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May 12, 2000

I woke up at 6 a.m. and after a quick shower was ready to go. Miracle of miracles, I actually had my bags packed several days in advance. This was a first. I usually find myself waiting until the last minute to pack.

I had planned on taking the Van Galder Bus to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The bus left at 8:30 arriving in Chicago at 11:00 a.m. My plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 3 p.m., but I wanted to give myself plenty of time. The interstate between Madison and Chicago was undergoing extensive repairs and long delays were possible.

I called Dwayne who was going to give me a ride to the bus station to see if he wanted to stop for breakfast on the way. After making sure all the lights were off and utilities unplugged, I loaded my bags into my truck and drove the three blocks to Dwayne's house. We then went to the Prime Table restaurant for breakfast.

After breakfast we drove over to the bus stop arriving 15-20 minutes early. I got out my camera and took a few pictures of Morrie. Morrie is a stuffed moose that belongs to a colleague at work. He was moose-jacked several months ago. Now, anytime one of my co-workers goes somewhere; we take Morrie with us. We take pictures of Morrie in different places all over the world and anonymously send them to his owner.

As we were sitting there, a lady asked me if I had change for a dollar so she could buy a paper. I only had fifty cents so I just gave it to her. It is always fun to startle someone with a little gift.

The bus soon arrived, mercifully nearly empty, and I found a well air-conditioned seat near the back. As the bus pulled onto the interstate I took out my inflatable pillow and soon fell asleep. The trip to O'Hare was a non-event and we arrived right on time.

Arriving so early I was able to quickly check-in and get my seating assignments. I made my way to the gate area where I staked out some seats in a corner to enjoy a hot dog that I purchased for lunch. I took a few pictures of planes and of Morrie. I also started reading "The Journals of Captain Cook".

Nearby was a lady who had a "VISA CARD" table. If you filled out an application for a Visa card you had your choice of a T-shirt, a mug, or a cheap watch. Why not? I filled out the application and selected a watch to use on my vacation. I had purchased a cheap $3 watch a few days before so I didn't really need another one.

It was about this time that the trouble started. My plane was scheduled to leave at 3:15 p.m. Around 2 p.m. there was announcement of a gate change (from gate 10 to gate 9). Around 2:30 there was an announcement that the flight would be delayed 1 hour. This didn't cause me any concern, as my connecting flight didn't leave Charlotte until 8:30 p.m. EST that night.

We began boarding about 3:45 and pushed off from the gate around 4:15 p.m. Just as we left the gate the pilot came on and announced that the airport due to inclement weather had closed all southbound take-offs. However, we should only be delayed about ten minutes, and we should be able to arrive in Charlotte by 6:15 p.m. EST.

We were already an hour late departing and now there was another delay. Originally we were supposed to land in Charlotte at 5:55 p.m. EST. How could we now be arriving only 20 minutes late? After fifteen minutes (and having taxied out to the runway) the Pilot came on and apologized for saying we would soon be leaving. The airport had been totally shut down due to inclement weather. What inclement weather? There were blue skies as far as we could see from the plane.

We sat on the plane for another hour. If we could have taken off by 5:30 p.m., I would still be able to make my connecting flight. That deadline came and passed, and I knew I had a problem. The man I was sitting next to on the plane offered to let me use his cell phone if I had anyone to call. I had several people to call but it would take more than just a minute or two so I declined. Just after 5:30 the pilot announced they would be returning to the gate. Upon arriving at the gate, the flight had still not been cancelled but I knew it soon would be for one reason or another. The flight was late enough that everyone would have missed his or her connection. By canceling the flight due to weather, they wouldn't have to pay to put everyone in hotels in Charlotte. I think they should still be liable because there would have been no problems if the original flight had been on time.

Coming off the plane I noticed there was already a tremendous line at the ticket counter. Instead of waiting in line, I went to the payphone and called the USAir reservation number. Within minutes I had reservations for a flight out the next day at noon, connecting in Philadelphia, arriving in Gatwick at 6 a.m. the next morning. About this time I heard that my original flight had been cancelled because the Pilots had reached their 12-hour limit.

But, by not making this flight, there were many other problems that had to be solved. I was suppose to meet my mother and brother in Charlotte and all three of us were to fly over together to England. I first called my older sister in Alabama to see if she could contact them in Charlotte. I also called the Charlotte airport and had my mother paged. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes the operator came back on and took a message from me.

I then called Dwayne in Madison and asked if he would be willing to come pick me up in Chicago. The next bus wasn't for two hours and wouldn't arrive back in Madison until after midnight. I wanted to return home to save the money on a hotel (everything in Chicago was $100+) and to be able to take care of all the problems caused by this delay. Looking back, I probably should have just stayed in Chicago. I also looked at the price of a rental car for a day (drive to Madison myself and back the next morning). This would have been $70.

After making several other calls to my sister, and one more call to the USAir to see if there were any other flights to England leaving that night (there wasn't), I made my way down to the baggage area and reclaimed my bags. I sat there and started talking with a young sailor who was going back to Georgia upon completion of his training. He had gotten a flight out the next morning at 6:00 a.m. If his flight had been later in the day, I would have offered him a place to stay as he had no money and was intending on spending the night in the airport.

As I was sitting there, I heard someone come over the intercom announcing, "Would passengers please refrain from asking stupid questions about the weather." This was actually very funny and everyone around started laughing. A few moments later a managerial voice was heard on the intercom, "Would ticket agents please refrain from insulting the passengers." This was even funnier.

Around 8 p.m. Dwayne arrived at the airport. He had been there for about 20 minutes and had seen me walking around in the baggage area and had kept waving at me. He didn't want to leave his car (tow-away zone) but quickly ran into the airport to let me know that he was there. Feeling sorry for the sailor, I gave him $10 to buy himself breakfast in the morning.

Dwayne and I drove back to Madison, stopping at Cracker Barrel for supper. I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since that small hot dog earlier in the day. So it was nice to relax over a hot meal. We arrived back in Madison around 11 p.m. that night. Not exactly where I was expecting to be when I had left that morning.

This was my first day of vacation.

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