Category Archives: Travel

Stuck Overnight

Yesterday at noon, I was racing to finish the task I was working on at an out-of-town job site.  I had a flight that would leave at 2:40, and a party back in NYC that I wanted to attend.

After some finagling, I had it.  I had achieved a milestone in the task I had before me, but still had more to do.  I told my colleague at the site that it was a wrap for me for the day, and that I should be able to finish the task in my office, but I might return next week.

A muffled boom of thunder sounded overhead.

Two minutes later, my phone rang: a recorded announcement that my flight had been cancelled.

The machine gave me the option to connect to an airline agent.  The agent helpfully informed me that there would be no other flights that day, and that the next available non-stop would be at about the same time the next day.  I rebooked.

I had stayed at a local hotel up the road from the job site.  I called them up and reserved a room for another night.  It was quick and painless.

The rental car was another matter.  I rummaged around my e-mails and found the telephone number for the airport office.  I was forwarded into the rental company’s monster voice-recognition computer, and what would have been a thirty-second conversation with a person: ‘My rental number is “xxx” … I need the car for one more day, at the same time….  Got it?  Thanks!’ turned into five minutes of automated hell.

I’ve learned to roll with the punches when things go wrong on a business trip: sometimes I believe that God is looking out for me.  If I had finished my task at noon, as I had planned, I would have gotten the call while I was en route to the airport.  I would have been really angry, would have booked into a hotel near the airport, and probably have ended up accomplishing nothing.  As it was, I invited my colleague to lunch, went back to my task afterward, and got most of it done.  There’s still some clean-up and tweakage, but the heavy lifting is done.

*          *          *

We finished late, and I headed to a Wal-Mart after dinner to find something to wear the next day.  (OK, I could rinse out my socks and underwear and use them again, but it had been a long day.)  I got:

  • Wrangler shirt from Bangladesh;
  • Fruit of the Loom colored T-shirt from El Salvador;
  • Russell briefs from Vietnam (didn’t they used to be the enemy?);
  • Dickies work socks from Pakistan (I had to look around on the package to find this).

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Stupid Me

Usually, when it’s time to return from a vacation, I’m overtaken by the feeling that, while I’ve been having fun, it’s time to go home.  So we come home, and I go back to work at least somewhat refreshed.

But not this time.

And it’s my own fault.

When I was booking out airplane tickets, I wasn’t sure how our plans were going to develop.  I knew we’d be starting in Barcelona, but I wasn’t sure what would happen afterwards.  When I booked the tickets to Barcelona, I noted that the return flight would start in Barcelona, change planes in Madrid, and come back to New York.

“Aha,” I thought.  “That gives me some flexibility.  If I want to, I can return from Madrid.”


I ended up paying an outlandish amount at the Madrid airport to be able to return today.  If I had known, I would have done something that seems to me even more outlandish: gotten up early this morning in Madrid, taken the train to Barcelona, and gotten on the plane to fly back to Madrid.

Moral of the story: when they say, ‘no changes without a penalty,’ they really mean it!

The episode reminded me of the unhappier aspects of my childhood: as I was one of the smartest kids in class, the other kids were always ready to make fun of me for any little mistake I’d make.  Haw-HAW!!

So now I’m back in the Big Wormy, having busted my vacation budget by my own stupidity, with piles of work to do, and it all needs to get done by the end of the month.  Not that I’ll have peace and quiet to get it done: there’s a whole Marx Brothers movie of stupid interruptions waiting in the wings.  And to top it off, the air conditioning in my office was not working when I left, and I sincerely doubt it will be working tomorrow.

Finally, the following item showed up in my e-mail:

LegalZoom Vacation Suggestion

What planet are these people on?

Airport Security/Fourth Amendment

I’ve been travelling a lot in the past month: it’s why I haven’t been able write a post for a while.  (It’s not just the travelling, it’s the load of things I have to do when I get there.)  But I’ve been thinking about airport security, and the people who say that it violates their Fourth Amendment rights.

I can’t say that I’ve had a genuinely bad airport security experience.  I’ve never been groped or had my things maliciously searched, and I’ve never had an encounter with airport security staff–anywhere–that wasn’t completely professional.  On the other hand, it isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

Anyhow, the Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

OK: does airport security, as it’s currently practiced, constitute an ‘unreasonable search’?

While I rail against the government doing lots of things, I can’t rail against the principle of airport security.  Besides terrorists, there are other things that people might bring on airliners that are troublesome.  Everyone wants to get to their destination safely, and airport security is part of making that happen.   Perhaps it could be done better, smarter, or less obtrusively, but from where we’re starting, I’m not sure there are practical alternatives.

So there’s an obvious public interest involved, making airport searches reasonable.

But going further:

  • A US airliner is private property.  If there were no TSA, wouldn’t airlines still have the right to search you before flying, to make sure you weren’t carrying anything dangerous?  (Indeed, isn’t that what the airlines did before 11 September?)
  • I’ve traveled to other countries, and I’m not sure they have laws similar to our Fourth Amendment.  If I object to being searched in the US on Fourth Amendment grounds, does that objection go away when I travel from a place without a Fourth Amendment?

Yesterday morning, at the subway station on my way to work, the police had set up a random search table, with a TSA guy in his electric-blue shirt brandishing some kind of detection instrument.  I expected to be stopped: there were four cops and one TSA guy, and they looked like they needed something to do.  But they let me pass.

Searching people before they get on airplanes is unpleasant, but reasonable.

Searching people before a subway ride?  That’s worrisome.

On The Road

I’m on vacation this week in the Berkshires, staying in a comfy bed-and-breakfast in western Massachusetts.

One of my colleagues asked me, “Why go there?”  It’s an escape from the heat of the city (although it’s been a cool summer so far); the people are friendly; and there are places and things to do that interest me and my wife.

So this past weekend, I rented a car for the trip.  I told the guy where I was going, and he asked me if I’d like to rent a GPS box for the trip.

Thirty years ago, if you had asked me what sort of gizmo I’d like to have in my car, I would have salivated at the thought of a device that established my location and displayed it on a map.

Alas, now that one can buy a GPS box for $200-$300, I don’t want one.  I still think the idea is cool, and I will watch the GPS display if I’m riding in someone else’s car.

I always thought that a basic element of driving is knowing where you are, and where you want to go.  I don’t like it when someone tells me to follow them; I want to know the way myself.

So when I travel by car to a place I’m not familiar with, part of the exercise is to get out the maps and understand the route.   And it works: I’ve never gotten lost.

OK, in fairness, I can’t quite say that: I’ve sometimes lost track of where I was exactly, but I knew I was heading in the right direction, and eventually came to a spot that I did recognize where I could continue onward.  I’ve never had to backtrack in such cases.

And last night, I did, indeed, go around in circles, but that was because the place I was visiting advertised itself as being located on one road, but was actually on an adjacent road.

But neither of those cases really counts as ‘lost.’  Navigation is part of the joy of driving, and I don’t want to give that up, least of all to a made-in-China, value-engineered, plastic turd.

Except that I’m sure that most people who buy GPS boxes do it for exactly that reason: to save themselves the trouble of thought.


I’ve been incommunicado this week on vacation in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.  My wife introduced me to Tanglewood in 2000, before we got married, and we’ve gone there every summer since then, except for last year.  It’s a peaceful place, with rolling hills, interesting museums, and pleasant driving.

We stayed at Vacation Village in the Berkshires.  It’s a development of low-rise apartments in the mountains.  The place was described as having a ‘mountain view,’ but only by technicality: it looked out on the driveway and the buildings on the other side of the street.  It was neat and clean, but the place is apparently run by MBAs: you’re charged $20 to have the maid fix up your room, $50 if you leave a mess, and $150 if you stay beyond the 10:00 am check-out time.  Evidently, the concept of actual hospitality seems to elude them.

There was wireless Internet access in the lobby, but when I tried to sign on to to write a post, it didn’t work.  So I gave up: after all, I’m on vacation.