23 July 2012

Travel: TARFU

Last Friday was the last day of the Gulf Coast Summer Institute, an teaching workshop. It was a very enjoyable week that ended at mid-day. I was looking forward to going home after a week away.

But getting home proved to be a trial. Almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

There were only three people from the workshop that were flying out, and two were from my institution. We went to the airport early so that the third flying participant could catch her flight. When we checked in, my colleague Erin noted that our flight, which was not due for several hours yet, was already showing as “delayed.”

Not good. We had a very short layover scheduled in Houston, and a delay meant we would almost certainly miss our flight back to South Texas. Erin sensibly suggested we try to get on an earlier flight to Houston.But that flight was sold out, so we got issued stand-by tickets. Unluckily for us, no seats opened up at the last minute.

The second flight – the one were were supposed to be on in the first place – did not show up on time. At this point, we’re getting nervous because there is only one more flight out of Baton Rouge this evening, scheduled to come in about an hour later. The airline service guy announces that they are going to combined all the passengers from our “missing” flight and the later one. They have enough room, so that’s fine – except we will almost certainly miss our connecting flight.

Even this third combined flight comes in and leaves a little late. After the short flight to Houston, we land... and the pilot informs us that there is no gate open for us. We are stuck on the runway waiting for a gate to open up for another half hour or so. While we had long given up on making our connecting flight, others on the plane could have made it if they had gone into the gate right after landing. (Afterwards, we saw the pilot tearing a strip out of the ground crew for not having a gate available.)

I check the departure lists for any flights to the valley. McAllen? No. Harlingen? No. Brownsville? No. The last flights from Houston were all gone.

Erin refused to spend the night in the airport, so we set off to the shuttle to the rental car building. Erin and I have a discussion about which agency to try, and I suggest one that I know has a centre in Edinburg.

We go to them, and they’re out of cars.

I say again: a car rental place. Out of cars.

We try car rental agency number 2. There is only one person behind the desk, and he seems intent on giving his current customers the absolute best service ever. In other words, he is taking forever. I think he was trying to see the guy some sort of lifetime membership, or something. A single car should not have taken that long. After a few minutes of standing around and seeing zero indication that he’s going to wind it up and get to answering our question, time to try again.

Erin goes to try rental agency #3. They will only do round-trip rentals. We’d have to bring the car back to Houston airport, and that’s not happening. (Agent behind the desk at #2 is still engaged with his first customers.) Denied again.

Agency #4 finally hits all the boxes: they have cars, and they’re willing to rent to us. And this is almost perfect except... Erin only has a debit card with her, not a credit card. And this means that she is not allowed to drive the car. So I have to drive this late night, early morning trek from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley alone, with no switching between us.

Fortunately, once we finally get into our rental (a nice little Kia), and only get slightly turned around trying to leave Houston, the trip back is not so bad. Apart from being the middle of the night after a week of less than great sleep. We finally roll home after at about 4:30 in the morning.

And I knew, just knew, my stupid circadian rhythm would be going, “Hey, it’s morning! Time to wake up!” I only got about three hours sleep before waking up again...

At least I got a story to tell out of it.

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