Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bad Day

I had a bad day.

Travelling to visit with my good friends Bill Keech (Carnegie-Mellon U) and Carl Simon (UMich), to encourage them to work on a book with my name on it. We were also going to see some baseball, the Pirates vs. the Marlins, with Public Choice star Dennis Epple and his wife Mary, also a very interesting academic talent, as well as with Bill's SDS colleague Kristina Fong.

Flight leaves at 11:00 am. I leave the house at 9:15, knowing the airport is only 8 miles away on the interstate, and there won't be any traffic. Except there is traffic: total standstill, parking lot city. I have no idea what it was, 'cause I got off at the first exit and took surface streets and went in through the secret back entrance to RDU.

So, it's now 9:55, still good on time. Except that the computers are down at USAirways. They are processing about 1 person every two minutes, and there are 30 people in line. I get to the front, but the head guy calls out for anyone who hasn't tried the computer kiosks (which were NOT working) to try them. Ten people went ahead of me (I had tried, already), and when the computers STILL didn't work they waited, AHEAD OF ME, in line at each of the stations where there was a human.

I point this out to the guy who was supposed to be directing people. He sends ANOTHER group of ten ahead of me, and then told me, "You can go right after those people. You thought I forgot you, didn't you."

I said, "No, I think you are the son of a World War II concentration camp guard, getting his sadistic jollies from ordering people around." He walked away, which was likely the right thing to do.

I get my boarding pass. 10:30 now. I had checked a bag, hoping I could get through security faster. Security is TOTALLY blocked, no one moving. I start to get in the shortest line, but one of the TSA stormtroopers barks, "Stay in the line we tell you, SIR." By "sir" he clearly meant "shithead;" you could tell from his tone.

10:50: I'm through security. It suddenly occurs to me that the baseball tickets, 11 of them, purchased from a scal....from a reseller of tickets, and so uncheap, are in my checked bag. This can't be a problem, though: it's a direct flight. Not even U.S.Airways can lose a bag on a direct flight.

Gate is third on the right, so it's close. I run up....and see that the plane is delayed 45 minutes. Under the circ's, not a bad thing. I go get some coffee, and talk to the pretty Ethiopian ladies at the coffee shop. We are old friends, and talk every time I come through, which is perhaps once a week on average. The youngest one is getting married, and the two older women are giving her a savagely hard time about the impending wedding night. "It will be for you not fun at all, but at least it won't last long. He'll fall asleep in no time." Younger woman is so embarrassed she hides her face in the muffin bin. Hilarious. Women are rough.

Flight leaves, we get into P'burgh. We wait a little on the tarmac. But I have called Bill K on my cell at his house, and let him know we are late. (he doesn't have a cell phone, having been transported by time machine from the 1830s).

We wait for the bag at baggage claim. Long time. I notice a black pull bag, just like mine, with the SAME PINK THREAD, same color and everything, tied to the handle. Notice that it is NOT mine, BECAUSE I CHECKED THE LABEL. I notice that it belongs to a woman from Kentucky. I have a bad feeling about this....those bags look VERY similar.

After a few minutes, the bag is gone, so I assume I am just being paranoid.

Bill goes to get his mini-Cooper. Now, Bill is 6'8" tall, and weighs about 160 lbs. He has to fold himself to get into the mini-Cooper. I go to talk to the baggage claim people, who tell me, "Oh there are more bags to be unloaded from that flight." It has been an hour; the flight had 30 people on a tiny plane too small for me to stand up. I think baggage people pull a Kissinger: Henry Kissenger, when he was a prof., famously just wrote: "This is awful! Rewrite completely, and hand it back in." Then, when he read it the first time, it was already a second draft. Baggage guys just want you to go away, so they can argue about their vacation days with their supervisor.

I go back to look at the silent, unmoving baggage claim belt. Bill, by this time, has gotten into a tiff with the parking Gestapo, who told him he has to move along, and can't park or even wait with his car. This is because....I have no idea. For some reason, because some guys crashed some planes (and that was bad, I admit), the authorites decided that AIRPORTS are terrorist targets, even though the total number of attacks on airports is zero. That's like having a traffic accident, and then putting up a guardrail around your garage. Bill asks if he can go inside and tell me that he is going somewhere else (not clear where, and remember that neanderBill has no cell phone), and the cop starts yelling at him. (I later defended the cop to Bill. If the guy were smarter, he'd have a better job).

I go back to baggage claim office. Three guys, I'm not making this up, are having a sprited argument about vacation days in SEPTEMBER. More than 3 months from now. I try to interrupt, and one of them angrily says, "Sir, just a moment. We are on break." (Look for that union label! You can't outsource baggage guys to Bangalore, so they can still rock those union work rules). Finally, the dispute is resolved, presumably by letting ALL Of them take all the vacation they want. One of the guys takes my card, and cell phone number, and says he'll call right away if he hears anything. The reason the other bag, the one that belonged to the woman from Kentucky, had disappeared was that the baggage guys had taken it off the rack. They had that bag, and said they would try to track her down. They only had her Kentucky address and phone, but still....a lead.

I say I'll call, soon. And, to his credit, this guy (Jerry) tells me to make sure and call HIM, directly. He writes his direct number on a piece of paper, and says he'll make sure they get the bag. I mention the Pirates tickets, and that does seem to get their attention. "Let's see, 2 o'clock's at should be okay. We'll get it for you."

We give up, and drive to P'burgh. Pretty far away from the airport. My cell phone rings. It is Sharon, wife of neanderBill. Nice to talk to her, but my heart is pounding. I was hoping they found my bag. Five minutes later, cell phone rings again. It is....Sharon again. I hand the phone to Bill, muttering about Bill not needing a cell phone since he just bogarts everyone else's for free.

We meet Carl, start planning our book activities, sitting outside. I mention how upset I am about the tickets, and how I am nervous. Bill and I go inside, to buy some coffee. My phone rings, and both drop it and kick it, trying to answer. Pick up the phone, and it is....Carl. He says, "Just checking: Has the airline called you yet?" (We had been apart about 45 seconds at this point). I yell, "Asshole!" into the phone, which gets the attention of everyone in the fairly large room by the coffee stand.

We get back out, Carl is VERY proud of himself (why should today be any different?) for the phone gag. I call the special direct number, hoping my man Jerry has come through. I had really gotten the impression he would work for this, once he found out about the baseball tickets. It rang 20 times or so. Nada. So I call the main number. A woman answers; I ask for Jerry. "Oh, he has left for the day. Can I help you?" Remember, Jerry had taken notes, a description of the bag, and had the name of the person who had MY bag. And now, over the phone, I have to START OVER, since no description of any kind had been entered into the claim record.

Fortunately, I heard the other line ring, and the woman asks me if I will hold. She comes back on, laughing: "Did you say your name is 'Munger'? Well, you are in luck! The woman on the other line has your bag! We can deliver it to you in two to four hours from the time she gets it to us. She says she will have the bag back to us by 5, at the latest."

5? Two to four hours? THE GAME STARTS AT 7! DIDN'T JERRY TELL YOU WHAT WAS GOING ON? "Sir, I'm sorry, let me see if I can expedite, we can't."

Me: "A taxi. Put the bag on a taxi. I will pay you $100 to deliver that bag."

Her: "We can't. Liability issues."


So, we all climb into Carl's 1931 Caravan (I swear, it had wooden spokes), and head for the airport. It's 4:45 now, and traffic is JAMMED. We get out of the city, and it breaks up a bit. In fact, looks pretty good. We are flying along...but then we notice that traffic heading INto the city is totally backed up. (I said, "Maybe they are going to the Pirates' game?" We had a good laugh at that.)

We get to the airport, and call as we are pulling in. The nice lady (Lisa) has my bag out at the curb when we pull in. We get the bag, and Lisa gives us directions for a route that will get us off the interstate 5 miles before the city, and may get us to the game on time after all.

And, to be fair to Lisa, her directions were terrific. We got to the game just in time to buy scorecards and beer, and were seated in time to see the leadoff guy come to the plate. An outstanding game, the beer was good, and the company was...well, the beer was good. And great to see Dennis Epple, a fine man and a political economist of note.

At one point in the game, the Pirate third baseman runs in a slow roller, and bobbles it. Hard play, but a major league third baseman has to pick that up and make a throw. Carl insists this is an error, I call it a hit. Carl points out that the official scorer called it a hit. *I* point that the whole reason to KEEP score at a game is so you don't have to accept the official scorer's calls. "If you want the official score, you can just XEROX it, Carl! Have a little courage! That was an error!" (Sharon Keech, a fine intelligent and perceptive woman, except for her marriage choices, backs me on this 100%)

Things devolve a bit. I accuse Carl of being a socialist pussweiler, unable to hold people responsible for their mistakes. And I note that the official scorer is probably a union man also, like the airport baggage guys, and wants to avoid extra effort (it takes longer to write "E-5" than it does to mark it as a hit). Carl says...well, I'm not going to say what Carl said, but if I had followed his instructions I would have needed a new pencil to keep score with.

Later, a grounder goes cleanly, untouched, through the shortstop's legs. "A hit! A workers' paradise hit!" I shriek. I notice that there is a mustard-covered jalapeno from the hot dog Carl is eating, sitting on my pants leg. I'm not saying Carl threw it. But if he didn't, then jalapenos can fly.

A bad day, but it ended very nicely. You can't go wrong with baseball.


Anonymous said...

You could always give a jobtalk at the university of essex in a borrowed suit (from the chair's son that is as fat as I) and sneakers thank's to USAir. Oh, Mr. S., you're here three days before your interview...of course we'll have your bag to you....

They're very lucky I got this job.

Tommy the Englishman

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem with US Air in DC a few weeks ago, except that they let the plane go without me. It has to be the new reservation system.

Anonymous said...

best post since you got someone fired. tof.