Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Immutable Nature Of The New York - Grande Prairie Flight Delay

At the end of August I managed to suffer the worst delay ever on the New York to Grande Prairie, Alberta trip despite having planned it specifically to minimize the chances of that very contingency 1.

I had the "surprise visit to the parents" Canada trip planned for days in advance. I would pack light, with seven sets of shirts, underwear & socks, a pair of jeans, a denim jacket and a pair of sneakers. I would only take my iPad as my media consumption and non-phone communication device. Lightness and lack of mass would be my watchwords.

My plan also called for me to take a Grand Strumstick as a gift for my beleaguered sister to whom the entire business of looking after, then resettling my parents in a managed care facility has fallen. Her parties often feature camp-fire singalongs (her husband and all his pals play guitar well) and she has been trying to pick up the guitar but, like me, has found it a challenge to get beyond buzzing and swear words. I reasoned that if I can play a Strumstick (and I can, sorta), so should she be able to do so and in so doing join in the smoke, shrapnel and song musical fun.

The intent was to pack the instrument in a soft "gig bag"and to talk it onto the plane in addition to my other hand baggage using my reserves of charm. A brilliant plan with no obvious downside.

A day later the obvious flaw in this plan dawned in Mr Brain, and a new plan was made in which I leveraged the need to take an empty checked-bag anyway (I was expecting to be lugging stuff back that I didn't take in). I would attempt plan "Hornswoggle Desk Staff Into Letting Me Enplane Enstrumsticked", but cunningly have plan "Put Strumstick In Sturdy Box In Suitcase When The Other Plan Is Nixed". The gig bag/Strumstick package would be turned into a long shredded nylon bag of matchwood otherwise. This was a brilliant backup plan with no downside I could see.

That night a flaw developed in the backup plan, in that no suitcase in the Basement of I Know We Have One Here Somewhere But Do You Think I Can Find It or listed on any website I cared to look at2 was long enough for the Strumstick's magnificent 33 inch neck.

An auxiliary plan involving a hacksaw was briefly considered then discarded as an obvious ambush ploy by Mr Brain, then a sigh was heaved and the splendid (but pricey) Strumstick Hardshell Case was ordered so that "Plan Hornswoggle Etc" could proceed sans the bit that required a suitcase. A reel of wide masking tape would be added to the plan so that in the event the Strumstick was consigned to the Luggage Masher the nice snap latches could be protected from being opened and torn off. Got that from observing what various guitarists had done or suffered over the years.

The observant among you will have detected the slow intrusion of Mr Cock-Up, but be assured the best is yet to come.

The trip called for me to get to Grande Prairie as per usual, but this time hire a car and drive north for a few more hours to a town called Grimshaw, which is where the assisted living facility my parents are residing at is located. I had planned to start on the Friday because the hire car booth closes at 11 on a weekday, leaving me plenty of slack time in which to absorb the inevitable delay in Minas Torontor or perhaps a La Guardia special like unto that suffered last year which had us taxiing for an hour.

An idea formed painfully the day before I was due to set off while I was discussing the British show Top Gear: I would obtain a low-cost GoPro camera and film my drive to Grimshaw! A brilliant plan with no conceivable downside! So I raced to Best Buy and obtained one camera, a suction-cup mount so I could attach it to the side-window pointing through the windshield and two 64 gigabyte cards suggested by the salesdrone3.

In retrospect I suppose I should have detected the screw-up in progress when it dawned that I would have to take my laptop with me to unload the camera's chip(s) at some point, or I would have to buy more chips. Since these came in at 40 Bux on sale I wasn't keen on the second option.

The laptop would require the power supply for it. A wrinkle was that the battery for the laptop had only days before been declared by Windows to be on its last legs and, by sheer coincidence, had then begun only giving two hours of use 4. No doubt some sort of coincidence and not a collusive scam with Dell to boost sales.

So my bags would be a bit heavier. No biggie. And I'd have that much more hassle at the check-in. No biggie. well, some biggie. Medium-sizie.

I set the camera charging and went to bed around 11pm, setting my phone alarm for 5 am. At 12:30 am my phone went off because the LIRR decided to have a last minute fuckup and wanted to tell the world about it. I leapt up and put the phone on "silent" but then became concerned that the alarm wouldn't sound if I did that so I heaved a sigh, deployed the laptop and went about learning how to un-sign-up for alerts. That done I was wide awake so I thought I'd set up the camera and test it.

Which was when I discovered that the chips I'd paid 80 bux for were in fact too big for the GoPro Hero, which could only cope with 32 gigabyte cards.

Using a few class fours (quietly, Mrs Stevie was sleeping next door) I connected my phone to my laptop and downloaded all the content from the micro SD card in that, then I undocked the chip from my phone and exchanged it for the one in the camera.

And spent half an hour trying to figure out how to make the camera stop displaying "error" and reformat the bloody card so I could go back to sleep. It is hard to see that teenytiny screen in low light and although I could figure out in general terms how the two buttons that comprise the entire control suite of the camera were to be used I could not reason the exact pattern of pressing that would coax the ruddy thing into just doing it already.

Eventually it was done and I made a test video and successfully downloaded it to the laptop and so could go to bed (after redistributing all the already packed clothes to make space for the laptop etc of course).

The flight was not at 0:sweetazathothonnabike, but the more civilized 8:25. There was plenty of time for connections even if I had my usual problems with Toronto International AKA Minas Torontor. I even had my soundtracks planned out.

Mrs Stevie drove me to La Guardia - which Vice-President Biden has astutely termed a national disgrace in the press - and left me at the arrival deck so I could experience the true joy of attempting to get all my luggage up one flight of stairs to the departure deck. On the way we made sure to stop at the ATM so I could fill my wallet with cash. All the way there Mrs Stevie was obsessing about not getting caught in traffic on the way back, and was mad that I had made us a little late.

Once at the airport I got on line at Air Canada (an annoyance, considering I'd checked in on-line hours before and should have only needed to drop off my baggage). It was on that line, after about five minutes, I discovered that I did not have my wallet any more.

I called Mrs Stevie and told her I thought my wallet was in her car. She used harsh words and returned to La Guardia, whereupon we discovered the wallet was not in the car either. Nor was it on the floor anywhere I'd been. None of the lost and found places were open at that time of day, so we returned home and I cancelled all my credit cards and my debit card as we drove, and formulated a New Plan as I endlessly navigated various unhelpful voice-activate menus that couldn't understand me over the ambient noise of the vehicle.

Once home I ran to my bank to get a new debit card made "while I waited", which thanks to some sort of systemic problem with the computers took two hours rather than the 15 minutes I was assured it would take.

Not long after returning to Chateau Stevie I got a phone call from my auto insurance company saying that an airport police officer wanted to speak to me and was it okay to connect him. I said it was and so I was told that my wallet had been found and that my driver's license was still in it. Better yet, the officer lived only a stone's throw from Chateau Stevie and was willing to drop off the wallet when he finished his shift at La Guardia airport.

I could make no plans for sure until I had the wallet in my hands so I sat and fulminated for a few hours over my lack of acumen with the wallet5 until the officer dropped by, with the wallet now streamlined by the removal of all that unwieldy cash I had wedged in it only hours before.

So I had a Debit Card, a Driver's License and a bolloxed-up ticket to Canada. Last job, sort out the missed flight fiasco.

The problem was the rental car. As I mentioned before, the rental agency service booth in Grande Prairie airport stays open til 11pm on weekdays, but closes 6pm sharp on a Saturday. Were I to reschedule the chain of connecting flights to begin to take place at 6:whenever am, the delays that always occur would have me taxiing toward the Grande Prairie airport terminal as the rental agency locked up.

So, once I found that my travel costs had risen by more than 750 Bux6 whenever I went, I opted for a sprint to La Guardia now so I could catch the 7:00 pm flight to Minas Torontor, overnight somewhere yet to be decided and continue the journey on Saturday morning.

The Stevieling dragooned two of her galpals into this scheme and so we drove to La Guardia as a party of four, me being the oldest, tiredness and grumpiest. Also, the testosteronest.

Surprisingly, I arrived at La Guardia in good time despite the rush-hour traffic, and so had plenty of time in which to grab a seat, locate the local pay-to-play WiFi and persuade it to talk to my iPad, seek out some hotel phone numbers and get busy finding a crib for to lay down my head and like that.

Why not use their websites you ask? No credit cards sezzeye. Yes, my debit card could be used like a credit card, but Canadian ones can't and no-one's website would cooperate. On board the plane I persuaded a cabin staff member to run my card to see if it worked like a credit card in Canada, and it did. Huzzah.

Eventually I was in Toronto and able to observe my fellow travelers kicking and biting and screaming at each other in their vain attempts to make their connecting flights. I, on the other hand was able to take my time and come to the surprising conclusion that Toronto International Airport is not so bad after all. If you aren't trying to leave it in a hurry.

At Canadian Immigration the agent on duty asked me the purpose of my visit. "It started out as pleasure, but now I think it's sheer bloody-mindedness to be honest" I replied. He frowned, but must've seen something in my eyes that told of the tribulations endured that day for he simply shuddered, stamped my passport and allowed me to pass into Canada without let or hindrance.

My hotel was achievable by shuttle bus, and my debit card worked just fine after some trepidation on the part of the desk clerk. I shrugged fatalistically at the room rate - costs for this junket had already doubled and more - and dropped off my bags in my room and went for the most expensive cheeseburger I've eaten in a very long time, washing it down with two beers that put me simultaneously in the mood for sleep and in the poor house.

I set my alarm for 5:00 am though I seriously doubted my ability to get up at that hour and went to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 am and decided not to roll over for some power snoozing but to get up, catch an early bus back to the airport and get started on the process of checking back into the airline.

Back at Minas Torontor very insistent man made me attempt to use one of the increasingly ubiquitous check-in ATMs, ignoring my stated preference for a human being. He would not listen to me, and walked me through the process until we had a screen demanding a credit card, at which point I was able to derail this enforced automation and get on the now-lengthy line for a human.

After that it was just a matter of clearing the tedious security clearance and body scan, in which I was made to endure an ankle-fondling due to a "positive trace" shown by the idiot machine, and I was able to take the three hundred yard walk past sundry tat vendors to my gate. There I engaged the staff in witty banter until they were all mysteriously called away, and drank a cup of weak tea until my flight was called.

The Toronto-Calgary leg was the longest, and I whiled away the time watching yet another in the exciting "Avengers" film franchise. It certainly was loud, which drowned out the cries of distressed children, with which I was surrounded. Unfortunately, the film was not produced in Stencharound, or if it was Air Canada had not deployed the necessary Smellovision on which to show it, and at about the three and a half hour mark the miasma of fully-processed baby food was eye-watering, providing quite a distraction to the action unfolding three inches from my face. The joys of economy class flying.

We deplaned at Calgary, coughing and gasping as we sucked down volumes of fresh airport air to the amusement of those waiting to get on the plane for the ride to somewhere in British Columbia. Once I had managed to regain control of my breath reflex I had a good laugh. The smell of Jet-A in the companionway would mask the parfum de ordure the plane itself now sported. Only after they were trapped by other boarding passengers and unable to retreat would the laughing Canadian bastards become all-too aware of the reek of the economy class cabin. I'm sure I saw the pilots deploying their oxygen masks as I was deplaning.

I grabbed a puddle-jumper to Grande Prairie, got my rental car and headed out for Grimshaw, getting so thoroughly lost in Grande Prairie that I had to stop and deploy the GPS I'd brought with me. To understand how lame this was you need to look up a map for Grande Prairie, Alberta. However, it is bigger and more confusing than it looks and that is why I brought a GPS with me even though I was going north up highway 2 for the entire trip. I wasn't even sure it would work in Canada, though I couldn't think of a technical reason why it shouldn't.

As soon as this demented device was connected to power it began calculating a route to somewhere despite having no satellite signal. I watched, bemused as a map of North America sprang into being in such small scale the little red line of the route was almost stationary as it picked out the Road to Somewhere Unasked. Once it was done it announced it had plotted a 4200 mile route and began issuing orders to turn right.

A light dawned.

I had last used the GPS to steer me home, not because I needed directions from the local store I was leaving at the time but to charge the unit's battery. It was trying to take me back where I had just spent a day and a half trying to leave.

I tried to tell it about Grimshaw, but the directory of place names only had those beginning with "O", which was puzzling and annoying in equal measure as I hadn't been anywhere beginning with "O" as far as I can remember, certainly not at the behest of the GPS. All of a sudden it agreed to accept places starting with the letter "A", and shortly after that, places in Alberta. Yazoo!

And so I spent ten minutes trying to figure out how the GoPro suction cup windscreen mount worked and which of the thirty seven pieces in the kit I actually needed to mount the camera on it, then I set off north up highway 2.

It was the usual northern Alberta experience; roads that ran so straight that it looked like I was driving into the sky. Out of Grande Prairie, past Sexsmith 7. Through Rycroft, across the magnificent suspension bridge at Dunvegan and on to Fairview where the sullen and sulking GPS, silent for hours, suddenly burst into life and started howling about needing to turn right despite the road apparently continuing straight.

I'd been warned by my sister though and didn't follow my first instinct - to punch the GPS in the screen and ignore its advice while telling it in no uncertain terms who was in charge - and followed its directions, which seemed to make it happier and it got chatty again, which almost made me wish I'd punched it. The road swung north again and on and on I drove until I hit Grimshaw, new home of the Stevieparents, where I stopped off for a couple of hours visit. After that I drove on to the point where highway 2 takes another abrupt disguised right turn towards Peace River, where my hotel room was waiting for me.

I have to hand it to the Albertan road engineers and surveyors. They make the most concerted and professional effort I've ever seen to get you to take the wrong road so you end up in the Northwest Territory or Yukon instead of where you actually wanted to go. If you google "Grimshaw Alberta", switch to the maps view and zoom slowly out you'll be able to see the demonic path taken by highway 2 and the ease with which one can take the wrong road (by doing nothing) at two places.

Eventually I found the hotel in the middle of a boulder field (the road having petered-out about 100 yards before the hotel car park) and was able to check in and fall into bed for a well-deserved rest.

  1. I get delayed every time I do the trip from NY to Grande Prairie and was determined not to this time around. I must remember to ask Alanis Morrisette if that is ironic or not
  2. And I looked at plenty of them
  3. May his head fall from his shoulders at an embarrasing moment
  4. It had been good for just over three hours of heavy use moments before
  5. In my defense I was under quite a bit of duress when I lost it
  6. The original ticket price was a shade under 600 Bux making for a 125% cost escalation. Never before have so many class four Words of Power been used so righteously
  7. Scene of so many shrill and vitriolic exchanges between me and the thankfully absent this time Mrs Stevie

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