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Who knew hell was on the way to Columbus?
by Francisco Velasquez, Worldwide Sales Manager, Davis Instruments, Inc.
Our California sales team attends a trade event in Dayton, Ohio every year around mid-May. Unfortunately, for that time of year this means that we are usually susceptible to the vagaries of weather patterns and conditions that can change by the hour. On this trip, the weather would prove to be particularly vulnerable.
As is my custom, I plan everything for each trip down to minute detail. I try to leave nothing to chance, and build in a certain amount of flexibility in order to prepare for certain unknowns. I scheduled my flight that required one stop at a major mid-Western airport hub before continuing on to my destination of Columbus, Ohio. I scheduled and prepaid for a rental car at the Columbus airport that would carry me to my final destination, approximately one hour's drive away. My hotel in Dayton was booked for an early evening arrival allowing ample time for a well-deserved meal and a movie before bedtime. Everything was good to go, or so I thought.
The day I started my trip did not begin well, and I should have taken this as a harbinger of things to come. An accident on the highway leading to my airport snarled traffic and almost caused me to miss my flight. Missing this flight would have blown my connecting flight as well. I breathed a sweaty sigh of relief as I boarded my flight at the last minute, convinced my troubles would be soon behind me, and took my seat between two ample gentlemen who could have been sumo wrestlers.
The first sign of trouble during the flight came when the captain announced that due to weather conditions, we would be delayed on our arrival for up to an hour. No worries, I reminded myself. I had built in a several hour layover for lunch before my connecting flight to Columbus. Life was still good, and I happily ignored the two enormous shoulders squeezing me like a boa wrapped around a hog, as I lazily dozed for the rest of the flight. When I came to, more than an hour had passed, and one of my robust companions nervously informed me that we were circling the airport until it was our turn to land. A quick glance at my watch caused a brief moment of concern, but again I was calmed by the knowledge that my preplanning preparations would soon pay off and guarantee my connecting flight.
Upon landing, I discovered I was only two gates away from my boarding site and decided to call ahead to the rental car company and alert them that I might be a little late in arriving to pick up my vehicle. The friendly voice assured me that this was no problem and that they would be open and available until 11:00 p.m. I confidently informed him that I expected to be there far earlier than 11:00.
As soon as everyone had boarded and was seated on this flight, the plane pulled away from the gate. The anticipated quick route to the runway began to stretch into what seemed like a cross-country excursion. Looking through the porthole, I realized that we were in the middle of a conga line of planes snaking its way through every thoroughfare in and around the airport. The captain finally made the announcement that poor weather conditions had forced the closure of several runways, and that all flights were being funneled to a single runway they were desperately fighting to keep open. Not only that, but we had no gate to return to as other arriving planes had been taxied to deposit their passengers. It was not looking good.
The conga line continued to wind around for what seemed like hours. After I pressed the attendant call button a few times, a decidedly exasperated flight attendant finally showed up and snarled that they were required to remain seated while preparing for take off. I politely reminded her that we had been “preparing for take off” for well over an hour now, and asked her why we didn't just stop so people could use the rest rooms, etc. She regarded me with a glare reminiscent of a tiger preparing to pounce on its prey, and then frostily informed me that they would have to de-ice the plane again, causing further delays, before she pivoted and marched off to her seat again.
I felt the blood rising to my face, but was consoled by the fact that, at least I didn't have to go potty. I knew it was a different story for the mother of the whining two-year-old, one row ahead of me. I began praying the kid could hold out until we were in the sky. I've got four kids, and I know how toxic the stench can be in enclosed surroundings. With my fingers crossed, I assured myself the young, inexperienced mom would certainly, at least have a suitable diaper on the kid, to protect against errant movements. I lost on both counts.
In minutes, the black cloud of foul effluents crept its way through the cabin. As each row became afflicted, fingers shot up to pinch off noses from the repugnant odor. Mercifully, we were soon in the air, and shortly after, the mom retreated to the restroom with the offending toddler in tow. At this point, time became critical. I knew the flight time would put me into the airport in Columbus approximately 15-20 minutes before 11:00 p.m, so if I hurried, I could make it to the car rental facility in time to secure my vehicle and drive to Dayton.
We landed, and I rushed from the plane, racing through the airport like a madman, bags and rollers flopping about me. I arrived at the car rental counter at 10:50, sweating and out of breath, to find it closed. Other car rental counters were open and staffed, but mine was the only one closed, and there was no one I could call to do anything about it. I stood there exhausted and starving. There had been no time to eat during the whole day, and after going through my bags, I discovered to my horror my wife had not packed my wallet with my credit cards. I only carry my ID with my money clip, and as luck would have it, I had no money as well. I hadn't had time to stop at an ATM either. I had 75 cents in my pocket and that was it.
Dejectedly, I wandered through the airport in a fog, muttering incomprehensible expletives as visions of steaks and seafood danced in my traumatized mind. At some point, I ended up at an airport help counter, and a kindly older woman took pity on me and handed me a coupon for a one night stay at a motel nearby. She further informed me that the airport shuttle would take me to the motel for free. I smiled through my stupor to thank her for her kindness and retreated to find the shuttle.
After being delivered to the motel, it took me several minutes to find an unlocked door to the office. Once inside, I found the night clerk arguing with a couple who claimed they had ordered a king bed, and refused to accept the double beds they were assigned. I stood there watching this lengthy diatribe until my shoulders, back and knees fused from the weight of my bags. Finally, when it was my turn, I painfully approached the counter and meekly offered the coupon. He took the document with a snotty smirk and proceeded to assign me a room located the farthest away from the office he could. The time: 12:30 a.m.
After collecting my bags, I spotted a candy machine in the lobby. The only palatable offering in my price range was a Snickers candy bar, so I plunked in my only three quarters, and hungrily waited for my selection to drop. Nothing happened. I waited several minutes as though perhaps the machine needed more time to make up its mind. Still nothing. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and shook the machine. No candy.
I stormed over to the office counter where the attendant said with a Cheshire cat grin that the hotel took no responsibility for the vending machines and didn't I see the sign on the machine? Sure enough, as I again stood before this tempting box of banditry, I looked up to see a small cardboard sign with fading letters warning, Out of Order. That was the final straw.
Agonizingly, I lifted my bags for the mile trek to my room, opened the door and collapsed on the bed, not to awaken until the next day. After a few chosen words with the manager of the car rental facility, my vehicle selection was upgraded for free, and I drove off to attend the tradeshow, thankful I had survived hell day. This was one experience that I will never forget.