Back in the early ‘80s, I worked as a consultant for one of the then Big-8 accounting firms. Despite the fact that the Big-8 ultimately became the Big-6 and then the Final-4, working for one of those firms back then was a big deal. During my six years as a consultant, I traveled a lot. That sounds exciting doesn’t it? Well, I should mention something about that travel. I didn’t always travel to Boston or New York. I traveled to Providence, RI; Lowell, MA; Syracuse, NY and the aptly named Sevier, NC.
Far from exotic, exciting or romantic places, but I have always tried to enjoy business travel. As Colonel Sherman Potter, M*A*S*H 4077 said in an episode of that great TV show:
“If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.”
I bring all this up because my blog friend Damyanti ended her recent blog post with the prompt:
“What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?”
That sounds innocuous enough, but it really isn’t her entire question, it was merely the part I could answer. Her entire question was:
“Been to Paris? What is the one thing you remember the most? Would you go back again? What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?”
These questions were part of her blog post about a recent visit to Paris. Her post is amazing, and you should read it if you haven’t already done so. Go ahead; read her post and come back, I’ll wait. Her story is full of the kind of imagery that Damyanti folds into all of her writing. Words that make even the casual reader imagine himself in Paris, in the Louvre or in a café. Unfortunately for me, her questions came after my visits to Salt Lake City, Utah; Omaha, Nebraska and Ames, Iowa.
Don’t get me wrong, those are all great cities. I’ve been to Salt Lake City twice before and I’d be happy to go again. I’ve been to Ames a dozen times and I hope to go back soon to see my family there. I’ve only flown in and out of Omaha, but I’d actually like to spend some time there someday. All great cities.
None of them Paris.
Seriously, Omaha Nebraska. Is. Not. Paris.
But, Omaha is where I needed to be last Friday, and it felt pretty good to get there.
For those who might not be aware, last Friday was the day that a (avoiding adjectives) man set fire to a regional radar facility near Chicago, disrupting air travel at both O’Hare and Midway airports. My flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Des Moines, IA (DSM) was scheduled through Midway and was immediately cancelled.
There is no feeling quite as disheartening as being stranded in a city where you don’t belong. Our company event was over. My coworkers were returning home or heading on their way to vacation destinations. Suddenly, the layover in Iowa that I had scheduled as easy as 1-2-6 two months earlier had become a mini-nightmare.
I started the frustrating process of contacting the airline. While watching TV news shots of lines at Midway’s ticket counters spilling onto the streets of Chicago, I faced their virtual equivalent. Southwest Airline’s website became unresponsive. Their iPhone App responded, only to say “I can’t process your request at this time” and their customer service phone line reported hold times of between 1 ½ and 2 hours.
Two hours isn’t a long time if you’re watching a football game, but when your check-out time is rapidly approaching, two hours is longer that you have to act.
With Southwest unable to help themselves, let alone me,I turned to a larger, more capable airline. Delta had a working website and planes that were still flying. None were flying to DSM, but one was flying to Omaha. My brother lives in Ames, Iowa and he used to pick me up in Omaha in the days before Southwest flew into DSM. People in the Midwest look at distance differently than people in the Northeast; I can’t drive for 2 ½ hours without crossing one or two state lines. He once said of the 5 hour round trip: “around here, they refer to that as a single 6-pack drive.” I’m sure he meant Pepsi.
In wrapping up her story, Damyanti said: “But it is the people who remain with me” – True of Paris and also true of the American high desert and Midwest.
With my hastily arranged boarding passes in hand, I had a few more things to do. Our company meeting had been in Park City, Utah. SLC was 45 minutes away and I needed a ride. I also had to alert my brother to the fact that I wouldn’t be arriving in Des Moines. A coworker exited a meeting to help me get a ride to the airport. A driver agreed to squeeze in an extra airport run and my brother agreed to the cross-state ride.
On the way to the airport, the driver and I were talking about the fire in Chicago and the thousands of people facing disrupted travel plans. I thanked her for helping me deal with mine, and I joked that I was actually going to get to Iowa earlier than originally planned. She looked at me in the rearview mirror and said:
“You know, I once heard that your life is defined by what you do when presented with the need for a Plan-B.”
As I look back over my 60 years, I find that statement to be true. That will be the prompt for several future posts for me; maybe you can make it one of yours.