Friday, August 28, 2009

Stuck in St Louis

This is part three of a four-part feature about Ben's trip back for his high school reunion, here are part one and part two if you missed them.

Monday (8/3):

I awoke at noon on a couch in St Louis.

I didn't even bother going to the airport on Monday; having called the US Airways help line the night before to check flight statuses, I knew my chances of getting on a flight were slimmer than an anorexic fashion model wearing the world's smallest corset.

Instead, Erik and I went to Pei Wei and ate breakfast and lunch simultaneously, or in rapid succession, whichever you prefer. We also chatted about philosophy, cuz that's what we usually do if you leave us together for more than five minutes.

Like icing on top of the Being-Stuck-in-St Louis cake, Monday also happened to be my day to submit a presentation for school, due by 6pm Arizona time. To write this presentation on surgical fixation of bones, I normally would have referenced podiatric surgery textbooks, but unfortunately I didn't see any of those lying around Erik's and Sachin's apartment. My saving grace was that Sachin, though oblivious to my plight, had left his laptop at home; plus he somehow already had the internet hooked up even though they had just moved in. Resorting to Wikipedia and a few random websites, I managed to pound out a mediocre presentation in a little over three hours. To make matters more interesting, I was scheduled to deliver said presentation the following evening at a time when, for all I knew, I would be in a plane somewhere over Oklahoma.

Monday night I slept on the couch again at Erik's and Sachin's place. Wondering if I needed more padding due to some bars in the couch (it has built-in recliners), Erik produced the world's largest comforter. I placed it on the couch and folded it over again and again until there were at least five layers. I felt like the princess in “The Princess and the Pea” would have felt if there had been bars instead of a pea and she had used the not-yet-produced world's largest comforter for additional padding.


All flights were full, but the one on Tuesday at 2:45pm was a little less full than the rest, so I got a ride from Erik and stood by for that one. At the gate however, I heard a familiar phrase: "It looks very bad." It was deja vu all over again. As bloated with passengers as all the rest, the flight had no space for me.

Left languishing in the main terminal of the St Louis airport, my life had secretly just gotten five times more complicated; and that's why your head might explode if you read the next few paragraphs: The next flight which left at 5:50pm didn't arrive in Arizona until just after 7pm, and I had to be in a conference call at 6pm AZ time to give the mediocre presentation I had written the day before. If I could make it on the 5:50 flight, I could ask someone else to call in for me when they took role and say “here”, in hopes that I could still join the call before it was my turn to present; but what if I didn't make it in time? Alternatively, I could stay in St Louis for another night and do the conference call from there, though there was the question of who would pick me up from the airport this time, and finding a computer I could take over for two hours to give the presentation.

It took a few calls to get ahold of the doctor who was to host the conference call; when I did, and once I'd halfway-explained the situation, he told me I could just join another call he was doing the next night if I didn't make it. That made things easier than expected. I preferred not to wait for the next day's conference call, because someone else would basically be giving a better version of the same presentation during that call, which would be a great way to highlight how much mine sucked. But thanks to Dr Jafe, I now at least had options.

Around the same time I called the help line again to check on flights. Now this may surprise you, but all the upcoming flights to Phoenix were hopelessly overflowing with passengers. And that's not even counting the amorphous blob of standby passengers rolling along from one flight to the next, much the way The Blob himself would look if he were on a treadmill running two mph.

Searching for alternatives I asked the help-line rep if any "nearby" airports had flights to Phoenix that weren't so full. It was then that I was told something that would have helped me immeasurably had I but known it three days earlier: Flights out of St Louis going to Phoenix on US Airways are always full with no exceptions under any circumstances, while flights out of Kansas City on the same airline going to the same destination always have open seats. The reason for this is not clear to me, but if I were forced at gunpoint to say whether this bit of information would be useful to someone in my situation, I would most likely say yes.

Thus illuminated, I wasted no time in asking the rep to switch my listing to a flight out of Kansas City, and said, “Screw St Louis, I'm going to KC baby!" Any way I can.

I still needed a ride out of the airport and a place to stay. Since I couldn't get ahold of Erik or Sachin, I texted my old college roommate Jake Erickson, whom you may know better as the other member of Cows Never Die. I hadn't wanted to call Jake at first because I knew his wife Amanda had just had a baby about 10 days earlier, and when I had talked to him the week before they were inundated with out-of-town visitors. But Jake called me right back, told me all the visitors were gone now, and offered to come get me.

Jake and Amanda live in a community called New Town, a rather picturesque planned city that kind of looks like a movie set...which could be because it was designed by the people who made the set for The Truman Show.

Since Amanda was busy caring for the new baby, families from church had been taking turns bringing them dinner. (Jake thinks this is funny, because he's perfectly capable of making dinner. “What, the wife's down? Life cannot go on! Everyone will starve!”) But that day the people who brought dinner had unwittingly cooked for me as well. The main course was tamale pie (which it turns out I like better than actual tamales), followed by blueberry crisp for dessert.

Chatting with Jake and Amanda was fun, but it was cut short by that blasted conference call. I was glad I hadn't tried joining the call late after flying to Arizona, because for the first time ever the moderator asked me to go first. My presentation sucked. I knew it would. I gave a little disclaimer at the beginning, and then everyone else joined in the fun and gave their own disclaimers, saying something like, “Well, since everyone else is giving a disclaimer today, here's mine...”

After the conference call I was left to ponder how I would get to Kansas City the following day. I looked at craigslist, Amtrak's website, and info for a Columbia shuttle that goes to and from both airports. There was nothing convenient on craigslist; I would have shelled out the cash for a train or shuttle, except they were much slower than I expected. They couldn't have gotten me to KC any earlier than 3pm, and my goal was to be there for a 3pm departure.

With dreams of convenient transportation dancing in my head, I drifted off to sleep in the as-yet unoccupied baby room.

See how the story ends in part four, coming soon.


  1. Oh good! I was ready to read about our role in your adventure. Tamale pie was amazing, wasn't it?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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