Saturday, May 22, 2010

Delayed Vacation Story About a Potential Vacation Delay

This story has been long overdue for a blog post, but now that I finally have some time over a weekend and the Phillies game is blacked out on my Roku box, I can write up the details behind my crazy trip to Scottsdale.

It wasn't Scottsdale itself that provided the adventure, but the relatively short distance between the western Massachusetts suburb where I am currently working, and Logan airport in Boston.

A distance of less than 35 miles, but one that nearly killed me...

:::Fade to story intro:::

I was working on an assignment for a technology company, and the project had been extremely busy. Late nights, little sleep, and crappy late night meals collectively wore me down. But with each successive night, I was getting closer and closer to my vacation.

Thursday and Friday off, leaving Wednesday night for Scottsdale Arizona, where I would meet up with my fiancee for a relaxing stay at a nice looking Hyatt resort. It seemed like a great place to take my first vacation since starting with the firm in September, and to say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.

Every day, in talking to my fiancee, we would count down the days until vacation.

Yes, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than that Wednesday night flight out west, away from late night emails, rapidly changing project scopes, and my stupid laptop (of course, I wasn't going to physically go away from my laptop, that had to come with me, but metaphorically speaking).

And every time I would speak to my fiancee, and we talked about vacation, I would talk about how there was no way in hell I would miss my flight from Boston, which I needed to make in order to connect in Newark, NJ and make my flight to Phoenix.

Wednesday started out typically enough. My flight was at 4:40 in the afternoon, and I had planned to leave the office at 3:00. No problem, right?

Then I got asked to go to a meeting at 2:30. In a different building then where we were based. Half hour meeting on the calendar, plus a roughly 15 minute drive away.

OK, still not so bad, only moderately inconvenient.

I go to the meeting, taking a member of the client team with me.

We go, talk a bit, and get the heck out of there only slightly late. The client knows my vacation plan, and understands that I need to leave.

I get back to the office a little before 3:30pm, with the intention of ducking in, grabbing my laptop and bag, and peacing out.

Of course, that's when the project manager decides to start talking about a part of the project that until now, has been largely ignored. Lots of questions...questions without easy answers...answers that certainly won't be figured out in the next 5 minutes...

And yet, more follow-up questions...

Now, there are four of us in the room. My project manager, another associate, and a client. The client and other associate know I need to leave ASAP, and I can feel their empathy as they watch me struggle to end the conversation as quickly as possible. It's not like my project manager didn't know my vacation plans either...but he didn't seem concerned that I would miss my flight

"One word answers, one word answers," I thought to myself over and over.

"Just agree to do whatever he says when you get back and get the heck out of here"

"Wow, why is this taking so long?"

I just kept agreeing and agreeing as I packed up all my stuff to serve as a visual indication that I had to leave. I didn't even know what I was agreeing to at that point. It's possible that when our first kid is born I'll have to turn him/her over to my firm, that's how little I was focusing on the conversation and how much I was focusing on getting out of there.

Finally, my manager relents. I can tell he's not happy or he thinks I'm an idiot, or some combination of the two. But I booked this trip months ago, everyone knew it, and there was no way I was missing it (Because if I had missed this trip for anything work related, not only would I have been furious, but my fiancee would have taken a flamethrower to my office)

So at this point, it's around 3:40ish and I'm hustling out the door into the parking lot.

"OK, OK...this is totally do-able. It's the middle of the day, it's ~30 miles problem...I can do this"

I get in the car (actually my project manager's rental) and speed through the parking lot on my way to Route 495...Now, I need to be on route 495 for maybe a couple miles, just long enough to reach the Massachusetts turnpike, make a right, and speed off to freedom...

I pull onto the highway, and run smack into bumper to bumper traffic.

Holy sh*tballs

That's actually a much more cleaned up version of what I actually said. I swore so much and so hard I think I scared some of the nearby cars.

I couldn't afford any traffic, I didn't have any time, and here I was sitting in stone cold gridlock.

For a good 5 minutes, I freaked out beyond all possible freakouts.

I did everything I could think of in those two minutes. First I looked on google maps to see if there were any alternatives...but I only needed to go 2 miles...of course there were no alternatives.

I pulled up Kayak on my iphone and started to price a new plane ticket. The best I would be able to do was a later flight that would get me in in the wee hours of Thursday morning and cost over $600.

"Let's try to avoid that" I thought, looking out over the sea of cars that may as well have been in park.

I sat...and stewed...and sat...and stewed.

I couldn't believe I was going to miss my flight, as precious seconds ticked away... I promised my fiancee I wouldn't screw it up...I swore to her that I'd make my flight come hell or highwater, and here I was screwing it up.

To say I was mad as hell would be an understatement.

And then I came to a realization...there was a perfectly good shoulder on this highway!

But wait, that presents an ethical dilemma. The shoulder is meant for breakdown purposes only, to be used for disabled vehicles and emergency access. It is not meant for traditional driving. On the other hand, wasn't this an emergency? Didn't I need emergency access?!?

I slowly but surely merged my way over from the left lane to the right lane. I glanced around nervously, took a deep breath, and gunned my project manager's rental SUV right into the breakdown lane.

I flew down the lane, passing dozens and dozens of trapped cars. At first I tried to pretend like I was just someone trying to angle for a better view of what was up ahead, but after a few seconds ditched all that and hurried down the highway for my exit.

And as I rounded a corner, I saw in the distance traffic starting to break up. It had only been a couple of miles, but something was blocking much of the road. I approached the blockage, negotiating my way back into traffic when I saw police flashers up ahead.

There had been a relatively serious accident, with a car still overturned, blocking two lanes.

I couldn't contain my jubilation as I passed the accident, and sped forward on a now empty freeway.

But I was still racing against the clock, without much time to make it the ~25 or so miles down the turnpike.

At that point, I turned into some combination between a NASCAR driver and a soccer mom on amphetamines.

There was no time for speed limits, and no time for other cars, this was an emergency!

I weaved in and out of traffic, flying at every opportunity (but never in a really unsafe fashion! relax mom!)

I would alternate between checking the clock, checking to make sure I was under 90 mph, and watching the road to plot my next passing attack.

I was actually doing ok, but still very much behind schedule...I needed to get faster

And then, I hit my first toll booth.

Now, since I've been on the project, I've rented several cars. And each time, I've paid the extra $2.50 for an EZ pass, so I can pass through all the turnpike tolls without having to wait a few minutes each time and worry about cash and receipts and such.

My project manager, did not believe in the EZ Pass (which honestly, is ridiculous. We typically wait at two toll booths each day, and four on our way to and from the airport. If each one takes 5 minutes, that's at least an hour a week of our time. And last time I checked, we bill at a rate of more than $2.50 an hour. But I digress.)

I got to my first toll booth, and without an EZ Pass, my heart sank as I settled into the long line of cars for the cash only lane (or as I usually refer to it, the 'stone-age moron lane for people who fear technology')

I waited, and waited, looking nervously at the dashboard clock.

The line was barely moving, and I was running out of time...

"This is an emergency!" I yelled to myself in self-serving rationalization, as I veered out of the cash only lane, gunned the engine, and blasted through the EZ Pass lane.

I kept speeding, when I came to another toll booth.

"EMERGENCY!!!" I yelled again, as I floored my project manager's rental car through the EZ Pass lane

Further down the road, yet another toll booth (what the hell Massachusetts?)

One more time, "EMERGENCY!"

It started to get a little fun actually (in hindsight, not quite as much fun since I discovered the fine for an EZ Pass violation is $50).

But I persisted, I had to make this I approached Logan airport with about 25 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart (yes, depart, not board)

I weaved around traffic and broke a couple minor laws in the airport to get to the rental car facility.

I hopped out of the car, grabbing my laptop bag and suitcase out of the trunk.

The rental car guy approached my car to check me back in, but I took off for the shuttle to the terminal.

"I don't have time! E-mail me the receipt!!!" as I ran for a bus I hoped had a leadfoot driver

I jumped on the bus, for what was definitely a foreign driver.

"I have a flight in 20 minutes!" I told him

"OK, we leave now" he responded.

I was flying Continental, which luckily enough was the first terminal on our stop.

As we approached, I got everything ready for what would have to be the quickest security line ever. I had already checked in online, and was using a mobile boarding pass on my phone. I needed it to work too, because I had no time to print another one out. I also got out my ID, and put any metal I had in my laptop bag.

We got to the terminal, and I flew out of the bus, running up the escalator to the security check point. I quickly checked for my gate and rushed towards the lines.

"First class" a security agent said pointing to his left. "Or coach," as he then pointed to his right.

I needed help, I was so late.

"My flight leaves in 10 minutes," I said, trying my best to sound exasperated, "Is there anything you can do?"

He blinked.

"First class," he repeated the point to his left. "Or coach" again pointing to his right.

Not that this is breaking any new information, but TSA agents are dicks.

I got in the coach security line, and saw that I had 10 minutes and about 10 people to go.

I got myself fully prepared (laptop out, liquids bag out, shoes untied) and tried to assess my odds. I would be fine if everyone could just get through smoothly.

A minute later, and I hadn't moved an inch. At that point, an announcement came over the PA system, "Final boarding call for Continental flight 481 to Newark"

Oh crap.

I knew I had come too far to give up now, and I just brazenly walked to the front of the line and begged others to let me through because my flight was in final boarding (I begged as I put my stuff on the conveyor, so I didn't give them much of a choice, but as I've been saying, it was an emergency)

I stuffed my luggage through the metal detector, threw my shoes on (no time for tying!), grabbed my laptop in one hand and my roller bag suitcase in the other. I balanced my liquid bag on top of the computer, and took off sprinting for the gate.

I saw the gate in front of me. The door was still open!

I got up to the counter...the gate agent looked at what I mess I was.

"Don't worry, you made it!"

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