Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The 17-hour trip home

Back in good ol' Alexandria now. After a good night's rest, I've got enough energy to tell you about the challenges we faced getting home.

We left Bend around 11:15 a.m. PDT for the three-hour drive to Portland. We made our way through the high desert, into the forest and past Mt. Hood to get to suburban Gresham and, finally, Portland. That even left us enough time to venture downtown to Powell's Books.

(A word about Powell's: If you enjoy reading in any way, that is a must-see. Imagine your typical Wal-Mart-sized store with nothing but books, and that's pretty much what Powell's is.)

We made our way through there for an hour so, all while wishing we had several hours to devote to the place. I came out of there with a Clive Cussler novel and one book in particular that piqued my interest. It's called "Go Huskies, Beat Felix the Cat: The Story of America's High School Athletic Nicknames and Mascots and What They Reveal About Who We Are". (Take a breath.)

With our new books in hand, we left, encountering some traffic out of downtown on the way to PDX, Portand International. I wondered if the Portlanders considered it bad traffic; we grizzled DC commuters found it to be little more than a nuisance.

We arrived at PDX a good four hours before our flight to Las Vegas. They have a number of decent restaurants there, so we killed time by eating, drinking and watching the Home Run Derby. I was allowed to have two 32-oz. Widmer Hefeweizens before my wife cut me off. (If you read the previous post, I'll note that we had one chance to reverse course: we heard a final boarding announcement for a Horizon turboprop flight to Redmond.)

Eventually, we figured it was time to amble down to our gate. At the very least, we could hang out and relax. I got to see a couple of interesting planes take off, including a UPS 767 (that's what I think it was), a DHL 757 (ditto) and a 737 from Kitty Hawk Air Cargo. That was an interesting one, because that plane must have been light as hell; every other aircraft lifted off right in front of us. By the time the Kitty Hawk passed us, it was 80 feet off the ground.

But things soon took a turn...

We heard an announcement that our flight would be slightly delayed because of a minor maintenance issue - one of the seats would not return to its full and upright position, as they say. No biggie.

But maintenance seemed to be taking a while to get it straight. Still, the agents assured us they were checking the connections in Vegas and would advise us if there was a problem; they even gave a handful of cities that were seemingly OK. Baltimore, our final stop, was not among them. We made our way to the counter to double-check and were reassured.

As soon as my wife left the counter, a second announcement came: There was a second minor maintenance problem - a fuel port on the wing wasn't working properly. Again, a non-critical factor but something that needed to be fixed. Linds promptly turned around and asked again, but we were reassured.

We headed back to where we were sitting where the third issue happened: A woman fainted in front of the counter. Before long, we had an ambulance and a fire engine next to our aircraft, lights a-shinin'.

Eventually, everything got straightened out and we boarded the plane with no realistic shot of making our connection. While everyone got settled, Linds tried to call the airline, but they told us they couldn't do anything until we had actually missed our flight, which was understandable. But taking off more than an hour late would solidify the deal once we landed in Nevada.

The flight itself was uneventful and took as long as expected; no time was made up. We landed about 25 minutes after our flight to Baltimore departed.

We waited in line at the U.S. Air ticket counter to figure out what we were going to do. After 20 minutes or so of figuring, we got our flight back to Baltimore the next day (with a caveat), plus hotel and breakfast vouchers. Not all bad.

So we certainly felt like high rollers. OK, maybe not. We stayed at the AmeriSuites; the only indication it was in Vegas was the neon sign out front. So we wouldn't be rolling anything unless we wanted to go somewhere (and we didn't). (For those of you that remember the UNLV glory days of the early '90s, AmeriSuites was literally within sight of the Thomas & Mack Center.)

And just like the Runnin' Rebels, I quickly discovered another fact of life in Vegas: When we walked out of the airport, it was midnight local time. The temperature, as best I can guess, was a degree or two shy of 100.

We got a ride from the shuttle, checked in and got ready for a three-hour nap. Our first flight out would be to Phoenix at 6:45 a.m. We requested a 4:30 wakeup call.

We awoke and struggled to get ready, but we managed to get out in time for our appointed ride on the 5:15 shuttle back to McCarran. Though the ticket counters were busy, security was a breeze. We stopped for some food - the same place we ate at on the way out - and because it was so early, all the slot machines were thankfully quiet. (WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!! Doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot.)

The flight to Phoenix was a quick hop, and we landed without incident. (We came in toward downtown, meaning we saw Sun Devil Stadium on the approach, not the BOB.) We got off the plane and hustled toward our next gate, which was already starting to board. (Every time we're in Phoenix, we have to change terminals, even though we're always flying the same airline.)

We immediately got in line, grabbed our seats, and prepared - finally - for the long trip home. It was an uneventful one, and we were grateful for that. The eventfulness of the day wasn't over, however.

Our plane touched down at BWI around 4:30 p.m. or so. I went and fetched the car while Linds picked up all the baggage (she didn't have that far to carry it, I don't think). We left the airport a little after 5, making our way south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Around 5:30, we crossed into D.C. proper.

But you know what 5:30 means: rush hour. And we hit it hard. Because of ongoing repairs to one of the bridges in the city, we had to take the route most everyone else did: in New York Ave. and through the tunnels to I-395. The tunnels were jammed, as was 395 to the bridge into Virginia near the Pentagon. (Bet it wasn't that bad in Portland.)

Fortunately, we deftly weaved into the HOV lanes, getting us past some congestion; when the HOV lanes backed up, we bailed out, thanks for a good head's-up by Linds. We took the exit for Seminary Rd., and we felt like we'd arrived.

Despite our bad luck in Portland, the travel gods smiled on us: As we pulled into the parking lot, a car was backing out - it just so happened to be in the single closest space to our building. We got in, got settled, said hello to the kitties and, at long last, relaxed.

Poor Linds, one who needs her sleep, was in bed before 9 with the sun only nearing the horizon. I somehow made it to 12:30, running on sheer fumes.

But here we are. Travel weary, but no worse for wear.

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