Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Yes, it crossed my mind...
This particular story is delayed by about a month. I wrote most of it before Mother's Day but never finished it and, obviously, didn't post it until now.
The Travel Travails of L's graduation…
Let's make sure we have the back story. Darling was scheduled for her final surgery on Friday, May 11. I had to be there for the surgery, but still wanted to be at L's graduation so I did something I don't do often - I planned ahead. I booked a flight on Friday night from Houston to Abilene, and booked a car and hotel room in Abilene. I didn't get to reserve a room in our normal hotel since it was already booked for that night. My return flight was Saturday evening so that I missed about twenty-four hours with Darling and her recovery. Her friends stepped in, so we were covered.
"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley" as Robert Burns said in his poem To A Mouse. This is more often heard as "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" because of Steinbeck and his book Of Mice and Men, I suppose. Maybe the better and more accurate thought it from Murphy - "If anything can go wrong, it will."
As it turns out, we had the date for the surgery wrong by a day and it was scheduled for Thursday. We expected Darling to be completely out of it after the surgery because of the anesthetics. We were not disappointed. Darling lost almost the entire weekend, actually. Her brother A came and sat with me all day, and managed to see her for a bit during the recovery, but she doesn't recall that. She also only vaguely remembers her oldest daughter M stopping by to see her. She certainly doesn't remember sending me home on Thursday night. A brought her home on Friday, and D came by for a bit and J came by to spend the night while I was gone.
Regardless, I was at the Houston airport about four in the afternoon for my flight, which was routed to Abilene via Dallas. My flight from Houston to Dallas was delayed over five hours. We were supposed to leave at six in the evening and we didn’t get off the ground until after 11 pm. There were huge storm systems in Dallas, and all flights into the area were delayed or cancelled.
Time for some quick math. If I left at three in the afternoon and it’s a seven hour drive to Abilene from my home, assuming my accumulated break times equal about an hour, I’d get to Abilene at 11 pm. Which is just about the time my plane was leaving Houston. For Dallas. I mused about that as the time ticked on, and thought about how I am not all that fond of driving, especially by myself. What I really wanted was someone to drive me to Abilene in a nice car and drop me off, wait for me, and bring me back. Right.
So I sat in the Houston airport and watched a couple of Avenger’s cartoon movies on my phone. I caught my flight to Dallas just as the storm blew into the Houston area. The take-off was a little bumpy.
Yes, I missed the connecting flight to Abilene. That put me in rather a pickle. Of course, AA offered me a spot on the first flight in the morning. It left at 10:10 AM and arrived in Abilene at 11 AM. What time did L’s graduation ceremony start? If this was a movie about the trials and tribulations of travel, then her graduation would start at 11 AM. It did, of course. 
So the morning flight wasn’t going to work. I said as much to the lady at the counter in Dallas. “No,” I said, “my daughter’s graduation is at 11 AM and that flight won’t work.” Without smiling she replied that she couldn’t do anything else for me. “But that doesn’t work for me,” I explained. I was quiet, patient, a little pleading - and totally stupid at this point from lack of sleep and not mentally prepared for this challenge. I did get her to confirm that if I drove to Abilene my return ticket would still be acceptable the next day. I'm sure she was stressed too.
There is a scary sign in the Dallas airport. Well, it’s scary at quarter past twelve in the morning. It says if you walk out the door you can’t come back in. I forget what time this occurs - 10 PM maybe. I admit I hesitated. Perhaps I wanted to sleep in the airport on the extremely uncomfortable furniture, like that movie with Tom Hanks about the guy living in the airport.
I walked out into the slightly damp and warm air of the Dallas airport. There was a lady trying to get a rental car, but she wasn’t going to Abilene. She just wanted her car, but her car rental place was closed. I tried a courtesy phone designed to give passengers information and it was useless.
God does not abandon us. Remember this as we move forward with the story.
I migrated to the spot where a group of people were sitting waiting on a courtesy van. The lady I spoke to previously was there. She said someone told her that her car information should be at the ticket counter, even if they were closed. “Well,” I said, “my car is at Avis in Abilene.”
A young man was sitting next to a uniformed soldier on the curb. “Are you going to Abilene? That’s where we’re going, if you want to ride together.”
He didn’t look like a psychotic mass murderer, but I don't really know what a psychotic mass murderer looks like and I hesitated. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but I agreed. “I’m not a great driver,” I said. 
“That’s okay,” he responded, “I’ll drive. I just don’t want to be by myself during the trip.”
He was a nice young man. As it turns out, he lived in Dallas for a few years, was from Weatherford, a small town between Dallas and Abilene, graduated from ACU three years ago and was on the way to see his younger brother graduate the same day as L. So he knew the Dallas area, was familiar with the road to Abilene and knew Abilene too. He’s married, but spends much of his time traveling for work, so he was an Avis Preferred customer. We didn’t even need to wait in line for a car, and we were on the road. There was a little snafu about the car as we exited the Avis rental area, but the lady at the gate worked it out for him. We ended up traveling in a Kia Cerato, which was surprisingly nice. I never considered a Kia as a car choice before this trip.
His wife was currently taking classes in CA for dog acupuncture. That was an interesting tidbit. We laughed a little over the mental picture that offers.
I did tell them a little about the Space Station, and we talked databases for a while. That is his job, traveling to different sites and making the database work with the software. I empathized. I told him a little about my apps in the app store, but I'm not sure he was impressed.
The young man had a lot of music on his iPod and he and the young soldier spent a lot of time talking about music and playing different tracks. I was just the old guy dozing off in the back seat.
What did I think earlier? That my preference is to have someone else just drive me to my destination? Our God has a sense of humor.
They were both very nice young men and I got dropped off at my hotel at about 4:30 in the morning. I don't have much to say about the hotel, and nothing nice. I won’t be staying there again. Certainly it was older, but in pretty bad shape on top of that. I called for a cab about 9AM and the guy said it would be about thirty minutes and was that okay. No problem.
I grabbed a glass of juice and one of those make-it-yourself Texas-shaped waffles in the hotel dining area (I think that's what it was) and wolfed it down, then waited for my cab in the lobby.
An irate customer came in and wanted to speak with the manager, who was not available. Apparently there was a leak somewhere and their luggage was soaking wet. When she asked for a copy of her receipt, the desk clerk refused. Not the best customer service.
I have to remember that Abilene is a pretty small town. Essentially there was no traffic on the street. Maybe six cars went by in the hour that I waited. Yes, an hour. My cab was a nice lady in a mini-van who picked me up and dropped me at the airport Avis rental counter. As we drove through town she pointed out the quickest route to ACU.
As it turned out, I almost needed the quickest route. As the wheels of time finished grinding getting my car I had less than a half hour until L's graduation. I got to ACU after about fifteen minutes. Again, I have to think small town. Well, at least a lot smaller than Houston.
Once I got to ACU I wasn't sure where the graduation ceremony was taking place. I followed the few cars I saw and got to a parking lot where I asked a nice lady if she was going to graduation. She was and we walked to the Moody Coliseum together.
Getting a seat when you are only one person is a breeze, regardless of the crowds. Eventually the music started and the graduates filed in, with white-robed parents or loved ones following them. I'm not sure of the significance of that, but that's okay. K followed L (which is not alphabetic, is it?). There were a lot of graduates.

I like this one

They get cowls. I didn't know that. I didn't attend my graduation from MSU, and I didn't attend my Master's graduation from UHCL, so I didn't know that graduates get cowls. It seems the cowls get fancier for the higher level degrees.
I want my cowl. Level 80, if you don't mind and I'd like it Epic with some awesome stats. I'll have to contact my school.
The graduation was streamed live over the internet. Darling got to watch it from home.
Dr. Jack Reese gave the commencement speech, basing it on Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany, finishing it up with a classic sentence. "Now, go and live, go and serve, go and die," he said.
Go forth and die; I'm not sure that's the commencement I'd give.
Nevertheless, L graduated (and hearty congratulations on THAT achievement in a mere three years!).
I wasn't the only one at the graduation, of course. Her mother (K), her Grand-daddy and Aunts, Uncles and cousins were there as well. I felt a bit outnumbered at lunch.
I gave her the graduation present I've worked on for a few years.
Traveling back was as simple as could be. The airport opened up for the one flight from Abilene to Dallas then I caught the connection to Houston. Each flight lasted less than an hour. The weather was perfect. I got home and Darling was okay.
Sunday I was pretty tired though. As I was taking a nap, Darling took the surgical tubes out. This time she did it without my help.
So, a couple planes, a couple automobiles, and I did see a train on the trip from Dallas to Abilene. All things considered a traveling success story.
And someone else did most of the driving for me.

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