Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Travel Fatigue Story

Christmas is almost here, I've just been through my first big New England winter storm and it has got me thinking about Christmas travel and snow. This reminded me of a time a few years ago just after Christmas that illustrates the dangers of traveler's fatigue and the importance of keeping a logical mind in crisis. Below is that story...

My line of work often necessitates short notice travel in mid to late December. Invariably, someone somewhere in the world forgets some sort of deadline and it's up to me and my team to save the day. After one such trip to Europe I had less than a day at home before I got on another plane to visit my family in Southern California.

About 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles, I was in a car headed to Los Vegas. I don't remember much about the trip to Vegas or the rest of that trip for that matter, but I do know that I slept a lot as my body was adjusting to California time.

What I do remember is what happened once I returned home to Oregon. My grad student housemate, Ed, picked me up at the airport and I all I wanted to to was to get to sleep. We got home and he dropped me off with my bags outside our house. He left promptly, presumably to go back to the lab. I waved goodbye and headed into the house. I dropped off my backpack and just inside the door and headed out the door to get one more bag and I reflexively locked the door.

As the door closed, I instantly realized that I had locked myself out of the house since I have a habit of keeping my keys in my backpack while traveling. I tried all of the doors, but due to good habits, they were all securely locked. I went to my neighbors house to call my housemate and let him know what I had done...he didn't answer his cell phone.

Instead of staying put and waiting for him to return like a normal person would have done, I decided to walk 3 miles in threatening weather without a hat, umbrella or gloves, to reach my Ed's lab.

The journey started well enough, but when I was a little over halfway to the lab, it started raining. I quickened my pace and the cold started to creep in through my increasingly wet wool coat. Stopping by a news stand yielded a few newspapers that I used to protect my head from the rain. I kept one hand deeply in my pocket while the other was holding a newspaper. Switching off hands occasionally kept my hands from going completely numb, but they soon became wrinkled in the rain.

When I arrived at the building which I was heading toward, I found that all of the doors were locked. I did notice that there was a girl sitting at a table reading a book, but none of my pounding on the door got her attention. I would later discover that this girl was a cutout which was part of an art installation that, at the distance between us that night she looked quite real.

Disappointed, but not yet defeated, I headed over to the campus security office and had them ring Ed's lab- no answer. We tried his cell phone with the same results. It turns out that he had gone to the movies which explains why he didn't answer.

I decided that the best thing to do was to head home and wait by the house until Ed returned. I was quite cold at the time and I figured that if I found more dry newspapers I could use them to dry my hair and bunch them up within my clothes for warmth. I found some free papers, took off my coat, rolled them up around my arm and put my coat back on. This worked for a while, but I could no longer bend my arm which made holding a newspaper over my head quite difficult.

This is when I got another great idea. If I stuffed the newspapers down the front of my pants then I could bend my arm again. In order to get the newspapers down my pants I unbuttoned my jeans. Unfortunately, due to my cold and wet hands, I wasn't able to button my jeans again.

I trudged forth three more long miles back home, in the rain, with my jeans partially opened, a newspaper on my head and more papers stuffed in my jeans.

Less than a quarter mile away from home, Ed slowly puddle up in his car next to me and gave me a ride home. I was wiped out anew upon getting home and decided to sleep in 15 extra minutes in the morning because being 15 minutes late wouldn't be the worst thing in the world and an extra 15 minutes of sleep would mean that I'd be that much more productive.

I awoke the next morning to discover that 15 minutes before I had awoken it started to snow. The trip to work the next morning was quite interesting as the town was ill-prepared for the snow, but that's a story for another day.

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