best part was his comment as he plugged in the cord: (in a Deep South accent) And they say us rednecks ain't ever tech savvy. How about dem apples?

How about those apples, indeed. Southern hospitality if I ever saw it. Anyway, with my phone fully charged, I thanked the self-proclaimed redneck and got on the plane to Chicago.

Knowing my way around O'Hare, I was able to quickly find the shuttle for the Sheraton and made it to the hotel at which I had hastily made a reservation while at LAX. Except, it was the wrong hotel. Apparently there are two Sheratons at O'Hare and I got on the wrong shuttle (great job with branding, assholes). This is when the second pleasant surprise came about: too tired to futz around with going all the way back to the airport to find the shuttle for the correct hotel, I asked the desk clerk whether she would let me switch reservations. She said that it's usually not allowed, but she would see just for me. (I immediately tried to offer her anything she wanted, but I haven't been issued business cards yet. Foiled again!) Despite having a nonrefundable room at the other hotel, and it being well past the cancellation deadline, I was allowed to switch. Starwood, unlike the airlines, had proven itself worthy of my loyalty.

With a set itinerary and a decent night of rest, the next day wasn't so bad: about the only awful thing was waiting around for the Orange Line to Midway at Clark and Lake for over half an hour in the ridiculous cold with the wind whipping off the lake. I have said this before, and I will say it again: I sincerely hope whoever decided to put the El outdoors in Chicago of all places is burning in hell.

In Albany, I was greeted with a final act of random kindness for the trip. When I got to the cab stand, there was only one cab available and one guy in line ahead of me. Who knew how much longer the next cab would be, and I had a tight schedule in which to get to the Amtrak station. As he was about to get in the cab, however, the guy out of the blue asked me if I wanted to split it as he was just going a mile away. Again, there was no prompting or even a suggestion on my part; merely one stranger helping out another.

The cabbie, meanwhile, turned out to be quite the character, advising me on both where to sit on the train to New York and which wide angle lens to purchase for my D-SLR. He was right about at least the first part; I sat on the side he suggested and had a gorgeous view of the Hudson River the whole trip. In fact, as I observed on Twitter earlier, the train ride into Penn Station was probably the best part of my entire ordeal.

So, what to take away from all this nonsense? First, I think I need to have more faith in humanity than I do. (Which is only to say, mind you, that I should move from zero faith in humanity to some number greater than zero; I have no intention of giving up my misanthropic ways.) Several people along the way helped me out, and for no reason whatsoever, except that they could. While each of their individual acts were probably of no consequence to them, for me, it was of enormous significance, at times the difference between moving forward and getting stranded again. Something to remember next time I get asked for directions on the street, which happens altogether too often. (What about me says talk to me?)

Second, it's remarkable how much calmer I managed to remain during this awful travel episode than in years past. Instead of blowing a gasket at all the idiots I encountered (and there were obviously plenty of those), I never lost my temper or succumbed to rage. Could this be a sign of my growing maturity? Perish the thought, dear readers!


What wide angle was he recommending?

Tokina 12-24 mm, if I'm not mistaken.

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