Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reclaimed

There was a lot going on. A lot! I was sleepless for days together and I was feeling like a zombie. And then this trip came up. It clashed with an important milestone at work, but I decided heck there is always something or the other going on at work. I put my personal life under axe like all the time and this is most definitely going to be an exception. And I was convinced I was not cancelling my trip.

Days were busy – is an understatement. Days were crazy and Thursday was no exception. I had meetings till 4 and flight at 5.35. But you got to do what you got to do. In this case I had to go. So I approached the day with a little extra care, to be able to rush through the day as early as possible, but finally day got over at the anticipated time – 4. I left for the airport. My luggage was in the trunk of a friend’s car already so there was no detour planned. I was heading out to Charlotte to meet and spend weekend with a friend. She had an off day on Monday and that’s why this weekend worked the best. People who know me know I do things at the last minute. So she made a few phone calls to make sure I was on schedule an d was not forgetting anything. So far so good. Reached airport at 4.30 and was at the check-in counter at no later than 4.32. No queue, straight up the counter, collected my boarding pass, checked in my bag, was informed about the hour and a half flight delay and went ahead to the security check. Not a bad day really at security check either. Was through in another ten minutes. And then I had like almost two hours to go. So I made a couple of phone calls first. Then took a paper napkin and a pen to draw the state transition diagram I had in my head since the previous day of work. It got over in no time again. So I headed to the book store at the airport. This was the closest book store from the gate I was supposed to take off from. Browsing through some Jane Austen’s, and some on world war II, I was convinced I was not inclined towards either today. Started browsing world authors section. It had a neat collection of Indian authors. Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Shobha De, Aravind Adiga, and more. And I knew I wanted to pick up a Shobha De. But did not know which one. So got busy reading the cover backs.

It was going to be 6. Flight was scheduled for a 6.50 departure. I decided to check if the gates were same as printed on my boarding pass. I went to the nearest Flight timetable and scanned it for my flight number. Could not spot it. I took out the folded thin paper boarding pass from my pocket and checked for the flight number. Yes, I was looking for the right number. So I scanned the screen once more. Still not displayed. Darn Continental! Come on you can do better. I moved to the boarding gate, which had a Continental Airlines staff scribbling something on a notepad. I asked her if she was aware of the flight status. She looked at my boarding pass and said, it just left. And with, God knows why, a quizzical look on her face asked me – where were you? You missed your flight Mam.

I did what!? You got to be kidding me. How can I miss my flight! It was scheduled for 6.50 and it is 6.05.

Yes, but it was not the scheduled departure, it was the anticipated departure time because there was a delay in arrival of the aircraft. But we managed to complete the boarding in 15 minutes after it came in because we always want to make up for the lost time. And we paged for you a couple of times.

But how can I not hear when you page for me? When did you page for me? (I was being a little unrealistic at this point of time because I was so shocked. What was the big deal in not hearing it when all my attention was towards the books)

Another gentleman had joined this lady by now and he said, I paged for you myself Miss Ajay (and he said it as a-zh-ae). He went on to say, I know it is possible I would not have called your name correctly but we announced boarding and departure of the flight also a couple of times. I am sorry. Let me see what we can do best in these circumstances.

Still in shock and completely still in shock, this sounded like some hope. “Yes please! You know I need to go. It is important. Book me in the next.”

He gave me a reassuring look and looked at this computer screen. He looked at it for couple of seconds which looked like eternity to me. He raised his head in slow motion and said – the best I can do is I can confirm you on the Monday morning flight.

Monday morning! We are on Thursday evening right now. I am going for the weekend and Monday is when I come back. Can you find out if there is something available with any other provider?

Well, I can look up for you, give me a moment. And then he raised his head again to say I think with others also the fastest you can move out is going to be Tuesday morning.

My eyes welled up, but I was not crying, not yet. He suggested I should go and pick up my bag from the carousel in the baggage area.

I walked out, totally unable to digest the entire thing. A trip planned so much in advance, days spent finishing up work to make it happen, day spent to make sure I reach in time putting a cap on all that was important, and finally getting to the airport in time. Missing the flight sitting at the airport was UNREAL.

I reached the baggage area and saw my lone bag sitting on a carousel that was not even moving. It was very quiet around here. And that’s when it sunk in – I missed my flight. My screwed up life was getting worse by the minute. There were moments, there were people slipping out from my hand like sand and I was unable to tighten a grip on anything. This plane too took off without me, with confidence, without feeling apologetic. Why to feel bad about running down someone who everyone runs down. I felt like a loser! I felt enraged!

I called up my friend who I was supposed to visit – holding back my tears and fighting that lump in my throat, I said – I missed my flight.

“No you did not. What? Are you serious?” She was convinced I was goofing as I do that a lot.

I really did.

How????

I don’t know, I just did. Lump started showing in my voice.

Oh! Ok, don’t feel bad. It’s ok. Some other time. Go back home.

What do you mean by go back home? I missed my flight but that does not mean I am not coming. (I had no idea what I was talking about right now). Now get on the internet and find me a ticket.

Did you try looking for one?

Yes I did and they say there is no way I can go out. Not today, not tomorrow, and hell not after that either.

Ok, with a question mark. So what do you want me to do?

Find me another flight.

It is going to be expensive if we get one too.

I don’t care. (I wanted to get over this Loser feeling. I was ready to pay any price for it) Find me anything. ANYTHING! Please!

She was ruffled by now. “Ok let me see”. Walking between two aisles in Walmart, she applied brakes and started thinking what could she do. She called up a friend and asked him to help her research this.

In less than 5 minutes I got a call from her – urgency in her voice – Anu, run towards US Airways. They have a flight leaving in another 30 mins, they probably are boarding now. This will take you till Laguardia airport. You will get a connection from there in an hour and you will be here by 12.

I ran towards US Airways counter and asked the lady at the counter if there she could book me into the next flight and the connection to Charlotte. Her immediate answer was – you are late. Then she saw the trauma on my face and she said let me check. She tapped a few keys and said, “even if I let you board this one, there is no seat available on the connection. It is overbooked already.”

But the website is showing some seats available.

I am not sure why because we are really booked.

My face fell and she sympathized. “Let me see what I can do.” She got back to her computer screen. I got a call from Yo, my friend, again to check if I was in for some luck. I told her there wasn’t any good news so far. She started researching for more. And I just remained connected on the phone for any information. Lady at the counter asked me what if there was none today, would I like to try something for tomorrow. I told her that was my last option. I will also take something that goes till close by if not Charlotte. She went back to her screen and confirmed again there was nothing absolutely. You could tell by look on her face that she was sympathizing with me. I, dejected and disappointed, went back into the phone looking for any other half chance.

Couple of minutes (that looked liked eternity) later, that lady called me and said – if you believe in God, time to thank now. Someone just cancelled a ticket and hence we may be able to book you to Raleigh, 138 miles away from Charlotte. I immediately confirmed without any hesitation. And guess what, I was finally booked from Rochester to Raleigh. One stop.

Some phone calls later, my car was booked and ready too. I was at the boarding gate and this time I kept a close tab on all announcements and proceedings on that gate. I finally boarded the flight. I reached Philadelphia at about 10 and RAN to the next gate. My next flight was in a difference of 40 minutes. I reached the gate well ahead of time only to find out the flight was delayed. We waited for about an hour and boarded the flight at about 11.30. Reached Raleigh at 1. I picked up my car and tried to be on the road asap. But the car won’t move. I looked at the dashboard and realized the brake light was on. My hand moved to catch hold of hand brakes. But it was not where I have it in my car. Now I had a Toyota that looked awesome but I did not know how to move it. So after 5 minutes after sitting and searching, I switched on the light and pulled out the manual. After some effort I figured out where the damn brake was. And then finally I was on my way. Headed straight in the wrong direction. Knew from the word go I was headed in the wrong direction but got the first opportunity to correct my mistake after 3 miles. So I was x+3 miles away from destination after driving 3 miles already. At that hour it was no fun. Driving was strenuous and tiring, and I reached my destination at 4 in the morning.

I was exhausted, but I was happy. There was a sense of accomplishment!