ouray

ouray
It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nightmare on the Fourth

I'm no stranger to traveling on holidays. I've flown on Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas and New Year's Eves. Usually my willingness to spend a portion of such days on an airplane is rewarded with unpopulated flights, loads of attention from flight attendants, and almost guaranteed upgrades.

In other words, they are very pleasant experiences -- nothing like typical flights.

It was with this experience set in mind that I made the decision to fly from Greenville to West Palm Beach on July 4th. I was looking forward to an uncrowded Atlanta airport, a nearly empty airplane and a first-class upgrade. Boy was I ever disappointed.

About half the flights I take originate and return to the Atlanta airport. I have an arrangement with one of the vendors that delivers my cars to pick up my current car from the valet at Park and Fly Plus when I drop it off there; and then, bring a different car for me to pickup on the day of my return flight. Easy-peasey.

I can practically make the 2.5-hour drive from my backdoor to Park and Fly Plus blindfolded. What I interpreted as a positive harbinger for my flying experience later that morning, my drive to Atlanta was remarkably easy.

I-85 was nearly deserted, compared to a typical airport run. I was on the road 40 minutes before I had to pass my first 18 wheeler. Usually I could practically walk from Greenville to Atlanta across the tops of trucks without my feet ever touching the pavement. I-85 is lousy with big trucks. Not so on the 4th.

I was driving a Fiat 500 Convertible. I contemplated dropping the top on it, for my early morning haul, but at the last minute decided I'd rather be able to hear the satellite radio instead.

As though to make up for the lack of truck traffic, the cops were out in full force. Apparently every person with a badge and a poor attitude was pressed into action. Radar traps were everywhere. I've found that if I close my eyes as I streak past them, they can't see me.

Just kidding. Typically I set the cruise control at seven or eight miles an hour above the limit and ignore the constabulary. They must be fine with that because I buzzed past several of them. Having said that, the 500 isn't exactly a speed merchant. Its 101-horsepower 1.4-liter engine cruises just fine, but you won't smoke anything, other than maybe a Toyota Yaris, when the light goes green.

Despite the 500's postage-stamp-like size, its front-seat area is roomy enough, and quite comfortable. I had to stow my suitcase in the backseat, however, because I couldn't cram it through the miniscule trunk opening. All in all, it was an enjoyable transport.

Park and Fly Plus was also uncharacteristically calm and quiet. I was the only person valet parking while I was there, and had a gaggle of employees milling around the 500 when I came to a stop.

Park and Fly Plus has baggage check-in for Delta passengers, and I utilized that. As the shuttle dumped me out at the terminal I got my first inkling that the day wasn't going to be the cake walk I had anticipated.

Traffic at the terminal was bumper to bumper and a swarm of humanity was funneling through the doors.

My flight was completely booked. I was number five on the upgrade list, competing for the last available first-class seat. Drat!

Glancing around the gate area I was aghast at the number of kids running and screaming around the wall-to-wall passengers. Eleven strollers pushed to the front of the line as the preboarding announcement was made. By the time I headed down the jetway, I could barely walk in the plane for the mountain of folded strollers strewn in front of the door.

The flight was a cacophony of screaming, crying, blathering kids. Thank, God, it's only an 80-minute flight.

I was in an exit row over the plane's wing. By the time I exited the plane, there was a traffic jam of strollers, uncontrolled kids and stressed-out parents clogging the area immediately outside the plane door. I pushed through the mayhem and sprinted up the jetway for the terminal.

Daylight never looked so good.

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