Apparently, what goes around, comes around!!
The prospect of a red eye flight from West Coast to Atlanta is not an appetizing one – certainly far less so on a Friday night. You land up home on a Saturday morning after having lost the Friday evening and totally groggy to do anything for most of Saturday anyways. The flight was to start from Portland at 10:30 pm. I was still with my team at a restaurant rehashing the week’s events by the time it was 8:30 PM. Eventually, I was able to get myself out of the meeting around 8:45 PM. That is when all my troubles started.
First, I had to find where my parking lot was. I knew the intersection street names. While Google maps are great for driving, I am sure you have realized that for walking it is very unhelpful for the first few minutes. It takes about three minutes of walking to realize that you are headed the wrong way. And that is what happened to me. Eventually, I turned around and eventually got to the parking lot.
Next, for the life of me, I could not remember which floor I had parked in. I was in a big hurry coming back from Corvallis and parked there while being on a call and obviously forgot the basic tenets of parking in a new spot. I was already pushing 9 PM when I kept going round and round the parking lot pressing my key till on the fourth floor, a docile looking Camry condescended to blink its tail lights.
Of course, I then high tailed for all I was worth. I did the mental math – I would reach the airport by 9:25, check in my suitcase with one hour in hand and scrape thru security to get to my gate. I could have shaved some minutes by not checking in my luggage but while I was grateful I was in the first class section, regrettably, I was in a bulkhead seat. Having luggage is a bother since you cannot put anything under your seat.
I was almost tracking to my plans. I looked up in my rear view mirror just as I was going to take the exit for the airport and saw the dreaded blue and white lights flashing right behind me. Starting to lose all hope of catching my flight I pulled over. The cop came and asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. I told him that I was willing to go on a limb and guess that I was speeding. He asked me why. I told him why. I figured I am going to be set back by 10 minutes if I played this straight. He did take 10 minutes but came back and told me that he was going to let me go. I am not sure what I had done to deserve that, but I was not willing to push him back on that.
9:35 PM and I pulled into the rental car return center. I was going to drop the car and run to the airport. A young lady walked up and I told her that I was in a big hurry and that I would pick up the receipt online. It is then when she asked me “what happened to the side of the car?”. I was like “what do you mean?”. I walked over to the passenger side – and sure enough there was a big gash on the side of the car. Either I had sideswiped a car or somebody else had. She asked me if I knew what could have done that. I ran thru all the events that happened that day in my mind and for the life of me could not remember ever coming close enough to a car to scratch it. She asked the next logical question – “Was it there when you took it?” I told her very truthfully that I had never checked. I also mentioned that I was in a deathly hurry – so enquires what would be the most time efficient way of dealing with it.
She gave me a form and asked me to fill one box. I asked about rest of the form – she said she would take care of it. That was awfully nice. That was second nice person in a matter of minutes. As I filled up the box, I asked her – “Where is that accent from?”. “Russia”, she said. “Really, what is your story?”. And then 15 minutes later I found out that she had a fascinating history. She came to USA escaping from Russia under trying circumstances. She never went past high school since her parents could not afford it here. She is working now to save money to go to school. I asked her what she wanted to do. She said that she was not sure but would like to stay in Oregon. I gave her my business card. I told her if she ever went to OSU, to write to me. We have an office in Corvallis and I am sure she could try for an intern job if her studies had anything to do with what we do. That way she would not be as much of a burden for her parents.
I was really thrilled to see another person coming from a different country to USA like I did and trying to find a footing under her. That is the good news. The bad news? It was 9:50 already. I ran to the airport. Went straight to the counter and went to the nearest kiosk to print a boarding pass before I could dump my suitcase. The problem was that I had challenges with my boarding pass. It had something to do with the fact I change my flight plans that morning. A very elderly lady with a name tag “Judi” came and asked me if she could help me. One glance at her and I was sure she was retired. I politely told her that I needed to see an agent. She promptly took me to one who helped me thru. It was 10 PM. 30 minutes to flight taking off. 20 minutes to gate closing.
I was getting ready to run to the security when I paused for a second. I walked back to that lady who had helped me. I asked her “How long have you been working with Delta?”. “Three months”, she said! Three months???? I was wondering why would somebody switch jobs at an age that looked very near to retirement. She saw the surprise in my face and eased me into it – “Well, I work here as a summer term employee”. “Why?”, I asked. “Well, Delta gives flight benefits. This way, if there is a seat on a plane, I can see places I have not seen”. I was stunned. I did not know that Delta actually had this program. Basically if you are a senior citizen, you can work as an ambassador or customer assistance and you get some flight benefits. What a wonderful gesture. But by now I was 20 minutes from flight. I explained my predicament to Judi and bid good bye.
The good news is that I have a Pre-Check. So, TSA security takes me a couple of minutes at best. I figured I would reach 15 minutes before the flight. That is a buffer of 5 minutes. Predictably, I screened thru TSA easy. There was nobody there. But there were two TSA ladies poring over the X-ray picture of my bag. I was getting amused and frustrated. I was on the razor’s edge timewise. But I was amused that anybody would flag a bag that literally had only papers and an iPad. Finally a gentleman came and rubbed that bomb-detecting paper on my bag. I complained to him that I am going to miss my flight and that I would like to see what they saw that triggered my bag to be checked. He frankly told me – “Well, one of them is a trainee. She pressed the wrong button, I am sure”. Arrrghhh!! But he did do a quick check and let me go.
10 minutes to go. I was running down the airport hoping against hopes that there were no standby passengers that would take my seat. Finally, I appeared in front of my gate with seven minutes to go. There was nobody there except the gate lady. She seemed to be totally unperturbed. “Mr. Roy, I presume”, she asked. “Indeed, ma’m. Please tell me you have not given my seat away.”, I implored. “Well, you are supposed to be here ten minutes before flight”. “I know”, I said completely losing hope.
“That’s okay. You are good. One of our hospitality ambassadors phoned us a little while back letting us know that a nice young gentleman will be a little late”.
I could have literally dropped on the floor. Judi had called them ahead!!!!
It was a slow walk thru the vestibule to my seat – all the time thinking how people you least think of, sometimes is the biggest help that makes all the difference. I reminded myself again to stop, be nice and talk to strangers whenever I can.
If you are ever in Portland airport, see if you can say Hi to Alin (frankly, I am not sure of the spelling – I am going by how she pronounced her name) at Hertz or Judi at Delta. Apparently, what goes around, comes around!!