When the topic of travel stories comes up in conversation I have one story that is usually at the top of my list. Be warned however as this will be a little longer than my previous entries but I think it will be worth it.
It was a really long travel day a few years back and it was one of those situations where you have no idea how things are going to turn out until you actually live through them. I did live through the ordeal though so I'll share my story with you, hopefully you'll enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoy sharing it.
I had finished up three days of work in Ohio and I was to travel from Cleveland to Denver to Eugene which I expected to be an easy travel day. Normally I prefer to take the earliest flight out of town but since I was traveling by car to Cleveland I had a noon departure. It was nice to get to sleep in a bit and I even went for a walk in the local park before heading to the airport. I remember the day was clear and the park was full of picnickers, this must have been in the spring. Upon reflecting on the tranquility of the moment I find it interesting as it gave me no clue as to what an adventure had already begun.
Unknown to myself were the effects of a sudden snowstorm in Denver Colorado which dropped two and a half feet of snow completely shutting down the Denver airport. Of course as you now know just so happened to be the airport that I was to connect through. Unfortunately I had not watched the weather channel that morning so I had no idea what was to come...
I made my way to the airport and only got slightly lost on the way, but I still made it with about an hour and a half left before my first flight so I figured that I was in good shape. When I made my way to the ticket counter I found that there was a slightly longer line than normal to check in with an agent but there was no line for the automated check in kiosk so I tried to check in there. Upon entering my flight confirmation number I received a message that I needed to talk to a ticket agent so I got in line with my fellow travelers.
At this time I called my travel agent who informed me that Denver was snowed in and that all other available flights were completely booked by people who watch the weather channel before they go to the airport. This information was confirmed when I got toward the front of the line. The agent at the counter was doing her best to get everyone to their destinations but Denver is a major hub (I was flying United) so going was slow. She was however very helpful and offered to get me to Eugene four days later, I could also be on standby the next day and I might get lucky. Since neither of these options appealed to me I asked what I could get that day. Fortunately I had just heard her send someone to San Francisco and we quickly decided that SFO was the right choice for me as well.
This new itinerary required that my ticket be endorsed over to another airline so I had to run down to another ticket counter. Wouldn't you know it, the proper procedure wasn't followed and there were problems getting my boarding passes. 15 minutes later that was resolved and I ran to the security checkpoint. Since the ticket was just issued and the flight was taking off in less than an hour I was flagged as a security risk and all of my carry on bags were thoroughly searched. As the search was underway I was treated to hearing my name being paged over the PA system several times letting me know that the gate was closing in a few minutes and that I needed to get there right away.
After making it through security I ran flat out to the end of the terminal because in these types of situations it's always the furthest gate that you need to get to. After the multiple announcements signifying my lateness I still made that flight and the flight was even held for one more passenger so I really didn't need to run. Safely on my plane I had a chance to breathe, relax and look at my itinerary. Cleveland to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to San Francisco where I would rent a car and drive home to Eugene. I was going East to go West but at least I was going so I felt a little better about the day. I was scheduled to land in California at 10:00 PM.
In Philly I remember buying some postcards and sending them to family and friends letting them know about my story. The postcard I chose featured a liberty bell shaped soft pretzel. They are quite fond of their soft pretzels in Philly, they're all over at most of the lunch carts. They even sell them at the airport, I bought a couple. Sadly by the time I got home the moisture had seeped out of the pretzels and melted the salt so they weren't too good by that point.
My remaining flight was fairly unremarkable but we did end up boarding late after several delays. I'd now land in San Francisco at about 11PM.
Upon landing at 11 I retrieved my bags from baggage claim and got on the sky train to the car rental area. At this time of night the airport was fairly quiet and there wasn't a lot of activity going on at the car rental counters which was nice since I hate standing in those lines. This meant short lines if any but it also meant that many of the agencies were out of cars for the day. After a couple of rejections I found an agency that would rent me a car for a 1 way trip to Eugene.
After filling out the paperwork they let me know that I had a choice of two cars and that regardless of my choice they'd both be the same price. They had a Ford Focus and a Ford Mustang (this was in 2005 shortly after the new Mustang came out). I smiled and without thinking picked the Mustang. The agent laughed and said that he had guessed that I was going to pick the Mustang.
Walking to the car I glanced at my watch, just passed midnight, it was going to be a long day. So, armed with my rental car provided map and a shiny new silver Mustang I headed off for the 8 hour drive back to Eugene. Oddly enough I didn't get lost on the way to I-5 oddly but I did start to wonder after I'd been driving for what seemed like a long time but the toll booth attendant gave me a strange look but assured me that I was on the right road so I kept on going.
Sure enough I hit I-5 and headed North. Occasionally while on location in California people ask me where Eugene is, I reply: Take I-5 North, keep going, it's on the left. This works for most of California as I-5 is a fairly major road. It's not the most scenic piece of roadway but it's straight for the most part and it will get you where you need to go.
Driving on I-5 at night was an experience, much different than the several times I've been on this stretch during the day. I didn't even notice passing the cattle farm which usually smells terrible at mid day and there were almost no cars. There were plenty of trucks moving along but they know how to drive and always keep to the right except when passing. This made the driving technically unchallenging so I was able to focus on staying awake.
When I first found out I was going to California I started to have visions of stopping by In N Out Burger on the way up. Sadly I wasn't particularly hungry around the time I drove by the last one in California. That and I didn't see the turn off for it.
After a few hours of doing my best to stay awake the toll of the days travel began to take it's toll. I cranked up the radio and cracked the window to get some fresh air but I got to the point where I could no longer convince myself that I would be fine until the next rest stop so I pulled over for a rest somewhere in Northern California. After visiting the restrooms and wandering back to the car I reclined the seat and napped the best I could, it was about three in the morning.
Just before six I awoke. I was very groggy and it took me a moment to realize where I was that I had been sleeping in a car, quite odd. I went to use the restroom and then to use the payphone (I didn't have a cell phone which now seems quite odd). After using the phone there was a guy waiting, I figured that he wanted to use the phone but he wanted to ask me for money. The guy was maybe in his early 40s, going a little bald and was wearing a dirty white t-shirt.
He explained that he had this young girl that was with him and that he had to get her home by ten last night but they ran out of gas and he wanted some money. I'm not exactly sure how that was going to help him at a rest stop that didn't have a gas station but I didn't point this out. Similarly I didn't give him any money as he shouldn't be running around with young girls. I quickly made my way back to the car and continued on my way.
At six in the morning the driving was still good, mostly truck drivers but I started to see more passenger vehicles. It wasn't anything too hairy so I continued on without incident.
At around 8AM I rolled into Ashland, Oregon which is as far as I am concerned is a mandatory stop on any road trip going by this area. There is a little game store called Fun Again Games. Well, the storefront is small at any rate. The neat thing is that Fun Again a major online game shop and have just about anything that is currently being published in the back. The showroom is limited but if you know what you want they'll pull it from their stock. Unfortunately that day they were opening at 11 and I couldn't justify waiting around. It was sad not to visit but I had to get back on the road.
I did stop at the grocery store to get a bagel or a muffin and some orange juice. I was going to have to eat on the run if I was going to make good time back to Eugene but I was feeling pretty good since I was already in Oregon and had a nice nap.
Upon returning to the freeway I noticed that someone had turned on a steady flow of passenger cars and in those cars they put a bunch of people that didn't know how to drive on the freeway. I was stuck in a perpetual hell of slow people tailgating each other in the passing lane while driving the same speed as those in the driving lane. And when someone did pass they only went faster than the vehicle to their right but just barely.
Fortunately I don't drive for a living and I'm quite surprised that there aren't more truck driver road rage cases than there are today as this driving that day was so painful. At one point I got stuck in a particularly bad group of drivers that went as far back as I could see in my rear view mirror so I got off at the next exit.
After getting a soda at the service station I hit the road once again. It was a painful last leg with way too many cars for the road. I finally made it to the Eugene Airport where I dropped of my car and arranged for someone to pick me up after this very long day of travel. This kind of travel day is not something that I want to do very frequently but I learned a lot from the trip (Always watch the travel channel, Seattle would have been a shorter drive, etc.) and it makes for a great story.
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