Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting there is half the fun?

It rained a little in Chicago Thursday evening, though not constantly and not hard. Still, flights were delayed at O'Hare that night, presumably because of severe weather between Chicago and Oldest Son's wedding in San Antonio, Texas.

Older Daughter and her husband were flying from Indianapolis, and Oldest Son was already in Texas attending to last minute preparations, but the rest of us were traveling as a family.

We live close to the CTA train that runs right into the airport (note to Chicago visitors coming downtown -- taking the Blue Line from O'Hare or the Orange Line from Midway is almost always the best way to go). Our plan would have been to walk to the train with our bags.

But my mother-in-law could not walk that distance, with or without luggage. Thus, we had to pick up my mother-in-law, drive her into the airport, leave her with one or more of the kids, go back and park and then walk to the airport. When the time came, Middle Son, Younger Daughter and Youngest Son all opted to keep her company. Middle Son figured to get her through security and to the gate; we'd catch up eventually. That led to some complications in Long Suffering Spouse and I obtaining our boarding passes -- Middle Son had the printouts with all the various numbers on them, but he texted them all to me and the machine finally accepted one of them.

Middle Son also took charge of checking the bags -- I wrote last week about why it was necessary to check some luggage.

We were only an hour and a half late taking off -- and only waiting at the gate for what seemed like forever. When we were finally boarded, we were herded down a stairway and out to the tarmac to get to our plane. I'd boarded a plane like this once before in my limited flying experience, but that was not in Chicago.

And the plane itself was tiny, a CRJ700, operated by someone, the Dogpatch Storm Door and Aeroplane Company perhaps, for United Airlines. The steps to board the plane were built into the fuselage. We clambered up and were folded into our seats like living origami.

I understand that planes are no longer meant to be comfortable. But, on this particular configuration, no matter how I sat, some part of me went numb. My right elbow first -- shift -- then my left leg -- shift again -- then my elbow again. (Oddly enough, we flew back on the same kind of plane, this one operated for American Airlines -- and, though equally small, this second plane was far less cramped. The seats and windows lined up on the second plane, but not the first, leading me to suspect that someone had crammed an extra row into the first plane -- but that is mere speculation on my part.)

The pilot of the delayed Thursday night flight did his best to minimize our period of discomfort: He promised to, and did in fact, make up a substantial amount of time on the journey to Texas. We were only an hour late when we landed... but it was just past midnight. Measuring from the time we picked up my mother-in-law, we'd been traveling 6½ hours already. And we hadn't yet found the hotel.

I'd texted Oldest Son to alert the hotel to our delay -- I didn't want them giving up our rooms. I told him to try checking himself in, if he wanted to, but he did not. He said he'd called.

We got to the rental car lot without too much incident. I'd rented the biggest van I could get for our party of eight. However, this turned out to be a seven passenger minivan.

Younger Daughter got to sit on the floor as we ventured into the early morning.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I had obtained driving instructions from Yahoo! Maps. The shuttle bus driver pointed out, though, that my directions were from the terminal, not from the rental car lot. He told me how I could find my way back to the path I'd marked out.

We came, in the dark, to an intersection. We were at a stop sign. There was a either a divided highway or two parallel roadways intersecting. A bridge overhead suggested the presence of still another roadway, or perhaps train tracks. There was no signage to confirm that this was a divided highway. There was no lighting of any kind and no traffic either.

The absence of traffic can be a curse as well as a blessing: There were no leaders to follow. "Turn left," my wife shouted. "Not there!" she screamed, as I turned, only slightly, before crossing the middle of this intersecting roadway. I was trying to look down the road to see whether it was supposed to have two-way traffic. My wife had correctly concluded that this was indeed a divided highway. I would have been turning into traffic... had there been any.

I'm still not sure how we found the ramp leading into State Route 281, the highway leading from the airport. But find it we did.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I should say something here about my vision, or the lack thereof. Although not yet legally required to do so, I prefer to drive with my glasses on. I need them for distance. My glasses are allegedly bifocals, so I should be able to use them to read as well... but I've never figured out how. So I take off my glasses to read.

Long Suffering Spouse does not wear prescription eyeglasses. But she does wear 'cheaters' in order to read. These are the 1.5x or 2.0x magnifying lenses you can find in any drug store. But reading in the car makes my wife ill. So reading the printed directions is a challenge.

Despite this, however, Long Suffering Spouse usually gets stuck with reading directions because I can't see them at all without taking glasses off -- and, with the glasses in one hand and the directions in the other, I don't have a hand left for the steering wheel.

Most driving safety experts recommend keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel while the car is in motion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We eventually found our exit, but -- from what we could see -- it sure didn't look like 'downtown.' Though we were supposed to be housed right by the Riverwalk, San Antonio's 24/7 entertainment zone, we saw mostly old, rundown looking structures. Vacant storefronts. We didn't see any tumbleweeds blowing by -- I guess those grow further west anyway -- but the streetscape sure didn't look inviting or touristy or even particularly safe.

I had hoped Oldest Son would be at the hotel when we got there, but he'd gone off with friends to some gin mill along the Riverwalk. But I proceeded along the streets as indicated on the directions, finding the street on which the hotel was said to be situated.

"There it is!" I finally hollered, pulling into an enclosed courtyard.

"This doesn't look right," said one of my passengers. "This doesn't look at all like the place on the website," said another. "You're in the wrong place!" whined a third.

By this time, it's after 1:00am. I am tired. But the address of the property matches the address of the property on my directions. I have the reservation confirmations with me. This is the address at which I booked our reservations. If I'd screwed up at this point, I'd really screwed up badly: I'd have managed to book us in the wrong place entirely. I put the van in park. "I'll go inside and check," I said. "I'll call Oldest Son," said one of my passengers. "I'll check my GPS," said another. "The picture on line is totally different!" said a third.

My reservations were waiting for me at the front desk. We had six rooms for this party, including a room for Oldest Son, and it took awhile to fill in all the papers. During this entire time, I found out later, my loyal family were continuing to persuade each other that I had led them completely astray. Even the length of time that I was inside the hotel without returning was seen as proof that I had erred. ("He's probably trying to get directions to the right hotel.") Meanwhile, someone had gotten hold of Oldest Son. He was contacted at a tavern and in (perhaps) a slightly altered state, and he was unsure about the address of the right property. Long Suffering Spouse came in to get me at this point. I was almost through registering. "Talk to your son," she said. I stomped back to the van and asked, "Who's got him on the phone?"

I didn't ask nicely. Someone gave me a phone.

There are two Nautilus Hotels in San Antonio (I've changed the real name of the hotels to Nautilus -- but there are two of them). I suppose that, because there are two Hotel Nautiluses in San Antonio, they might have given me the rate Oldest Son had negotiated for his wedding at either of them. This did give me some concern. One of the Hotel Nautiluses, I was told, was right by the Alamo. I thought that we were staying close by the Alamo, too, but I'd not tried to plot that location on any map. One of my GPS-savvy relations did, however, and determined that we were about a mile away. But neither the reception nor the rehearsal dinner were to be held at the Alamo; my printed directions assured me that the addresses of the buildings where these events were to take place were nearby and well within walking distance. Still, my confidence was starting to waiver, just a bit, in the face of all this certainty arrayed against me.

The Alamo was not the landmark that most concerned Oldest Son. "Can you see the Holiday Inn sign?" he asked. "We're not supposed to be at a Holiday Inn," I said. "I know that," he said, "but there's one that's right there. If you're in the right place." I could not see much of anything from the hotel courtyard.

"Well, this is where your room is tonight, if you can find it," I said. "If there's a problem, we'll straighten it out in the morning." I gave the phone back to whoever gave it to me and announced, "We're staying."

"I don't think this is the right place," grumbled one family member to another. "It sure doesn't look like it," agreed another. "I wonder where we're supposed to be," said a third.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Parking is at a premium in this corner of San Antonio. And this is no wonder: The streets are narrow and the vehicles are huge. Everyone seems to have a pickup truck. And each pickup truck looks like it's on steroids.

The young man at the desk told me to pull across the street into the hotel parking lot and look for the security guard. He'd direct me, I was told, to a legal spot. I got a card to put on the dashboard.

But there was no security guard. Eventually, I pulled into a pothole-ridden lot adjacent to the one where I'd been first directed. I came back inside and brought the desk clerk out with me. I indicated the van. In a sea of pickup trucks, the van stood out. "Am I alright there?" I asked. "That'll work," he said.

I went to my room.

"Are you sure we're in the right place?" Long Suffering Spouse asked... carefully, I thought. My red face and bulging neck veins may have provided a cue that I was not interested in pursuing the discussion.

"We'll find out for sure tomorrow," I said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There were other issues, too, but I'll save them for the book. The bottom line? We were in the right hotel. And the Hotel Nautilus turned out to be a very nice place after all.

Long Suffering Spouse and I walked to the Alamo later than morning. We'll pick up the narrative there, perhaps as early as tomorrow.


Dave said...

I've driven through that neighborhood, you can drive past the Alamo without noticing it.

Steve Skinner said...

Nothing beats traveling with family!!

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well thanks for that entertaining post curmy, i need entertainment today! you could write some more if you wanted to! ha ha ha

smiles, bee