Not in Chicago Blues

12th May, 2005: Posted by glpease in Stories

So, here it is, Thursday evening, the first night I SHOULD be in Chicago for the amazing extraveganza. I love that show. I haven’t missed on in years. Yet, here I am, home, staring at a screen in the hope of pacifying myself somehow. I’m not where I should be. Oh, it’s not that I didn’t TRY to go. I’ve had my tickets for weeks, my room booked since last year. I had grand plans of flying out of Oakland early in the morning, to arrive in the windy city early enough to get some lunch, do a little tourist stuff, and head on to the show. The fates, Motorola and United Airlines were apparently quite busy conspiring against me this day.

Two alarms were set last night. Neither went off. That’s where Motorola’s part of the conspiracy comes in. My cell phone doubles as my daily alarm clock. It’s never let me down until today. I set it for 4.00, and tucked in for the night. When I woke to the house phone (my travel companion ringing to inform me that I should have been at his house, half way between me and the airport, 20 minutes ago), I found the clock on my cell phone stuck at 1.24, and the phone completely locked up, unyielding to any variety of button presses, I could devise. Completely wedged. Battery removal was necessary before the thing would come back to life, displaying the correct time. The reason for the other alarm’s apparent strike is, as yet, undetermined. When I recover the pieces, I’ll see if there’s a black box inside that can provide a clue.

I made record time - shower, shave, dress, in the car and to the airport at 6.10 - too late to catch a 6.21 flight. I couldn’t have gotten on the plane anyway. I managed to leave my wallet at home in my mad dash out of the house. A brief discussion with an agent led to the possible solution of flying standby at 13.30. Not too bad. At least we’d get to the show today.

The trip home was slightly less hurried, though no less frantic. All I could do was hope to get on that flight. There were several seats available. I was given a high probability of a seat by the wonderful folks at United’s reservation line. Once home, I made a nice latté, gathered my wallet, and my wits, and took some time to read a little, smoke a bowl of what will soon be Lombard, and relax for the trip BACK to the airport a little later. I rang Steve. “We should get there early, just to make sure we’re on the standby list in time.” No problem there.

In plenty of time, I was back on the road, giving Steve a bell from the highway, just to let him know I really was on the way. I gathered him and his bags, and off to Oakland International, to the “economy” parking lot. (Here, it only costs you $10 to park for a wee bit over an hour. I’ll tell you how I know that little tidbit soon enough.) A shuttle bus to the terminal, and we’re golden, arriving in plenty of time.

Plenty of time, that is, for a cancelled flight. Cancelled. Cancelled? CANCELLED!

This, of course, led to some interesting times, watching people in the queue berate the poor agents behind the counter, as though each one of the offending agents was somehow responsible for the flight’s cancellation, and that each poor sod who would miss their flight as a result had THE most important reason in the known universe to get to Chicago. I knew for a fact that the latter was NOT the case, as Steve and I clearly had THE most important reason to get to Chicago. We had a Pipe Show to attend. NOTHING could be more important!

Now, I’m the sort who believes that when you have lemons, pour some honey over them; these poor agents had had enough grief by the time I got to the front of the queue, and civility would, no doubt, find a more welcome and helpful agent on the other side of the desk. This worked. Sort of. The very charming woman who helped us tapped fervently upon the keys of her terminal for a very long time, finally concluding there was little she could do from there. All the flights that would eventually arrive at O’Hare were now overbooked because of the cancellation, so stand-by would be exceedingly difficult. “You might have some success if you call the main reservation number.”

The reservation line was answered by a woman with a delightful accent. She checked flights through Los Angeles. She checked flights through Denver. She checked flights through Washington D.C.. I was gradually and gently led to the realization that we could eventually get to Chicago on stand-by, but it would probably not be until June, and we’d have a lovely tour of US airports before reaching our destination. The only OTHER option, I was told, was to change our flight to the following morning, at a dramatic increase in cost, to include a $100 re-ticketing fee for each of us. Stand-by, it seems, is only available on the day for which the ticket is issued, irrespective of circumstances. Hmmm. THAT’S new. I’ve had interesting stand-by experiences in the past, but this is the first I’ve heard of this interesting custom.

Quick thinking led Steve to suggest we get a flight on another airline TO Chicago, perhaps at a faire lower than the price increase to exchange our tickets, and we just take our return flight as normal. A quick call to Southwest got a flight to O’Hare for considerably less than the cost of exchanging the ticket; but, there’s was a fly to be found in this honey, as well. You can’t cancel only one way of a round trip ticket. No dice. We were caught by the curlies. Time to head home again. My rent for the 7′ x 12′ piece of land my GTi occupied for a bit over an hour was $10. Economy parking? I suppose it’s cheaper than downtown San Francisco. I’d hate to see what the expensive parking would have set me back.

Finally back home, again, and feeling a little less than optimistic about the situation, I spent hours on the phone, trying to find a way to get to the show without it costing me well over twice my original ticket price. It just wasn’t going to happen. The nice folks at United’s customer service center did, after hearing my tale, waive the “re-ticketing” fee, so at least I can use the thing for another flight one of these days without it costing be another C-note. Still, I won’t be in Chicago tonight, or tomorrow, or this weekend.

Instead, here I sit, sharing my woes with the world, puffing on the 2-years old Charing Cross I pulled from the cellar to take to the show with me. Equipped with my new understanding of the Chicago Blues, I think I’ll grab a guitar and play for a while. (A7) I really, really wish I was in Chicago. (Dm7) But, I’m not.

The Charing Cross, though, is damn fine.