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|The Box of Shame|
Jul. 18th, 2012 at 12:15 pm
Since I have told several stories about my husband Rob and his adventures with fishing, he decided it is time for me to come clean about a situation I created all by myself, without any assistance from him. In the spirit of equity within marriage and because Rob thinks this is the funniest thing ever, I will tell this story so you will feel sorry for me and will agree that I was deeply wronged.
Last winter Rob had a work conference to go to. It was his first bonafide, all expense paid trip. Spouses were allowed to go if we bought our own plane ticket and didn’t eat any of the conference food. That was fine with me because I was going to lie on the beach and relax while they spent nine hours a day schlepping from one boring lecture to another. Since I wasn’t about to eat in the pricey hotel restaurants Rob and I stocked up on frozen meals and I had a microwave brought to our room. The hotel had them squirreled away in a closet because they considered it tacky to have them in the rooms. Whatever. I have no pride when it comes to saving money.
Rob’s employer has a travel department that is responsible for making all arrangements for company excursions. A clerk took our credit card number and bought my plane ticket at the same time they purchased Rob’s ticket so we would travel together. We had no problems getting to the destination, although plenty of other people got stranded by a wicked snow storm that shut down the East Coast for days. I shuddered when I heard some of their stories about sleeping in airport terminals and diverted flights.
After a week of Rob working hard and me not working at all, it was time to head home. The winter weather cleared nicely and it was going to be a great traveling day. We needed to be at the airport by 6am and would be home by that afternoon. Perfect.
When we arrived at the regional airport it was still dark outside. We had to wait in line to return the rental car because there was only one employee on staff, even though they expected over 20 cars returning that morning at the end of the conference. That agitated me. I hate being late, I hate things not running smoothly when it your job to make it smooth, and I really break out in a sweat thinking about missing a flight. I don’t fly often enough to be calm about all the hoops you have to jump through at the airport. The whole thing stresses me out.
I was still grumbling under my breath about the rental car debacle as Rob and I approached the airline ticket desk to check in. I perked up when I saw three airline clerks behind the counter and only one person in front of us. Finally, some decent airport efficiency.
Unfortunately, our tickets weren’t with the airline those clerks worked for. Our ticket counter was dark, no humans in sight. Instant irritation flared within my chest. No Christian charity was in my soul that morning. We followed the signs to a computer that we were supposed to enter our information into and would spit out our boarding passes. With a big sigh I proceeded to enter numbers into the computer. No recognition of our tickets. I tried another row of numbers thinking I misunderstood the instructions. No recognition of our tickets. After two more unsuccessful attempts to get boarding passes, I gave up and called the phone number located on the tickets. I explained our problem to a voice on the phone and gave her all the numbers I had. She told me they had no record of us or our flight. By now we had been trying to check in for over twenty minutes and I was on the edge of hysterics. I assumed the person who reserved our seats at Rob’s company seriously screwed up. The phone voice told me there was nothing she could do. Sorry. She hung up and we were officially stranded.
We decided we had no choice but to see if we could get a flight on the only other airline in the airport. We went to the counter and I explained our situation. Rob chose to stay silent and let me handle it since I am “such a better communicator” than he his. It would seem silly that I was in charge of this problem since it was his work conference, but if you knew how lousy Rob is at ordering food at a drive-thru restaurant you would understand why I usually step in when things are complicated.
I was worried about missing our next connecting flight. I was envisioning living in the airport terminal, unable to leave this stifling building. I was furious at the nameless person back at the office who got us in this mess. I was mad at the airline that made us use a computer terminal to check in and then it didn’t work. I quickly and animatedly explained our problem to the airline clerk with lots of alternating arm flinging and hands on hips because we all know from watching reality tv how well it works to give major attitude to an innocent employee.
The clerk gave us a bored look and explained all flights before 8am, regardless of which airline tickets are purchased under, go through her desk and we would be flying out on their plane. That is when I lost it and said, “Wouldn’t it make sense to put up a sign telling people that? I’m no mind reader and you saw us standing over there, trying to check in …….blah, blah, blah,” (insert the righteously indignant Madea character from any Tyler Perry movie here) I was hot and felt very free to tell the clerk how sad the customer service was at this wanna-be airport. After a few seconds of exercising my free speech rights, I noticed the other clerks came over to stand by our clerk, who was not making eye contact at all. I picked up on the non-verbal cues that they were not happy. I stopped talking and waited quietly while the clerk finished checking us in. As we walked away I made a point to say thank you. She ignored me. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.
As soon as we were alone I said to Rob, “Did you see how the other clerks came over to protect her? I thought I was in trouble there for a minute.” He nodded and grabbed my arm, steering me away from others and to the TSA line. He didn’t want to discuss it but I felt satisfied with myself. Someone has to stand up for the poor traveler and that was my day to act. Robin Hood and I would have been good friends.
Entering the TSA security area I handed my drivers license and ticket to the first agent, then moved to take off my shoes and put my personal items into tubs to be x-rayed. I walked through the metal detector with no problem. As I stepped toward the table to collect my stuff, I was called out of line by a security agent. I was told I was randomly picked for further inspection. I was annoyed but followed without question because I have read enough travel horror stories to not give any lip to the Transportation Security Agency.
They had me step into a 9 x 9 x9 Plexiglas box located smack in the middle of the terminal main hall. Every person walking by to board a flight saw me in the penalty box. Some of the conference goers recognized me from the hotel. I was praying none of Rob’s bosses would see me. I sat quietly on a folding chair in the clear box while a steady stream of curious people watched me. I gained a new appreciation for poor animals in zoo enclosures. I am never going to mess with the monkeys at the zoo ever again.
An agent finally came in and had me stand up. I was scared about what was going to happen next. I started to ask what I did to deserve this, but instantly recalled my Consumer Rights Speech at the airline counter and realized how truly small this airport was. Duh…all these people are friends. I shut my mouth. I was told to turn around and the agent waved a wand behind me then in front of me. I was asked questions that I don’t remember because my mind was repeating “I did this to myself. I did this to myself. I did this to myself” over and over with no awareness of my surroundings.
Did you know when your adrenaline is pumping so hard your heart is beating in your ears, it is hard to hear anyone talking to you? I saw lips moving but had no idea what was said to me. It wasn’t until the agent lightly touched me on my shoulder and motioned to the now open Plexiglas door, did my brain kick into gear and I jumped so fast you would have thought I was tazered .
After I was free of the TSA Box of Shame, I located Rob standing a good distance away with a bemused smile on his face. I accused him of abandoning me in my hour of need. He denied walking away as quickly as possible so he didn’t get caught in the Heather Sting. His story was he got through security and was waiting for me. He said I was as white as a sheet when I stepped into the box and that my eyes were as big as dinner plates. He hugged me and said next time we fly I might want to invest in a roll of duct tape for my mouth.
But I know the truth. And Heavenly Father knows the truth. And now you know the truth. The truth is never, ever go into a small regional airport without first taking major sedatives to prevent you from ending up in the Box of Shame. It is the Christian thing to do.