This isn’t 100% the place for this story, but I needed a long form to tell it, and there is the featured involvement (or rather uninvolvement) of food. This is the story of how I got home.
The trip to the Star Wars 5K was mostly uneventful. Two small flights in. One airport only has one airline. The other only has two. Luckily they overlap.
A wedding was my destination, and the 5K was just a bit of fun along the way, so I flew to the wedding town (Gainesville) and drove to the 5K (Orlando), to then drive back to the wedding town and fly home.
4 hours of flights. 4 hours of driving. Easy peasy.
The first hiccup actually happened when I picked up my rental. The car was supposed to be something along the lines of a Toyota Camry. It was not. Instead, they handed over a minivan. Yep, I got to cruise for the vacation by myself in a minivan. On the bright side, I didn’t look out of place pulling into Disney World. On the other side, I was a grown-ass man by himself in a minivan at a theme park for kids. Pretty sure I ended up on a list somewhere.
After this, things were uneventful. I drove to and from the 5K. After a couple of days in the wedding town, with the obligatory wedding, I was ready to head out.
I opted for the first flight out of Gainesville so I could be on the first flight home from Atlanta. I had about 1:15 between flights, which is a little less than I’d like, but it was manageable.
All’s well getting on the plane at 6:45. We all load up. I sit down. The dude next to me was slim, so we weren’t crowding each other. Unfortunately, one of the people in front of me decided to wear the most noxious teenager-appropriate cologne. He was about 50. I was worried it was going to make me sick.
I plugged in my headphones and got ready to catch whatever sleep I could.
And then the pilot came on. Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, there’s an issue with the hydraulics, and they don’t have a mechanic at the airport at that moment. We have to wait for Atlanta to get a hold of some consulting mechanic to fix the issue. Should be an easy fix.
Wait, wait, wait. Pretend to sleep while the flight attendants are going up and down the aisle. Keep listening to music to pass the time and maybe get a little sleep.
Wait, wait, wait. Excuse me, sir? Sir? [jab, jab, jab]. Sir, here are your backup flights.
The mechanic got there. The quick fix didn’t work. He’s going to have to replace something.
Wait, wait, wait. Do I have some other music that might work better? Maybe I should read my book now.
That didn’t work either.
Ladies and gentleman, we’re going to have to get a part from Tampa. I’m not sure if they’re going to fly it or drive it down. You can wait on the plane if you’d like, but you’ll probably be more comfortable back in the airport.
Turns out, that option wasn’t an option. Once a few stragglers looked like they’d take the flight attendants up on that offer, they were kicked off the flight.
This took two hours. Meanwhile, people are pissed. I’m not overly happy myself, and I’ve missed my first flight.
I call the airline folks. Yes sir, we’ve got you booked for the 3 o’clock flight. Have a good day, sir.
Wait, wait, wait.
They put out snacks. They put out drinks. I ignore it because I’m optimistic we’ll be flying eventually, and I don’t like to eat much while I travel.
Wait, wait, wait.
Eventually, they put out pizza. If I’m avoiding the goldfish crackers, I’m definitely dodging Dominos.
Keep waiting. Read some of my book. Watch the iPad die and all the outlets are hot commodities at the moment.
In the meantime, the next flight for my airline shows up, boards, and leaves. Then the flight from the other airline. Then my airline. Then the other.
The mechanic and the part from Tampa have finally arrived. Time to hurry up and wait some more.
Looks like I’m going to miss my 3 o’clock flight too. Call the airline folks again. Can I get on the 7 o’clock flight, the last flight home? It’s full, but we can put you on standby and confirm you for tomorrow’s 10 a.m. flight (the one I was supposed to be on today). Are there other airports you can fly to? No, this is the only one. Standby is fine. Do that. What happens to my luggage if I clear standby? It might not make the flight, but it will definitely make it for tomorrow’s flight. I’m starting to consider how I can clean my clothes in a hotel when I don’t have any spare clothes, though I have an obscene amount of jerky.
At this point, I have to consider my options. Try my luck with standby or just drive from ATL? Driving once I landed would actually put me home around the same time the plane would, but I’m exhausted. I put the decision off until ATL.
We finally get the ok to board the plane. In the meantime, another flight on my airline has shown up, but we board first. I grab some of those damned goldfish as I board the plane.
We’re leaving Gainesville the same time my second option from ATL was leaving. Fun.
The plane’s about half empty now, but the person next to me is still there, and so are the two people in front of me, including Mr. Obnoxious Cologne. And the flight attendants didn’t redistribute people to the several empty rows up front. I guess they were in just as much of a hurry as we were.
Pilot comes on. We’re second in line for takeoff.
Huh? There’s only 3 gates at this airport. Who the hell’s in front of us?
The flight that boarded after us. They got put in front of us. I guess there’s no reason to make a second flight late when you can double down on the same people.
In the process of getting to the runway, the plane is jerky as hell. Like teenager-learning-to-drive-a-stick-shift jerky. The takeoff wasn’t much better. We made a steep ascent and sharp turns. The route was fine, but landing was the same thing. Sharp turns getting in and a rough landing to close it off.
I’m not quite sure they fixed those hydraulics as well as they thought. Or that pilot sucked. Or maybe he wanted Papa John’s.
We get off the plane, and it’s decision time. Standby or just rent a car? I go to one of those help phone lines. Am I still on standby? Yes. [Groan]. Are there other airport options you can take to get home? No, this is it. Ok, what order am I on standby? Actually, you’re first, sir. Ok, let’s roll the dice.
I ask about the luggage again. Same answer. Might not make it on the 7 o’clock flight if you do, but it will definitely make the 10 o’clock flight tomorrow morning.
I finally cave and eat real food. Up to this point, I had a few strips of jerky and some goldfish. I opted for protein and simplicity: ham, egg, and swiss on honey whole wheat bagel. It was delicious. Of course, everything is for the 180-pound man who hasn’t eaten real food all day and has mostly subsisted on water.
I charge my phone. Then I charge my tablet for a bit. And then I go to the gate.
Ask the agent if I was lucky enough to get on the flight. Nope. Your second on standby.
But I was first earlier. [Shrug] You got bumped I guess.
Now it’s too late for driving to be a viable option. I double down on standby.
More reading. More waiting. I start wandering up and down the terminal to see if one of the shops sells underwear and maybe socks. If I’m going to have to wear the same clothes on consecutive days, I’d at least like to have clean underwear. I can find socks but no underwear. If I can’t have clean underpants, I don’t really care about my socks. But for real, how is that not a niche being fulfilled on every terminal? I wasn’t the only person stuck overnight without the bag that had clothes in it.
They start boarding. There are two of us on standby. We wait. Full flight but two unclaimed seats. I need those two unclaimed seats.
Everyone gets on who’s supposed to get one. We wait. We wait. Someone straggles in late. someone else does. But the numbers stay the same. They were accounted for.
The lady ahead of me on standby gets to board. A guy shows up flying out of Texas. The airline put him on this flight (after I was supposed to have been put on standby for this flight). Everything gets situated. He gets on the plane. I’m sorry, sir. That was the last spot.
I put my head down on the counter. I want to yell. I want to cuss. I want to kick something. Or preferably someone. But I don’t. I don’t because it’s not my day. Friday and my first full run of a 5K were mine. Today was not.
Sir, if you’ll go to Gate 11, they’ll set you up with a voucher for a hotel.
What happens to my luggage? Do I need to pick it up at baggage or is it ok overnight? It’s ok. It’ll get on the flight with you tomorrow morning.
I mope over to Gate 11 where you will meet the person with the worst airline job. The person who gives out vouchers and toiletries for people who miss their flight.
I show up, explain my situation. She checks. Is there another flight you can get on? No, this is it. Why didn’t you get on the flight? Oh, it was mechanical. I can get you a voucher. Go the baggage claim, and you’ll get on the shuttle to the hotel. When she apologizes, I say it’s not your fault. I get thanked for recognizing that. Again, you don’t want this lady’s job.
I walk to baggage claim. I walk to the airport hotel shuttles. I see two vans for the same chain. One looks nicer than the other. I have to get on the other. We get on the shuttle. The driver is… eccentric.
We get to the hotel. I remember being in this part of town before. It’s either the bad part or the part next to the bad part. I checked my maps app. It’s the bad part. But not that bad. Just a little sketch. That’s ok. I’m just sleeping here one night, I’m not going out for food, and the hotel seems (mostly) fine.
Me and the other dude on the shuttle get off. He gets to the counter first. The shuttle leaves every half hour. This is how you get on the wifi. The elevator’s to the left. And breakfast is served (at some point in time that I didn’t care enough about to remember).
How can I help you sir? I’m just checking in. I hand over the voucher. Did you hear everything I told him? Shuttle leaves every half hour and the elevator’s to the left. Good job, sir. Thank you. You have a good night.
I crawl to the elevator. I go to my room. I check to see if the door shows break-in attempts. It does, but I’ve dealt with worse in nicer hotels. I put my luggage by the door to trip would-be burglars, and I assess my digs.
It’s a hotel room. I’ve definitely stayed in nicer hotels, but I’ve also stayed in worse. Thank you mom and dad for staying in cheap hotels as a kid, and thank you Del Rio High School for so poorly planning a trip once that I’ll never feel as unsafe at a hotel as I did on a high school trip.
I briefly considering washing my underwear in the shower with me and drying them with the hair dryer. I decline mostly because I don’t want to make noise and call attention to myself in that hotel. I’ve stayed in worse, but I haven’t stayed in worse in quite some time.
I take off all my clothes and hang them up to air out as much by the morning. I luckily had t-shirts in my backpack to cushion a laptop, not to mention my 5K shirt. Guess what I wore the next day? I lounge around in a towel after my shower to give the underpants more time to breathe before I put them on (I’m not sleeping in the sketchy hotel bed naked; in the process of going to sleep, I found a rip in the sheet, a long hair embedded in the blanket, and a small hair of undetermined source close to the pillows).
Sleep finally takes me. I sleep kind of fitfully, but I sleep most of the night. Eventually, I wake up before my alarm. I brush my teeth, and get dressed, and I’m ready to leave a solid 45 minutes before I meant to, but I want out of that hotel.
Downstairs, a few other people are waiting on the shuttle that shows up a couple of minutes after I do. It’s the same driver from last night. That can’t be safe (or legal).
We all get on as the driver goes inside the hotel and disappears. A car shows up a few minutes later and parks where you’re not supposed to park. Dude 2 goes inside.
We wait. And wait. And wait.
Dude 2 comes out and gets inside the van. Never says a word. I’m actually a little worried I’m about to go for a ride I don’t want. Again, I know what part of Atlanta I’m in.
But he makes all the right turns. We get to the ticketing gates, and the lines for security are nuts, but I’ve got to get a boarding pass first.
I go to where people are doing self check-in and printing boarding passes before dropping off bags. The other stations are either unmanned or they say silver, preferred, [insert other fancy term that means not you, poor person]. Seems like my best bet. I say I need to print my boarding pass after the self check-in doesn’t work. We can’t do that, sir. You need to go over there.
I go over to one of the stations for the fancy people. I wait. And I wait. And I wait.
Can I help you sir? It won’t let me print my boarding pass. Is that not a boarding pass? No, it’s… I’m too tired to say it’s just the schedule of my options from yesterday. Ok, sir. Come this way.
And then I look at what I’m holding. I forgot they gave me my boarding pass last night when I got my voucher and toiletries. She’d even asked me if I wanted a window or aisle seat. Whoops.
I go to security. The pre-check line is ridiculous. The regular line is confusing. Eventually, I get through security. There was a violinist playing music. He even played the song my tattoo comes from. I almost tipped him. Almost. I was tired. Very, very tired.
But I’m early getting into the airport. I walk from security all the way to D. If you don’t know the ATL airport, that’s a hike. And I needed a hike.
Once I was at my terminal, I found a charger and maxed out my phone before plugging the tablet in again. If I have to be stuck in these airports, I might as well get my electronics squared away first.
Eventually, we board. The plane was only about half-full. I’ve never been so happy to get on a plane. The flight was uneventful. A lady was seated next to me, but there were empty rows, so the flight attendant moved her (after politely asking if we were together; again, if this was a romantic comedy, this is how the plot would start).
The flight was uneventful. We get off the plane, and I walk to baggage claim. As I’m waiting, I hear the gate person come on the speaker and say Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot isn’t going to let you board yet. There’s a mechanical issue they found while they were in flight.
You have to be kidding me.
But I’m on the ground and all I need is my bag.
The belt stops. I don’t have a bag. There’s no one at the ticketing desk because everyone has to help with boarding. That’s how they work here with so few flights. Except they aren’t boarding, so they’re just standing there where I can’t get to them. I’m in limbo because the flight’s in limbo.
I talk to the TSA lady to see if she can let one of the airline employees know. I sit down. I eat Oreos. I mentally write an X on today in the calendar. After a few minutes, I think maybe I can just report the bag online. I have my luggage receipt. I google it. Nope. You have to tell a representative directly.
Still waiting on flight personnel to come back to the ticketing gate. I hear them say they’re putting on snacks. I know that bribe well.
Eventually, I see an option to track baggage. This is weird to me. If you’re tracking bags, that means you’re traveling. This has to be the most anal-retentive option ever, but it’s helping me with my lost bag possibly. At least it can tell me where my bag was last seen.
I plug in the number. I follow the history. It says it got to my airport, but I didn’t see it. Did it get stolen without me noticing? And then I see the date and time. It got in last night on the flight I didn’t get on.
So much for the bag getting on the morning flight. An airline employee finally comes out. How can I help you? My bag wasn’t at the baggage claim, but I think it got in last night. Last name? Ok. He goes and gets my bag.
The voyage is over. Two sketchy planes. One sketchy hotel. One real meal in the span of about 36 hours.
But I’m home. I’m safe. I have my stuff. And most importantly, I don’t have any flights on the docket for the foreseeable future. I’ll call that a win right now. And at least I lost weight?