It’s truly been a cursed few travel days for the Commuter Daddy.
On Thursday the road home was comprised of 400 miles through six states, which wouldn’t have been so out-of-the-ordinary except for the persistent monsoon, rush-hour traffic coming out of New York City, a screaming-toddler serenade at dinner, and construction traffic as I made the turn for the home stretch via Rhode Island. At the end of it all, I had spent 13 hours in the car. I needed a tire iron to pry myself from the driver’s seat.
Suffice it to say I did very little driving on Friday or Saturday. In fact, I would have been wise just to walk the whole weekend. A bike ride with Benjamin at the Cape Cod Canal on Saturday did not involve a whole lot of actual riding. I kid you not: We stopped every 25 yards. He was either admiring the passing boats — and crossing them out in midair, as if he was playing some sort of boat bingo game — or checking out the cyclists and fishermen across the canal.
We paused so often that I stopped counting and just started doing long division in my head to estimate how many times we were going to stop. If you’re keeping score at home, the estimate was 140 stops on our 2-mile round trip, and I think the actuals finished pretty close to the forecast. That is not hyperbole, though it may have been an allegory — or perhaps an omen — for what lay ahead.
Fast forward to Sunday, when the travel carousel resumed. I had planned to take the bus to Logan Airport, as has become my custom for West Coast swings. But it being Sunday on Cape Cod, we could barely get out of our driveway, much less over the canal in time to catch the bus. As we crested the Sagamore Bridge, we saw two Plymouth & Brockton buses already in the commuter lot.
“Let’s go to Exit 5,” I suggested to Brandy. “We’ll get there ahead of them.” Did we ever, arriving in Plymouth at 3:20, the same time that the bus was due. A half hour later, when there was still no bus, I called the dispatcher.
“Yeah, we’ve got two buses doing that run,” he said. “They just left Sagamore. They should be there any minute.”
Guess we need not have driven to Plymouth!
The good news was I had padded the schedule enough so that I could absorb such a delay. Not so for a fellow traveler, who had marched off in a huff just ahead of that news. His friend, who originally had just been dropping off the traveler at the bus stop, also mumbled something about now having to drive all the way to Boston so the traveler could make his plane. They’d not anticipated that buses originating from Cape Cod on a summer Sunday have to fight the same traffic as the tourists. Note to self: Do not book any summer Sunday departures… certainly never on a Sunday afternoon.
Fast forward to sitting on the plane at the gate in Boston: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” said the tired voice on the loudspeaker. “We were just about to pull away from the gate, but air traffic control has declared a ground stop (in Philadelphia) because of weather to the west…. We’ll have an update for you in an hour.”
That hour came and went. As did another. Then a third. After a couple of calls to the corporate travel agency, it became clear to me that I was going to be competing with lots of other stranded fliers for hotel rooms at and around the Philadelphia International Airport, if we made it there at all.
So Travel Agent Arun got busy. He rebooked my flight for the next morning, secured a hotel room at Embassy Suites at Logan Airport, canceled my hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Burlingame, and delayed my rental car pickup. While I was standing in line to ask where to seek my bag, the gate agent announced that the Philadelphia-bound flight I had just abandoned was canceled. I gained a whole new appreciation for travel agencies right then and there. Arun had accomplished all of that juggling in about 10 minutes, sparing me not only from at least an hour doing it all myself, but also from jockeying against the onslaught of other passengers who were about to attempt the same schedule gymnastics.
What Arun could not have anticipated was that on the flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco the next morning, there was a very cranky infant in the row immediately in front of me, and an even crankier toddler two rows behind me. The silver lining in that scenario is they somehow managed not to be crying at the same time throughout the 5 1/2-hour flight. If they had, it’s quite possible I and my fellow passengers would have imploded thanks to those two children depressurizing the cabin by sucking out all of the oxygen simultaneously.
The children also drowned out the snoring of the napper next to me, so I also had that going for me.
Fast forward to Caffino, a Fotomat-like coffee stand just off I-580 in Pleasanton, CA.
(Readers under 35 just collectively asked, “Fotomat?” I just sprouted more gray hairs. It was fast food for photography. You’d drive through at a booth in the middle of a shopping plaza parking lot, and drop off your film, which got sent to a lab, developed, and sent back to the Fotomat franchise a few days later. They then called you to let you know the photos were ready, and you’d drive through and pick them up. Readers under 25 just collectively asked, “Film?”)
As I pulled into Caffino’s drive-through lane, please remember I had been awake since 2 a.m. PT. I’d been traveling 19 1/2 hours, not including 6 hours of sleep at the Boston hotel. My ears still hadn’t completely popped, and were still echoing with the sounds of screaming children. So I may have heard the barista wrong. But near as I could tell, the conversation went something like this:
“Large black coffee, please.”
“Huh? Yeah, if that’s the large. Black, please. Hot coffee.”
“So how are you today? Heading to work?”
“Huh? Oh, well, sort of. I just flew in from the East Coast. Hence, the need for coffee.”
“Ah. Well, here you go. Do you need a straw?”
I must have given him a very strange look, because he asked again, only causing me to give him a double dose of the strange look. A straw for hot coffee? It did not compute. Did I look so road weary that I looked like I needed a straw? My brain waves flatlined right then and there.
“Um, no. Thanks. No straw.”
“OK, well, come again.”
It’s a good thing there’s a vacation on the other side of this trip. Baristas and babies everywhere can still have hope that I won’t blow a gasket in their midst.