atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#6867: Only twenty hours late!

Just got back from Houston, Texas, around 6 PM.

I said, in a prior post, that the training I was undergoing was "off-site". It was: in Houston. Wednesday was my first day on the job; I got up at 2:45 AM in order to get a car to O'Hare in order to get there at 4:30 AM, in order to have plenty of time to check in for my flight to Houston that left at 6 AM.

Because I had to be there by 4:30, I could not go the route I usually would and take a shuttle bus. I had to hire a limo. It was worth every penny. I didn't have to pay attention or drive or even remain conscious.

Got maybe five hours of sleep, went to Texas, then spent about five hours in training. Me and another guy, Tony, who's from Nashville. The rental car was in his name, so he did all the driving. Wednesday, at our lunch break, first we checked into our hotel. I spent forty-five seconds laying on the bed in my room before going back down, and we went to lunch.

To my surprise, after training ended for the day, I didn't immediately flop. Ordered room service, had dinner, and in general relaxed for a bit--still ended up going to bed earlier than I normally would. That early bedtime almost made up for the fact that I did not sleep very well because I was in a strange place.

Thursday was a little better, though. We started really digging into the material, though we couldn't image any computers because that server was down. I was given the Latitude 7480 to use as my work computer.

Friday we finished the material we had to go through and imaged laptops, Latitude 7490s, so I ended up bringing one of those home with me. "Latest and greatest" iteration of the lineup. Woohoo! I'm also, as I said, going to get a company phone, and I think it'll be an iPhone since I need to be able to support iPhone users as well as Android.

We finished up a bit after noon on Friday. Tony's flight was at 4 so he needed to be at the airport by 2; and since he had the car--well, I got there four hours before my 6 PM flight.

But that's where the real adventure begins, because some really bad weather was hitting Chicago. So bad that flights were being delayed and canceled. So the plane that was supposed to take me back to Chicago was not able to leave Chicago on time, because of the weather, and it arrived in Houston an hour late. They did their best and got us onto the plane as quickly as they could, but I'd be getting to O'Hare at something like 10 PM instead of the originally-scheduled 9 PM. I called the guy from the limo service twice to keep him updated on when I'd be in.

Then the pilot comes on and tells us that O'Hare is doing a ground hold, and therefore inbound flights also had to hold, and that he was shutting the engines off to save fuel. They got a service truck out there to keep the AC running, which is good, because Houston--even in late September--"enjoys" a tropical climate.

Called the limo guy again and let him know the new ETA was about 11 PM.

Meanwhile, I'm crammed into an economy-class seat next to the window. Those seats are 17.5 inches wide and there's thirty inches of legroom.

Pilot comes on again and says that because the hold had been extended, the plane would return to the gate. Translation: the airport didn't want a loaded 737 blocking a taxiway, waiting--for what might be hours--for a ground hold to clear. Anyway, by the time the plane got back to the gate United had decided to cancel the flight.

After getting off the plane I'm standing there in the terminal in line with about 300 other people trying to get my flight rescheduled, upset and frustrated and sweating like a pig. There was an email from United saying they'd booked a new flight for me, one that got me to O'Hare at 5:08 PM on Saturday, and I figured that was horseshit. Anyway, this United rep--a guy in a suit--comes up and tells us, "Everyone from about here on back, go to the customer service counter near gate E2. There are three agents there and no line."

So the indicated group, self included, headed for E terminal, which was almost literally on the other side of Texas from where I was standing. And there we found three highly overwhelmed customer service agents trying to deal with a line of about fifty people.

By now it was nearly 10 PM. The hike from C terminal had only made me hotter, so now I stood there with sweat soaking through my shirt and jeans. I joined the line. It moved very slowly. Eventually I got onto the carpet, at which point another United employee (this one in a polo shirt) comes out and starts making announcements. "Call 1-800-United1," he said, "because those people will be able to help you the same way these folks at the counter can."

I dialed the number. "Due to unusually high call volume, your wait time is greater than sixty minutes," the computer voice told me. Judging by the speed that the line had been moving, I had about an hour's wait time where I was, so I hung up.

The lady tried to help me. I think. I suggested that if she could get me to Indianapolis or Champaign or somewhere like that I could rent a car and drive from there. She came up with this cockamamie scheme where I'd fly to Denver the next morning, then to Madison, Wisconsin...and end up getting home about the same time I'd get home with the default plan and have to drive the last 120 miles myself. No, the idea was to get me home sooner, so I sighed with resignation and told her just to leave it alone. She did, and gave me a coupon for a hotel discount.

I started my hike towards the ground transportation doors but apparently United was having its terminal people ferry folks from the customer service counters. Saved me a long walk, that did.

Tried calling the number on the voucher. Every 30 seconds: "Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line...." Hung up, hauled out the laptop and tried using it to access their web site, but their web site couldn't do anything for me and referred me to the phone number. Called the phone number and let it sit there on speaker.

I'm sure I presented a woeful sight, the bedraggled guy with his phone and a pen and paper and two bags sitting in the baggage claim area on hold--

Dug the laptop out again, but this time pointed it at Travelocity, and within five minutes I'd located and reserved a hotel room a scant three miles from where I sat. Hung up on the assholes and got a taxi to the hotel.

The AC was not turned on in the room, so it was sweltering in there. Set it on MAX and then took all my clothes off and took a cool shower. Dressed in shorts, a shirt, and flip-flops, I hit the gas station next door for some Pepsi, and then returned to the room. It was still too hot to sleep, so I lay atop the sheets in my underwear listening to my MP3 player until I relaxed enough. Set the alarm in my phone for 6:30, took off my glasses, shut off the MP3 player, and slept.

Got up at 6:32, showered and caught the shuttle to the airport. This time I checked my roller case, even though United charges $30, because I was too fcuking tired to schlep that damned thing through three f-ing airports.

Yeah: first flight left around 9:30A and went to San Antonio, arriving there around 10:30A. Three-hour layover, then a flight to Chicago, arriving at 5:08P. And how was your Saturday?

...three-hour layover when you're just f-ing done and want only to lay in bed for the next year or so. It's physically painful to have to sit in a chair when all you want is to lie down, and it occurred to me that if someone were to put a capsule hotel into an airport he could make a mint.

Boarding that flight went smooth and fast. There was naturally someone sitting in my seat. But she had reserved the aisle seat and mine was the middle; she explained that she and her husband reserve the window and aisle seats in the hope that no one will reserve the one between them. That meant she got to sit next to her husband, and I got to sit in the aisle seat, though, so I assured them that I didn't mind the substitution at all. They had a little girl with them (maybe 1? 2?) but she was pretty well-behaved.

That plane had a DirecTV system aboard, and one of the channels showed the plane's approximate position, its speed, and altitude. And I learned something very, very important about myself.

Every time I've flown, I've noticed myself gasping for air. Nothing serious; just, I'd be sitting there minding my own business, and suddenly I'd have to take a couple huge lungfuls of air. It's not normally very bad, but today's travel led me to realize that when I fly twice in one day it happens a lot more on the second flight.

And so, today, I realized that I'm a friggin' groundhog! I can't take altitude. I'm not sure what altitude commercial aircraft are pressurized to, but I'd thought it was 8,000 feet. (Yep.) Even so, the air is considerably thinner at 8,000 feet than it is at the sub-1000-foot level I live at. The plane was flying at its service ceiling (39,900-odd feet) where the ambient pressure is about 4 PSI.

So here's what happens: the first time I fly, my body doesn't really register the lowered pressure, but occasionally my blood oxygen level falls and I get "out of breath". This has happened all my life; even when I was in much better physical condition than I am now, I'd have these "out of breath" moments when flying. And today I realized that I have them to some extent when flying nonstop, but when I have a second flight the same day I not only get many more of those moments, but I also feel a bit headachy and sick.

Altitude sickness. *sigh*

...so the only way I can go to space is in a "shirtsleeve" environment, where the habitat is pressurized to sea level--because otherwise I'll get altitude sickness.

Anyway: got to O'Hare a bit ahead of schedule, got picked up by the limo company, made it home safe and sound. A mere 20 hours late.

I am so very glad to be home!
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