Sunday, June 25, 2000

I arose blearily at 5:00am, showered, shaved, packed my toilet kit, and headed to the kitchen. After a quick breakfast, a final check of my bags, and a check for e-mail, Chris and I headed to the San Francisco airport for my 8:00 flight, leaving the house at 6:20am.

The drive was longer than I expected, even without any real traffic. The traffic situation changed as we drove into the terminal area. We slowed to a crawl, partly due to fire-fighting equipment at one of the terminals. The fire trucks were leaving as we got there, so there must not have been a real emergency, but they still slowed us down.

I got out of the car 50 minutes before my flight, kissed Chris goodbye, and went inside. Inside was Bedlam. There were people lined up from the counters to the doors all along the United Airlines check-in area. I went back outside and got into a short line for curbside check-in. Soon, I had checked my back onto the New York flight and was heading through security.

My hiking boots set off the metal detector, but the second pass didn't detect anything. I nearly forgot to pick up my backpack on the other side of the X-ray machine, but remembered it in time. I got to the gate 30 minutes before the flight to find a long line for check-in. It moved pretty quickly and I was at the counter at 20 minutes before 8:00. I felt my stomach drop when the gate agent gave me a "Departure Management Security Check" instead of a boarding pass. There were no seats left on the plane, but not everyone had checked in. They were waiting to see if no-shows with seat assignments would open things up.

They did. Fifteen minutes later, I got my boarding pass, surprised and pleased to get an aisle seat -- 31E on the next-to-last row of the plane. There were no screaming children around me, and I was close to the galley and the lavatories. Not too bad!

The flight was 30 minutes late taking off and pretty uneventful. The breakfast cart ran out of French toast on row 30, so I got scrambled eggs with cheese, instead. I read the paper, PC World, and PC Magazine, slept a little, and did some computer work for the rest of the 5 1/2-hour flight.

We were 30 minutes late into JFK airport. I was happy to see that my bag was one of the first ones on the carousel, so I was out of the terminal pretty quickly. Once outside I got in the taxi line, with 50 other people ahead of me and the line moving slowly.

After about 20 minutes I finally got into a cab with a driver named Homer Bartholomew. What a lucky guy, to share names with two Simpsons characters. By the way, I wasn't the first person to ever point that out to him. The fare from JFK to Manhattan is a flat fare of $30 plus tolls and tips. The fastest way is through the mid-town tunnel, which is a toll-way. The toll booths are divided into ones that take cash, and ones that take the EZ Pass. The traffic leading up to the booths was stop and go, jammed bumper to bumper.

When we were finally almost to the toll booths, a cop stepped up to the cab and asked the driver where his EZ Pass was. He didn't have one. The cop stopped traffic in lanes to our left and led our cab through the gap. He didn't stop until we were about to get into a lane going away from the toll plaza. The cabby asked what was wrong, and the cop yelled, "You've got to have an EZ Pass, it's the law for the TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York]!". It was news to Homer, who pulled into the outbound lane and started looking for another route, shaking his head and muttering.

During the ride, I learned that Homer has been driving cabs on the weekend, and occasionally during the week, for 15 years. A friend of his owns the cab and must have taken the EZ Pass for the weekend for his own use.

Twenty minutes later, we pulled up to the hotel, where I paid the fare, the tip, but no toll. I rolled my bag across the huge lobby of the New York Hilton and Towers to the reception desk. I was at the counter after a short wait, giving my name and my VISA card. The receptionist looked up my name, then asked what company I was with. Neither search came up with a reservation. I handed my confirmation fax from Expo Travel to him, but there was no hotel confirmation number on it, just a travel confirmation number used by Expo Travel.

The receptionist went to check a different system for my reservation. "Oops," I thought, "This doesn't look good." While he was away, I tried calling Expo Travel, but the message said they were closed for the day, and that all hotels that they book were full. I hung up and called my wife, Chris, to see if she could locate the confirmation letter Expo Travel had mailed to me. Before I could ask, though, Josu, the receptionist was back. I asked if I was going to get a room, and he nodded. I said goodbye to Chris and got back to checking in.

"So," I said, "you have a room available?"

"Yes, and no," he replied. "We don't have one, but I'm giving it to you anyway," he finished with a grimace. I suppose he was playing the odds that someone else would cancel, or that he wouldn't have to deal with the person whose room I was taking.

Feeling lucky, I caught the elevator to the 34th floor and found my room, right next to the elevator bay. Hoping it wouldn't be too noisy, I opened the door and explored the room. The bathroom wasn't stocked with towels, one of the beds had no sheets -- just a mattress pad and the spread -- and there were card keys and a couple of other items on the desk. I quickly checked the closet and drawers to make sure I wasn't in a room that was still occupied. There were no clothes anywhere, so I just called housekeeping and asked that the room be cleaned.

While waiting for housekeeping, I called Chris to let her know about my day and that I was safely -- maybe -- in my room. During the call, there was a knock on the door. I let in the maid, who went to work while I finished my call. Then I started putting my clothes away. The maid then realized that I had just checked into a room that wasn't set up, and enlisted the help of a co-worker to finish within five minutes. By the time I finished hanging my clothes, the room was done.

Tired, but not very hungry, I went down to the all-day restaurant of the hotel, ordering a Sam Adams Lager, clam chowder, and a small Caesar salad. The food was good and delivered quickly. Back at the room, I figured out my schedule for the next day, talked to Bob Evans -- the technical support agent working the show with me -- and ordered a movie. I watched "The World is not Enough," the latest Bond film, then turned off the light. It was still only 8:00pm on the West coast and in my brain, but I tried to sleep anyway. I eventually drifted off, but didn't sleep soundly until about 2:30 or 3:00am.


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