Wow, it has been an amazing, but brutal month for your favorite blogsmith team. We started out the month taking a bullet train to Paris, where we strung together some half dozen consecutive walking tours seeing everything from the inside of the Moulin Rouge to Jim Morrison’s grave. From there we hopped right on a flight across the Pond to see our friends and family in Virginia for the weekend prior to booking it up to Baltimore to support an Army conference. From there we flew back across the pond and drove 5 hours to Munich for Oktoberfest. Four non-stop days there, we crawled back into the car and drove five hours home.
Now you’d think that would be enough, but not quite. I’m now on a plane flying *back* across the Pond to speak at a conference in Junction City, Kansas. I’ll actually only be there two days, then I’ll fly 12 hours back to Germany *again* and take a train out to Bamberg, Germany for a two week stay there, taking 5 separate trains along the way. But for those who remember my Pamplona-Ireland route earlier this summer you know I’m no stranger to mission impossible itineraries. Still, Thursday will be my 4th trip across the Atlantic in as many weeks.
Sure, I can hear the world’s tinniest violins out there playing our sob song. No, I get it. Sympathy is not expected. We are blessed to be living these times, we do know this. As my buddy Shrop would put it, “Ron, these are high quality problems” to have. So true. Still, I am fading a bit. As Frodo said, I’m beginning to feel like a tab of butter that has been spread across too much toast.
And it’s funny, though, how everyone tells us how lucky we are to get to travel. No, Not really, traveling is exhausting, …and no one enjoys it. Yes, people like being in different places, Sure, we all do, but no one likes all the work it takes to get there. No one says, “Woohoo, I’ve got a red-eye through Heathrow where I’ll have 15 minutes to run 25 gates, …oh joy!” People should be clearer on that point I think. Like “Hi, I’m Ron, I enjoy being somewhere new frequently.” Ha, ha, …not as cute as saying “likes to travel,” but so much more honest, don’t you think?
But being a road dog is part of the package, no surprises there. Still some trips are harder than others. I’ve imparted the virtues of the smart traveler in many blogs past, but often so many variables are just out of your hands. And some times, you just get a bad break. Today, I accidentally got on the S1 train out Landstuhl versus the RE train. Now, the train still took me to the same place, it just took a lot longer to do it, like a lot longer. Apparently , S1 is the “local” train while the RE is the “express.” Meaning my train stopped at *every* station. So, even though I got on this commuter train 17 minutes earlier than scheduled, I ended up getting to my connection, in Manheim, 30 minutes later than planned, …and got to watch my connecting train pull away 5 feet from me. As Lisa would say …dagger!
I was able to catch another train that got me to the airport on time, but more drama there. I had paid a few extra bucks to actually reserve a seat on this new train, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it. I knew I was in the right wagon (aka car), but my seat , 93, just wasn’t there. I finally stopped and looked very closely. Yes, there was a 91, a 92, and then a …94?
Well, it turns out the Germans are smarter than I give them credit for. Apparently, to make sure people don’t sit down in the wrong car, they make certain that in any give 3 wagons there are no duplicated seat numbers. So yes, there was a seat 93, just not in this wagon, because I was in the …wrong wagon. Score 1 for the dumb American (actually, my score is well beyond 1 after a year in Germany)
Finally where I should be, I come to find the mythical seat 93, …with a person sound asleep in it. Unlike planes for example, you can typically just get on and sit in a train wherever you like. That is, unless the seat you flopped down in turns out to be reserved by someone. And there is no indication of this, no special lights or anything. And, as trains to hotspots like the airport fill up well beyond seat capacity once you get bumped, you’re left to stand the rest of the way. But the thing is, a seat reservation is only like $3 extra dollars. And it’s an hour train ride (though you get to pass through such cool stations like Frankenstein). Sure, for the daily commuters and teenagers $3 twice a day, or at all, can be asking a lot.
And yes, it was a teenager sitting in my seat. This happens to me every time I take the train (which is frequently). Why do I always have to be the one to be the bad guy and bump someone into the aisle? And I’ve played it all ways. I’ve tried holding up in another seat till getting bumped from there, I’ve tried just sucking it up and standing, and I’ve even bumped the squatter (to often very melodramatic results). Fortunately, this time the train conductor just happened to be walking through and saw me in ethical quandary. After stamping my ticket, he apparently found no moral pause with tossing out the half awake teenager by his sweatshirt. It is interesting to be in a country where teenagers still have a healthy fear of adults.
On the right car, in the right seat, heading the right direction, you’d think my worries would be over. Nope, not even the beginning. You see, I mentioned earlier I was heading to the airport. One would assume that this implied I had tickets of some sort to get on a plane. No, of course not. Apparently, the “line of accounting” that was funding my trip to Kansas had not shown up COB yesterday, so it was still being processed through the system by the time I had to pull the trigger, and start traveling towards the airport. Yep, all of this and I could show up at my gate with no ticket and no seat.
Not the first time I’ve had to do this due to some hiccup in the Defense Travel System, all GS employees are held hostage too. So my goal is that my funding authorization arrives by the time I show up at the airport to print out my tickets. All of which, of course, needs to happen before they close the gate. Yah, you thought your air travels were stressful. I call this hurried frenzy to nowhere Rushing Roulette. All my effort will either pay off or it won’t. Sounds like fun, eh?
Some if this is my fault. I had been issued a flight itinerary yesterday, it was just unacceptable. Yes, my first set of orders getting me to KS included a 23 hr, 55 minute layover in Chicago. No hotel room, … just an “extended layover.” Seriously, these are routes the governments automated travel system spits out. It can be insanity. Fortunately, I was able to push back on that, but that caused my orders to get reprocessed from scratch. Hence my delays today.
Well safely at the airport, I stood leaning against the ticket counter for a good 45 minutes before my phone range, …”still working on it Ron, 5 minutes.” That’s OK, I’ve got at least 15 minutes before my flight boards, …my international flight ….on the other side of the airport.
It’s a funny thing about standing around at an airport, just standing there …for like an hour. It makes people nervous. “Why isn’t this guy going somewhere? …Why is he just standing there? …Maybe we should call security or something?”
I actually had started helping point people to their right gate to past the time, ha ha (“yes, m ‘am it’s the gate right past the bizarre hanging man”). So after being asked by at least 3 people what they could do for me, my phone finally rang again , “all set Ron, …you better hurry.”
Better hurry?! Seriously?
I’ve been standing here an hour.
Ugh, well like I said at the onset of this, you can do everything right and still be OJ Simpson at the airport (no, not stabbing people, jumping over bags, …remember the commercial?). Well, off to the races I went, and here I sit. Comfortably situated in my economy plus seat (gotta love the extra six inches), typing away the air miles till my laptop starts flashing its battery icon in protest. Of course as long as my day has been, my day is far from done. Once I get to Chicago I have to go through customs, passport control, and then Frogger my way to my connecting flight (in under 30 minutes). After I take that flight to Kansas City, Missouri, I then have to rent a car and drive 155 miles to get to the little Army town of Junction City, Kansas. It’ll be 5am my time before I expect to reach my hotel.
Yes, and many miles to go before I sleep, …and many miles to go before I sleep. Such is the life of a Road Dog.
Looking at my itinerary next week getting over to Bamberg, Germany looks like I’m in for more fun. It appears I have to make 5 different trains, some with only 5 minute transfer times. Yep, …Welcome to the tour.