Friday, April 19, 2013

19 April 2013
A Continental Journey, Day 1

Southwest Airlines Flight 361, somewhere over Iowa:

The frequent traveler is well versed in the many tricks, broad and subtle, that smooth the rough edges of air travel in this era of TSA handsiness.  Slip-on shoes.  Keys in the carry-on.  Toiletry liquids in a clear plastic bag pre-set on the top of the clothing just inside the zipper of the shoulder bag.  Laptop out and ready to go on the conveyer.  No overalls.  Business travelers always regret flying on Fridays and Mondays, when their fellow passengers are not equipped solely with a single small case and an innate sense of where they will sit, but instead are burdened with extra luggage, Macy's bags, unchecked strollers and unrestrained children.   Still, the smart traveler can insulate himself from most of the annoyances, gliding serenely by satisfied in his demonstration of superior traveling acumen.

Even the best laid plans remain are still subject to the whims and vagaries of the airline, however.  Little strikes fear into the heart of the proudly efficient traveler who has built a delicate daisy chain of connecting flights more than to hear the pilot announce, while still parked at the gate, that a gizmo in the cockpit is not working correctly ("oh, that little scamp," the pilot's tone of voice seems to say), and that you will all have to wait "until a new part is installed."  Then comes the heartbreak of the engines powering down.  Out come the mobile phones to bring up the airline's app to search, hoping against hope, for a later connection to make up for what will certainly be a delayed first leg of the trip.   Despair reigns, for of course it only takes one slip up, one small delay, for the entire itinerary to become utterly worthless.

Such was my state of mind this morning.  I spent the week monitoring a massive storm that laid a thick swath of snow across much of the middle of the country, among other effects essentially shutting down Wyoming for business.  Road conditions across the plains and Rockies will be of critical importance in the coming days, but all the projections showed that the weather should not be a factor for the latter, returning portion of my trip.  All I had to do was take a couple of closely-scheduled flights east to get to the launch of my adventure.  I did not count on the possibility that I might not even get to my starting point on time, however.  All this careful planning, undone by some glitchy line of code in a cockpit computer?  No, I've worked too hard to have it all fall to bits now.  Unpossible.

The travel gods took mercy on me.  After a twenty minute wait in which I thought of the terrible ripple effect on my plans that would follow from this single delay, the flight attendants called for the doors to be shut and secured.  The lead attendant stood by the cockpit door, looking like she meant to close it.  The engines began to spin up, and we were away.  Such joy!

Segment one took us over Nevada and Utah into Denver, at times revealing a glimpse of the road on which I will spend the next three days driving the opposite direction.  An interminable taxi in to the gate at Denver followed, but we were right on time.  Even better, considering the scant 40 minute overlap in my flights, my next airplane was directly across the concourse.  I had just enough time before boarding the next flight to check email, return a message to a client and send some emails home.  And throw out a post on Facebook, of course.

The aircraft is now angling downward toward a uniform cloud cover obscuring all of the upper Midwest.  I will soon bid farewell to the sunshine for a while.  Considering the treat that awaits, I don't think I will care much about the weather.
19 April 2013
A Continental Journey, Day 1 (Prologue)

Southwest Airlines Flight 315, somewhere over Nevada:

They say that every journey begins with just one step.  What they don't often mention is how early that first step usually is.  

The alarm roused me into 4 a.m. darkness, forcing me to bid a dreamland auf wiedersehen to either Sigfried or Roy ( I'm not sure which; it was the darker-haired of the two, the one mauled by his tiger).  We, along with a tiger or two, clearly were headed for a memorable quest.  No gathering of flamboyant Vegas showmen or large, dangerous cats could match the adventure awaiting me in the real world, though.   

My day would call to mind the toy cars from the days before microchips became the principle component of children's playthings.  You pull it back, away from its intended target, as the clicking spring gathers tension, anticipating the sudden release of coiled energy when at last you unleash the toy to dart pell-mell clear across the room.   Like the toy car, my pre-dawn alarm presaged a day of traveling east just so I could travel west again.  

A small car darting pell-mell would be involved.