It's good to be back home. I had quite the adventure, although much of it didn't go as planned. So here goes the tale...
The plan was to go into work for a few hours, get picked up by our limo company and taken to the airport at 11, fly at 12:15 via Dallas to arrive in New Orleans by 6 p.m. Central. Things were really busy at work and I got a call from our travel agent saying my flight had been cancelled, but American Airlines rebooked me through St. Louis and I would get to Nawlins around the same time. Turns out Dallas was experiencing some winter weather. So I got on the new flight and delved into my John Irving book, Until I Find You, an 820-page opus that I'd been working on for a few months. I was a little more than halfway through it when I left. Little did I know I'd need to bring another book.
When we got to St. Louis, I noticed there was a little snow on the ground, but it hardly looked like anything to be concerned about. The flight attendant gave us our connecting information and it looked like I had to head right for the next gate because my flight to Nawlins was boarding at that time. As we landed, I noticed that there were crews plowing a lot of snow on the runway; apparently, there was more snow than I realized. I went to my gate and found that my connecting flight had been cancelled. Then I looked at the big board and saw that ALL flights were cancelled. Oh, crap.
Turns out the snow had been turning to sleet and was already icing up the planes, and it was going to continue through the night. I went to the gate and and the guy rebooked my flight for 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, arriving at 9:15 in New Orleans. My conference was starting around 9, but at least I'd be there. So then I had to figure out what I was doing for the night. It became quickly apparent that thousands of others were in the same boat and I heard someone say all the area hotels and motels were already booked. I decided to just tough it out and stay in the airport, partly because I didn't want to pay for a hotel or deal with the hassle of getting to one. I called Deb to let her know I was stranded.
I decided to go get my bag so I'd have my toiletries and stuff, but when I got to the baggage claim, I found they had taken all the bags off the carousels. I saw a few people from my flight with their bags, so I kept walking around looking through all the various pieces of luggage for my suitcase. I couldn't find mine and then talked to an airport worker who suggested I look in a different area, and sure enough, there it was. Because I'd retrieved my bag already, I would have had to go through security to get back to the gate area, so I looked for a restaurant in the area I was in to get some food and find out what was going on with the storm.
There weren't a lot of choices, basically a Burger King and a BBQ place, so I chose the latter and sat at the bar. The place was lousy with stranded travelers. The couple next to me had a phone book out and was calling area hotels with no luck. I ordered some ribs and a beer and watched the local news channel going nuts with their "first storm of the winter" coverage; there was even a segment where a reporter was explaining the proper way to scrape ice off your windshield. While I was there, I called my brother, who lives a few hours away in Peoria; I didn't want him to pick me up or anything, I just figured I'd kill some time and hadn't talked to him in a while. Turns out he had just flown into Chicago and was driving a rental car through the snow.
After I ate and hung out for a while, I went to go find myself a spot to spend the night. People were hunkering down on the floor in the American terminal; I opted for some seats across from an ATM. Unfortunately, there were arm rests between the seats that didn't move, so I couldn't stretch out on the chairs. But the floor looked cold, so I figured I'd just sleep in a chair. It was 7 p.m. Central. I started reading my book, using my suitcase as a footrest. The airport police came through at one point, handing out emergency blankets and pillows. It wasn't too cold in there, except for the occasional draft that blew through when someone came in or out. I put my fleece on and used the blanket.
Around 11:30, I decided to try and get some sleep, setting my watch alarm for 6 a.m. As you can imagine, the chair wasn't very comfortable. I kept waking up every half hour or so to readjust myself in the chair and make sure no one had taken anything. I ended up clicking my backpack strap around the chair arm so if someone tried to take it, I would have woken up. But everyone was pretty cool, except for the Indian jackass a few seats down from me who insisted on talking on his cellphone at 1 a.m. and whose phone kept ringing every so often. There was a steady stream of people walking around--cops occasionally zipping by on Segways, soldiers who were among the stranded, airport workers chuckling at the guys who zonked out on the floor.
I woke up at 4:30 and saw a long line for the security checkpoint and then heard a woman talking to some guy who said he heard on the radio that all flights were cancelled until noon because of the ice that fell all night. I decided to go check my bag and find out what was happening with my flight. After almost an hour in line, I got my boarding pass and was told my flight was still leaving at 7:30.
I got to my gate and watched as the flight kept getting pushed back to 8, 9, 10, 10:30. We could see them deicing other planes and it looked like there was plenty of ice. Finally they cancelled the flight and I rebooked for a 4:10 flight that would get me to New Orleans at 6 p.m. A few flights were getting out, but plenty were still being cancelled. At one point, an airline staffer said 10,000 people were stuck in the airport. At 3:30, I went to my new gate and was heartened by the fact that the plane had just arrived and didn't need deicing. Sure enough, we boarded and got the hell out of there on time.
In New Orleans, it was about 50 degrees, which felt like summer compared to St. Louis. I got my stuff and took a shuttle to my hotel. Since I'd been wearing the same clothes for two days straight, I took a shower and went to get something to eat. I decided to walk down to the French Quarter to see what it looked like these days. It was pretty much how I remembered it, although not quite as crowded as it was eight years ago when I was last there. Plenty of folks young and old walking around with drinks in hand as the smell of puke wafted through the air. Definitely not a place to bring the kids. I wandered up and down Bourbon Street before settling on a little restaurant to get a beef brisket sandwich and some jambalaya. It was 9 p.m. by the time I ate, so I just finished up and went back to the hotel to get some sleep in an actual bed.
I had planned to get up at 6 and run on the treadmill at the hotel gym because I hadn't been able to work out since I played hockey Wednesday night, but I was so tired I opted for a little more sleep. I went to the conference and spent the day working. There was a reception where I snagged a couple of free beers and talked to some people before I headed out at 8 to the House of Blues, where I planned to eat dinner before catching the Hold Steady show. I knew it was going to be a late night and I had to get up at 5:30 to catch my shuttle to the airport, but I didn't care. While I was waiting for my food, I spotted the band eating across the restaurant, but I didn't feel like going over there and playing the fanboy.
I was pretty stuffed after dinner and headed over to the Parish, a smaller bar at the HOB that reminded me of the Middle East downstairs but even less capacity. I was surprised that such a buzz band was playing such a small venue, but also psyched to see them there. A cool local band called the Zydepunks played a great, accordion-fueled opening set, followed by The Big Sleep, who had opened the Middle East show I saw in October. I talked to the merch guy for the Hold Steady about the drunken Cambridge show and he agreed it was a crazy show, what with the free flowing shots and all. He complained that some bloggers had slagged that show (and him for being onstage with the band and opener Sean Na Na) and also said Boston sucked in general. Then he noted that he was tired and grumpy. Whatevah. Later on, I saw THS keyboard master Franz Nicolay and talked to him about the Cambridge show, which his whole family attended. He said his dad had a blast, but his mom wasn't too thrilled by the whole drunken spectacle thing.
The band came out at 12:15 and ripped through a tight, 85-minute set. The boozing was limited to a case of Bud that singer Craig Finn worked his way through, occasionally opening a can and spraying the foam on those of us in front like so much holy water. I'd guess there were maybe 125 people in the place, but it was an enthusiastic crowd. Highlights included "Positive Jam," "The Swish" and "Party Pit." During the closing number, "Killer Parties," the band likes to bring a bunch of fans up on stage with them. I was right up front and at first didn't want to go up, but then I figured what the hey. I thought the stage might collapse from everyone dancing and jumping on it, because we were bouncing up there, but it held. Shook hands with drummer Bobby Drake and guitarist Tad Kubler and then I headed back to the hotel. I had stopped drinking hours earlier because I didn't want to be hungover on three hours sleep in the a.m., so I had to crack up at seeing all the middle-aged couples staggering around.
I got up at 5:25, got my stuff together and got to the airport. We flew to St. Louis, where some passengers got off and others got on. I had some time to kill, so I went into the airport to get something to eat. I ended up running into an older couple I had hung out with on Friday morning. They were still waiting to catch their flight to LA on their way to Hawaii, TWO DAYS LATER. Damn. At least they were able to extend their vacation.
So I got home about a half hour early. It's good to be back. And guess what? It's snowing out. Sweeeeet.