The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, April 23, 2012

SAA Memphis, Part 1 - Getting there is Half the Fun?

As I write this, on Saturday night, I am cramped into an awkward position on a Boeing 727 on my way back to the San Francisco Airport.  I have attended what is likely to be my last meeting for a while of the Society for American Archaeology.  As much as I would love to go again, a combination of changes in my life (impending fatherhood, and supporting my fiance financially) puts me into a position where there are other things that I wish to do with my money, while my career path removes much of the motivation (being a CRM archaeologist rather than an academic archaeologist means that I get significantly more out of my regional conference - the Society for California Archaeology annual meeting - than I do out of the SAA's meetings, and for this reason I have only attended two SAA meetings in the last seven years.  I wouldn't have gone this year were it not for two factors: 1) my employer fotted the bill, which they had not compelling reason to do, but my company's owners being basically good people who care about their employees, they were willing to; and 2) I was presenting a paper, and while I could have sent it to be read by someone else, I very much wanted to be the one to do so, and for reasons that will become clear later, I am very glad that I did.

The trip started off poorly.  I slept poorly the night before due to some unexpected (and unexpectedly late) company, so things were off to a great start.  In order to save my employer money (they were good enough to pay my way, I figured that I should be decent enough to use their money with some discretion), I flew out of San Francisco, rather than Fresno.  This meant that I had to drive 3 1/2 hours to San Francisco, which on a weekday during mid-morning and early afternoon would normally have been a long, but easy, drive.  South of Modesto, a collision earlier in the day had closed off a lane of traffic, and though the vehicle had been cleared and the occupants taken for medical care, the Highway Patrol still had the lane closed down.  So, I was concerned about my ability to get to the airport in time.  And then I hit a toll bridge that I wasn't expecting, and therefore didn't have the toll for, meaning that I now owe the state $30 to be payed in a few weeks rather than $5 paid then.  Argh.

I did, however, manage to arrive only a few minutes behind schedule.  However, I quickly discovered that the long term parking lot was completely full.  I discovered this not through signage, or anyone standing at the gate to let me know (there were airport parking employees standing at the gate, but they seemed content to allow cars to enter the lot without warning), but when I had traveled all throughout the parking lot and found not a single space available.  As I was trying to find my way out of the parking lot - which is in many respects rather maze-like in it's traffic design - I was trailed for a time by an airport buss, which after a bit honked it's horn at me.  I stopped, and a middle-aged Asian man with a thick accent left the driver's seat, walked over to me and shouted "The parking lot is full!"

I looked at him, and said the only thing I could think of: "Yes, I had noticed that."

"The parking lot is full!" he shouted at me.

"Yes, we've established this.  I am not trying to argue with you."

He looked at me as if I were some sort of half-wit child that he had been burdened with by unkind relatives.  "The parking lot is full!  You have to leave!"

Now I was getting irritated, and so, getting a bit testy, " said through gritted teeth "Yeah, I know that the damn lot is full, stop shouting that!   Where am I supposed to go?"

He glared at me angrily, and shouted "Why didn't you get a flyer from the people at the exit!"

"Because I didn't know that the people from the exit had flyers!"

"Well they do!  You have to go get one, now!"  He was getting louder and angrier.

Now, I began shouting back "I'll go get a fucking flyer!  But maybe you should actually, you know, let people know before YOU start screaming at them!"

He backed towards his van, and shouted "You get the flyer, and go where it tells you to!"

"Yeah, I'm fucking leaving!"

And with that, I headed to the exit, which is right next to the entrance, where the guy standing there who ignored me as I drove in handed me a flyer explaining that I had to go to the alternative lot for parking.  I got the the alternative lot, where a very pleasant, calm man explained where the open spaces were.  I proceeded to park, get on a shuttle, and get to the terminal.

At the terminal, I quickly discovered that my flight had been delayed.  This would not have been a problem, except that to get to my final destination (Memphis, Tennessee), I had to catch a connecting flight in Atlanta, Georgia.  The delay meant that I would not catch my connecting flight, and the Airtran, the airline for which I had my tickets, had no further flights from Atlanta to Memphis until the following morning, meaning that (assuming no further delays) I would not only have to pay for a hotel in Atlanta (Airtran made it clear that they weren't going to help), AND I wouldn't arrive in Memphis until 10 AM the next day.  The problem is that I was scheduled to speak at 10:45, and it was unlikely in the extreme that I would make it to the conference center on time. 

My only option was to buy a ticket on another airline to get where I was headed.  But, as described in the first paragraph, I could not afford to buy another airline ticket without taking a financial hit that would hurt me and/or my fiance.

I called one of the owners of my company, explained the situation, and said that I couldn't afford the ticket.  To my surprise, his response was "get yourself there, let me worry about the money."

Seriously, I couldn't love my current job any more if it began slipping me ecstasy in the coffee.  These are great people to work for.

So, I got online, and quickly discovered that all flights to Memphis, even indirect ones with layovers were sold out.  And then, the data on my computer screen shifted, and one was available on US Airways.  Someone had cancelled...and the ticket had re-posted.

Things were looking up.

I ran to the US Airways counter - which, it turned out, was about twenty feet from where I was sitting, and I bought the ticket.  It was even an emergency exit row, meaning that even my gangly long legs would have sufficient room. 

Hell yeah, things were looking very much up.

I got through security (which, incidentally, is getting creepier every time I fly), and got to the gate just a few minutes before boarding began. 

On the next plane, the three largest men on the flight were all put together at the exit.  On the one hand, this meant we all had plenty of leg room, but it also meant that we were bashing each other with our elbows and shoulders every time that we moved.  At first, the biggest of us, a large man from Virginia, made his displeasure at having to share space with other big guys clear.  He then put in his headphones and did his best to ignore me and the other guy.  The other fellow, who lives in Washington (though his accent marked him as a native New Yorker) and I talked for a bit, and he was quite pleasant.  He then used the in-flight Wi-fi to listen to a hockey game on his earphones.  I took out my paper and computer, and began making revisions (actually, I substantially re-structured and re-wrote the paper).  After I had finished this, the Virginian took out his earphones and asked what I had been working on, so I explained it to him, which led to more questions.  We talked on and off for the rest of the flight, but by the end, I had learned a good deal about his business (he is a software engineer who is engaged in work on cloud-based applications), and we had talked about mutual areas of scientific interests.  Despite my initial impression, he was a fantastically nice guy, and extremely intelligent and funny.

After we had been in the air for about an hour, we hit a pocket of turbulence.  Not too terribly unusual, and I have been through worse, but we were all asked to fasten our seat belts.  And then the turbulence got even worse, the worst I have, to date, ever been in.  And the flight crew strapped themselves in and announced over the speakers that we were no longer in normal turbulence.  This was, in fact, an emergency situation, and we should all remain in our seats and keep calm.

I have never been one to need a barf bag.  But on this flight, I was beginning to see the wisdom of them.  the emergency situation lasted for about an hour, though the worst of the turbulence was gone in about twenty minutes. 

Anyway, we eventually landed, the three of us exit row men shook hands and parted ways, and I had time to have dinner before getting onto my next plane. 

Boarding the next flight, I discovered that there were only two people in my row: myself, and a fellow wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and carrying a pamphlet of Bible verses.  After we were in the air, the crew came by with the drink cart, and I got my usual Diet Coke.  The fellow with the Bible pamphlet, however, got a can of Red Bull and several small bottles of Vodka.  The flight attendant wanted to stop him at two, but after he assured her that his girlfriend was going to pick him up, and that therefore he would not be driving drunk, he was able to negotiate his way into a few more bottles.  And so, on the flight, I worked on my paper further as the guy in the seat next to me proceeded to get hammered while reading Bible verses.  even after the bottles had been taken away, I could smell the vodka coming off of this guy as he read the words of Luke.

I can't make crap like this up.

We finally arrived in Memphis just before midnight local time.  By this point, I was tired and worn out from traveling, and stressed over the paper that I was increasingly worried about.  I called my hotel to find out if they had a shuttle or if I should hire a taxi.  I was assured that a shuttle would be there for me soon, but it took over half an hour (the hotel was a five-minute drive away).  I finally arrived at the hotel after midnight, and proceeded to try to check in.  The man at the desk, a preternaturally patient and professional Indian gentleman, politely informed me that my card had been denied when I tried ot pay for the room.

What the fuck?

I called my bank (thankfully they have 24 hour customer service), and spent most of the next hour on hold while the rep contacted fraud prevention to find out what was going on.  Turned out that my card was suspended when it was discovered that charges had been made in two different states on the same day.  This looked like either A) my card number had been stolen, or B) I was flying to different fucking airports like I had told my bank I would be doing to prevent this sort of nonsense.  Anyway, with that cleared up, I was able to check in to my hotel room.  The man at the desk had given me a key, and I proceeded towards the room that he had told me to head to.

Once I reached my door, I slid the key card in, the green light on the door handle shown, and I turned the handle only to discover that the room had been dead-bolted from inside.

I headed back to the elevator, stepped inside, pressed the button for the lobby, the doors closed and...nothing.  I hit "Door Open", and the doors opened, I stepped out, let the doors closed, pressed the button, the doors opened, I stepped inside, hit the button for the lobby again, the doors again closed, and...nothing.

I opened the doors again, and went looking for the stairs.  The hotel had a courtyard design, with a huge open central space, and the rooms along the sides.  The stars were in a shaft that had been designed to look like a support and not a shaft containing a staircase.  On the one hand, this gave the hotel a clear, open feeling.  On the other hand, it made the stairs difficult to locate for a sleep-deprived conference goer who was already having a frustrating day.  Still, I eventually found them went back to the front desk, and explained what had happened.  The man at the desk, clearly embarrassed, assigned me another room.  I went up to it, tried the key card, and the door wouldn't open.  The door wasn't dead-bolted, it felt different than that, but it wouldn't open.  I went back to the desk, and the fellow accompanied me back to the room, where we finally got the door open - turned out that the mechanism was getting worn out, and that if you didn't turn it in just the right way, you wouldn't get the door open.  Normally, I would have requested another room, but at this point I was simply grateful to be at a hotel room in Memphis, and I went right in.

As tired as I was, before going to bed, I had to check my email.  And it's a good thing that I did, because I had a notice informing me that, because I had not been on the outgoing Airtran flight, my return flight might be cancelled.  So, I had to call Expedia, through whom I had booked the flight, and spent the next 90 minutes on the phone with them.  I called four times - each of these times I was put on hold while the rep contacted their supervisor.  And each of the first three times, as I waited on hold, I was hung up on.  The fourth time I had to wait an extra long time to talk to a rep because, apparently, 3 am central time is the popular time to call Expedia's customer (dis)service line.  Finally, on the fourth call, I spoke with someone who was able to get the mess straightened out, and made sure that my return flight was confirmed. 

So, closing in on 4 am, I went to bed.  By this time, however, I was so astoundingly stressed out that I couldn't sleep.  So, I just lay there for a few hours, and then got up, showered, shaved, got dressed, went to print up my paper, and then went downstairs to head to the conference.


Evan Davis said...

I have experienced many of those things, but not all on the same day. Yikes.

Anthroslug said...

It was a hell of day...and that's all I can think to say on it.

Weatherwax said...

I hate to even bring it up, but I've had almost universally bad customer service when I have anything to do with San Francisco. Usually, it's dealing with people who don't speak English. I don't support any of the 'English as official language' movements, but it seems logical to me that your customer service reps should understand English. The last few times I've had to make hotel reservations there were a nightmare.

Anthroslug said...

I've never had that issue, but you are not the first person I have heard say anything about it.