Thursday, January 1, 2009

Holiday Traveler Part 1-A: The 'Gettin' There

I had promised to blog about the adventures to cross-country travel over the holidays, and purposely delayed my initial posts so I could mellow a bit about the whole ordeal. Additionally, as I tried to collect my impressions I decided I might be better served by breaking this out into a thrill-a-minute trilogy. It opens with the gripping tale of the west-to-east adventure, then segues to the enjoyable yet truncated week of holiday merriment, then it concludes with the east-west escape plan. Each is a separate event to its own, and deserves to be treated as such. So, come along with me and share in the adventure that is "going home for the holidays."

Again, it seems, I always have to preface my holiday voyage issues with the caveat that I WAS happy and excited to spend holidays with friends and see everyone as I do miss them...but I did NOT want to go back to the Gulag of the North. The best scenario would be to wedge myself into a tax bracket such that I could bring everyone here during the winter...or see if Santa would be hip to rescheduling his big day to sometime in mid-June. Alas, I fear neither is a reality. So, buckle up for the journey into the center of winter...during the holidays!

It had been a plan - nay, a non-negotiable truth - that we would be heading back to the North Woods for the holidays. At issue in the early stages was the length of said trip, which - as it turns out - was also predetermined and not a bargaining concept. It would be a flight out on the Saturday before the holidays and a flight home on the Saturday after Christmas. This would give us ample time to meet up with as many folks as possible, do some light shopping for gifts we couldn't ship or pack, and 'acclimate' us with the December weather. Hmmm...okay!

So, we haven't even left yet and we had flight issues. I don't know if you were in the loop, but when we flew here to move here, we booked a one-way flight on US Airways from Ottawa to Phoenix. Here is a name that will be recurring throughout these many posts - US Airways. For those of you who travel, you may have had good luck with this company...I on the other hand have had 100% dissatisfaction with them, but have always been encouraged that they could find new ways to manhandle my travel plans.

Anyway, on our flight to Phoenix for our big move and life-altering journey to begin...our plane(s) were delayed, we got bumped out of an oversold flight and left stranded in Washington, DC for a night...or perhaps longer on "stand-by" which is more widely known as "stranded for days on end in a skank covered terminal with the blind and pointless hope of ever getting a seat on an outgoing plane." I guess "stand-by" reads better.

As a way to appease this misguided attempt to effort us away to the southwest, US Airways attempted to appease our anger and disillusionment with two FREE round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental US. YIPPEE! On one hand, we got some free tickets which we could use to travel home for Christmas and save some money...but, on the other hand, that ensured that we would once again park our fannies inside my least favorite airline. Turns out I was more right than I wanted to be on only one of these points.

As you may expect, "free" is a loose and abject term with lots of holes and far too slippery to capably grabbed onto. Attempting to use these 'free' tickets was akin to getting God, the Easter Bunny and the Jolie-Pitts over for dinner - a little too tricky for mere mortals. In order to use these 'free' tickets in or around Christmas, we would have had to leave in 1948 from Kabul, have 23 layovers and not get a return flight until sometime in 2099...maybe...and it would be on an oversold flight. Hmmm....that seems decidedly inconvenient. Thanks for the 'free' tickets US Airways...I wish I had a parakeet cage to line with these.

So, we abandoned the idea of using these tickets and Trina began the quest for finding tickets on-line. I was concerned that it would be diffifcult to find a holiday flight plan as so many people travel about the states to be home or run away from home. The busiest flying time of the year, I knew finding a flight would be equal parts difficult and pricey. Turns out I was more right than I wanted to be on only one of these points.

Supply and demand means that everyone wants to travel, so planes must now be VERY expensive means of transportation during holidays...and they are. Doing the standard Orbitz / Priceline / CheapAssFlights search, my wife found the 'cheapest' flight to and from 'home' during the time line she had decided, and the schedule looked good. Leaving midday, only one short layover, destination Syracuse and my Dad offered to come and pick us up at the airport as he is now in the Land of the Retired (meaning he's bored out of his gourd and ready for the chance to do ANYTHING!). The arrival and departure dates were spot-on, layovers were short and things were looking good! And the airline? Why, US Airways, of course!

Mind you, this is not a knock on my wife in any way for booking them. They were the least expensive, they offered the best flight plans both ways (we all know how those 'best laid plans' go) and had seats available when others did not. So, with finances tight, we signed on.

Now that we have a flight booked, I was preparing myself for what I knew would be a traveling nightmare - heading home (wherever home is) for Christmas. There is an unending stream of films and TV shows that make light of the trials and travails of going cross-country to get 'home' for the holidays. In a manner similar to that of a prize fighter prepping himself for the title fight, I spent the weeks leading up to our departure as a means to psych myself up for this trip. All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew that we were going to experience a week of the North's most horrible cold and snow and wintry nonsense...which, by now it has been well documented, I don't miss and rather loathe. Always focused on the end game which was spending the holidays with the family and friends back home, I got myself geared up in the best way I knew how. Patience, dear boy - patience!

For all the pre-fight work I did leading up to the trip and the departure date, I wasn't ready for this!


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