April 4, 2007

The Road to Ann Arbor

Humour is tragedy plus time.
Mark Twain.

The Plan

3:00AM Wake up using patented Yarn Harlot triple alarm system (wake up call, cell phone alarm, clock radio) with the addition of a phone call from Joe who had stayed awake for this purpose. Skip shower and coffee to save time (I would live to regret that).

3:50 AM - Proceed with luggage to the lobby to stagger into a pre-arranged (and triple checked) taxi, proceed to Cleveland airport.

4:30 AM - Check in with United for a 6:00 AM flight to Chicago.

6:25 AM - (There's a one hour time difference) Arrive Chicago, elegantly drift through Chicago airport with coffee in hand to make connecting flight to Detroit.

7:30 AM - Board flight to Detroit. Knit. Drink coffee.

9:40 AM Arrive in Detroit (there's that time change again) and pick up luggage, slide into waiting car, be driven to Ann Arbor where I could nap until 12:30 to make up for getting up at 3:00.

1:00 - Proceed to Ann Arbor library in plenty of time for the knitters.

Well. You know what they say about the best laid plans. What actually happened?

3:00AM. I did wake up using patented Yarn Harlot triple alarm system (wake up call, cell phone alarm, clock radio) with the addition of a phone call from Joe who had stayed awake for this purpose. I did skip shower to save time, but changed my mind and hunted around the lobby of the hotel for coffee that was not there.

4:00 I proceeded, coffeeless, to the front door where the cab would be waiting for me. It was not. I did not instantly panic, because there is little difference between 4:05 and 4:00, and it is this writers observation that this little difference is seldom noted by cab drivers.

4:10. I went back to the lobby and enquired as to the location of my cab. (I had triple checked that the cab had been arranged the day before.) The desk staff checks the computer, notes that indeed...a cab SHOULD have been called, but has not been.

4:12. Remembering the cardinal rule of travellers in distress, that one should never shriek at the people who are in a position to help you, insist in firm but polite voice that a cab must arrive in the next six minutes or I will miss my flight. Smile.

4:15. Desk staff advise me that since we are in the suburbs, the cab will arrive in 20-30 minutes. They apologize. I excuse myself and go stand in the rain with my suitcase, hoping that the water falling on my head will defuse the urge to nix cardinal rule #1. It does not, so I stay outside.

4:48. The cab arrives. I fall into it and explain, in polite, but firm tones, that it is imperitive that I reach the airport before 5:15, or I will not be able to board the flight. The cab driver advises me that this is impossible. I advise him that I have faith in his abilities and resist the urge to scream "DRIVE TAXI MAN, JUST DRIVE!"
All the way to the airport I hope fervently that the flight has been delayed. This will later turn out to be a sparkling example of irony.

5:14 We arrive at the airport and I resist the urge to open mouth kiss the cabbie who clearly attending the James Bond school of driving.

5:15 I present myself at the check in counter where the nice young man tells me that if I had been even 30 seconds later, he wouldn't have been able to put me on the plane. I don't kiss him either.

5:30 I am on the plane.

6:25 Arrive at Chicago. Delay at the gate and wonder how gracefully I am actually going to be able to connect to my next flight.

6:50 Discover that the flight I need to connect to is in another terminal and that it is too early for the shuttle bus to be running. I run instead.

7:00 Board flight, sweaty, flushed and vaguely hostile with a stitch in my side and hair that looks like I style it with a cuisinart hand blender.

7:30 - 9:20 (Remember that time change) sit on the flight while an extraordinarily unfortunate wee lamb of an eight year old barfs prolifically and profoundly in the seat behind me All. The. Way. There.

9:20 The flight begins to descend into Detroit. As the plane sinks, my spirits rise. Almost there! The wheels come down, we sight the runway through the fog and ....

9:25, the plane veers back up into the sky and we don't land.

9:30 The pilot expains that he doesn't have the visibilty to land. I start to feel nauseous....though it's hard to tell if this is the effect of the pilots announcement or the effect of the eight year old behind me. Perhaps both. He says we're going to circle for 10 minutes, then try again, and that if we can't land this time, we'll have to go back to Chicago. The plane collectively holds it's breath and tries to clear fog with the power of it's mind.

9:40 We fail. The plane goes back up again and the planeload of people explode in a common outburst of frustration. Nobody wants to die in a fiery runway crash, but there is the general feeling that if WE were flying the plane, we could have done better. When the pilot announces that we are going back to Chicago, the eight year old becomes hysterical.

9:15 (Remember the time change) we are back in Chicago, and the airline announces that they are not going to try again, but instead are going to try and fit us onto other flights to Detroit. For the first time, I start to actively worry that I am about to really screw over a bunch of knitters.

9:20 I am third in line at the customer service desk to get another flight. I am proud of this, and also that I am in the 50% of the people waiting there who are not crying in public.

10:20 They tell me there's another flight. They book it. I run. When I arrive at the gate they tell me I'm "standby" and that I'm not getting on. I wait hopefully, but I don't get on. As I run full tilt back to the customer service desk I place the first of a series of semi-hysterical calls to Jayme-the-wonder-publicist, who is enjoying pancakes and a latte at her home. I hold this against her very firmly.

10:50 There is a flight boarding at 10:54. I run. I do not get on.
The second phone call is made to Jayme.

11:15 75% of the people in the line are crying. I, for the time being, am not. I explain (in not so mild tones) that they need to FIX THIS and FIND A PLANE because THE KNITTERS ARE WAITING FOR ME. This, inexplicably, does not go over well. The agent tells me that she can book me on a flight with another airline if I will "voluntarily separate" from my luggage, which they will still try to get to Detroit on another United Flight. I do three things.

1. Briefly define the word "voluntary" for them.
2. Do it.
3. Emotionally acknowledge that since I am in a different city for each of the next four days, that I my luggage will never catch up with me again and I am going to be wearing the same underpants and outfit for the duration of this tour. For the first time, I come to understand the deep significance of my decision to delay my bath that morning.

11something:00 (it was getting blurry) Arrive at the gate for the other flight and learn that it is delayed. Wait. Wait more. Call Jayme.
Call her again. Wait. Start thinking that I am in really, really big do-do.

11:30. They announce that the flight has been cancelled due to "mechanical problems". Once again, decide that I am sort of glad that I have not died in a fiery crash, but deflate emotionally in the worst kind of way as I run - flat out, back across two terminals (Ihatethechicagoairport) to the customer service desk while calling Jayme and really, really begin to panic.

11:45. 95% of the people at the desk are crying. I am almost one of them. I feel sort of dizzy and there's a terrible catch in my throat as I realize that I'm probably falling apart due to not having eaten or had any coffee yet. Emotionally acknowledge that if I take care of either of those things, I will loose my place in line and also, likely, the last chance I have of making it to Ann Arbor. I call Jayme, and she very sensibly suggests that maybe if I'm not going to be able to get out of Chicago in time for the event, that maybe I should stop trying, especially since I need to go back to Chicago the next day. Sadly (for Jayme) this suggestion was met with some rather loud resistance on my part.

12:20 Still in line, my cell phone rings. I think it is Jayme, and answer the phone while saying to the desk agent "No....I really have to go to Detroit right now..." It isn't Jayme, but is Rachel H. who has driven to Ann Arbor for the event and is waiting for me...at the library wtih Our Lady Rams of the comments. Rachel asks me where I am and I reply (*&^%$!!!!ing CHICAGO. Rachel sounds the alarm to the library and the assembled knitters begin to send airplane vibes my way. The woman at the desk tells me there is another flight I can't make.

12:25. My cell phone dies. My charger is in my voluntarily separate luggage.

12:26 I get a flight! I am booked (standby) on the 1:10 to Detroit and bolt for the gate. I arrive with a little time to call Jayme and Rachel and tell them that my plane will land at 3:30, but my cellphone is dead. I remember that I have a Vonage phone on the laptop and I use that, laptop held to my face as I sit at the gate looking like a maniac yelling into the screen that I am going to come and what about a car and how will I get to Ann Arbour and I can't hear Jayme and it keeps cutting out and they are calling standby names and I can't hear mine and I think I'm really going to loose it because theeventstartsat2andIamnotgoingtobethereuntil4
and the man sitting next to me says.

"I'll drive you."

I blink at him. "What?"
"I'll drive you." he says again. "I live nearby, My car is at the airport, you can grab our luggage while I grab the car and I'll get you there really fast. I'll help you." He looks at me seriously. "I can do this" he says.

Now, I've been shuttling back and forth from flight to flight and line to line with this guy for a while, but all I know about him is that his name is Brad. Taking the ride would solve a huge problem, but it also breaks about 76 safety rules. I try to figure out if I'm willing to risk getting in the car of a potential axe murderer so as to not disappoint knitters. I write a few headlines in my mind (Knitter found dead due to stupid mistake involving undercaffeination) "Brad" I say, "You're very kind and generous, but I can't get in your car. I don't even know your last name."
Brad whips out his passport and shows it to me.
"Tell Jayme my last name and address he says. Keep my I.D."
I look at Brad. I look at his passport, and I suddenly decide that something has gone wrong with the world when one decent human being can't help another human being who could really use because we have all gotten so paranoid that we can scarcely be a civilasation together, and I look Brad in the eye and I decide to trust him. I decide he's a good guy. I shake hands with him, tell Jayme his name and address (because I am an optimist, not a moron) and Brad and I agree that when we land (if we land, Brad was on the flight that merely "grazed" Detroit earlier that morning...that I will get his suitcase, he will fetch his car and we will streak toward Ann Arbor.

I do get on the flight, and on the way there I finally have time to think about my situation. I have been up since 3am. I have not had any coffee or food. A couple of hundred knitters that I am responsible for sticking in the Ann Arbor library have either left, since I am going to be two hours late, or they are there....and angry. I don't know what I could have done differently, but I feel horribly responsible and guilty. I knit and fuss all the way there. I don't know what I'm going to say when I get there. Sorry? I anticipated three pissed off knitters waiting for me. I imagined buying them dinner so that I could redeem myself somehow. I couldn't imagine that the knitters were waiting for this long, never mind nicely. Boy. Little did I know that this is what was happening while I was redefining my personal baseline for Hell.

3:40. The plane does land in Detroit (I was intending to jump if the plane got as close to the ground as it did in the morning) and I grab luggage while Brad runs for his car. We jump in, and Brad drives like a graduate of Nascar High all the way to the library, which he just happens to know the exact location of. (Dude. How much do I respect Brads skill set right then?) Brad parked in a "Staff only" spot (we'llsortthatoutlater) and I bolted..Nay...moved like LIGHTNING trailing my suitcase behind me (only vaguely aware that I was still unfed, still undercaffeinated, badly dressed, dirty and rather sweaty) into the back of the library where Tim (hereafter referred to as Saint Tim - for in all of this it is important to remember that the Ann Arbor Library made not a dime, and only took our knitterly weirdness because they love books and the book loving public) greeted me with "Hurry!" vs the more customary "Hello!" (I love him for that. It's exactly where my priorities were.) I rushed to the room, ripping my speech notes, camera and sock out of my bag and throwing my coat over my shoulder (where the lovely Rachel H. caught it...) and careened into the room where I was sure that a few hostile but persistent knitters awaited.




Wrong again. I love knitters. I loved them more when I explained about my hero Brad,


and they gave him a standing ovation.


(Brad is the beet red one in the back.) I gave my speech, nobody threw rocks or DPNs and I met knitters. I am going to beg off of my usual link fest here, since this post will never, ever be up if I do. (Plus I'm running on three hours of sleep again today and I swear that linking is too hard for me. Tell your stories in the comments, I love hearing what this day was like from your end.)

Here's Riin,


The Black Sheep knitters Guild


Part of the Albion knitters guild


Oh, it was grand. A thousand apologies to anyone who wasn't able to wait, I'm so very sorry it took so long. (I am working on controlling air traffic with the power of my mind, but am proceeding slowly)
I am forever grateful that you guys hung in. I am also grateful to Saint Tim...finest librarian in the world and a friend to knitters everywhere:


and Greg the security guy, who stayed on his own time so that I could sign all the books even though the library was closed.


I am very grateful for his kindness.

In the end, it was the best of times and the worst of times (oh...wait. That's another book.) and I learned several things. If you are ever at the end of an exceedingly long day and can't imagine how you will go on, throw yourself into the arms of professional commenters Rams, Rachel H. and Presbytera. The food and beer they found for me at the end of the day tasted better than the muffin I ate after 28 hours of labour - and that is saying something. Never underestimate the ability of knitters to wait nicely. Never underestimate their ability to make friends and a party everywhere they go. Never forget to extend trust to your fellow humans. Remember to accept the kindness of strangers, we are perhaps too cynical and forget that we are all in this together. Don't forget that knitters excel at building communities and taking care of each other.
Never book an event on April fools day. (The irony was not lost on me all freakin' day.) and never, ever change planes at O'Hare International airport, if you can possibly avoid it.

Posted by Stephanie at April 4, 2007 3:50 PM