Sunday, January 4, 2009

Surviving the Lights of Vegas - Part 4

If you've read up to this point in our trip to Sin City, you've read about some crazy adventures, drinking and casino hopping, and eating way too much food. I've also collected the least hideous photos for perusal here at this link, but I can safely say that the adventures weren't quite finished...

Tuesday, December 23rd - There wasn't a whole lot to do except get up, finish our packing, and check out of our room. I had been glued to the television trying to find any word about travel conditions and any impending storms into Portland. But the channels were focusing on issues back East and in the Midwest, so I had to glean information from the pictures as best I could. It looked like snow was coming to Portland, but later that night, so as long as we got into town, it appeared OK. Girl was packing her toiletries, while I organized my money pouch and got my bag finally packed. I had some souvenir beer glasses that I wanted to preserve, so I wanted to pack them safely. As I was making some adjustments to my bag, I heard CNN flash to something about Portland, and it was Kyle Iboshi's face from the airport. Yes, KGW was getting some love, and he mentioned the conditions. Planes were getting in and out, things had been cancelled for a few days, but they were resuming operations and trying to get everyone out of town and get planes in as best they could. It was the best news I'd heard all morning, and so I packed my bags and we finally headed downstairs to check out.

MGM Grand does a great job, and the check out process was extremely quick and efficient. While they couldn't help me with our noise issue, they were sympathetic about it. And for every person checking out, there were dozens trying to check in early. I feel bad for the housekeeping group here, especially after hearing about an incident on our floor where an employee walked into a room to clean it and someone was in there that shouldn't be. We tipped our staff pretty well, even if they had this unnatural obsession of putting this tray on our bed to remind us about room service. Just what I want, a $25 hamburger and $15 bag of chips delivered.

Our shuttle was on time, and since it was prepaid, it was a matter of walking to the bay, putting our bags in back, then riding to the airport. You can actually see McCarren Airport from MGM, but the ride takes about 20 minutes with lights and traffic. We had decided to skip breakfast at the casino, instead eating at the airport. Our flight was a 3:30 departure, so we figured there would be plenty of time to eat. We were dropped off at Alaska gates, we checked in rather quickly, breezed through security, and then took the tram to our gate. This was coming along rather smoothly. Girl and I then wandered around, trying to find our lunch of choice, and after seeing all the options available, we chose Chili's to go. It was certainly good stuff, and after being filled up, we sat at the gates waiting to board. There was also a little bit of gambling at the slot machines, and I hit a rather small jackpot of $20.00 for my trouble. Not bad, but not the big money I was hoping for. Once I sat back at the gate, I got a call from my friend Wade saying the conditions were thawing a bit, but he expected us back earlier. I said nope, we were staying until Tuesday, and just getting ready to leave. And with that, the official announcement came to board our plane.

We got on rather quickly, and everyone settled in for the flight back. Our pilot made an announcement about a possible issue in the cockpit that they needed some time to check on, so said we would sit for about 30 minutes while they checked it out. No big thing, we're on the plane, it's just a short delay. After 30 minutes, they found the problem was with a window in the cockpit getting too warm, and they think they know how to fix it, but they need another 45 minutes to fix it, so we need to deboard while we run some more tests. So much for getting out on time, but hey, we're safe and we'll get out soon. The hour came and then an announcement that changed everything, as they said, we can't fix the issue with this plane, but one is coming from Portland that will be here at 7:30 PM, so we'll board you then and we'll be heading towards Portland. Ok, so maybe it's not that bad. Except for now, it's about 5:30 or so, and things are closing at the airport already. We finally wander up front to a California Pizza Kitchen, and settle in for some food and drink. I still had confidence we were leaving that night, it was just going to be an adventure getting out of town.

As I ate my pizza and Girl and her mom ate their pasta, I recall the moment when I got the text message from Alaska. I had set this up before I left to alert us to any issues or delays with our flight, and I was hoping it would never be used. When I got the text, saw it was from Alaska, and read the word "Cancelled", I uttered an obscenity, and then watched as at least 10 other people in the restaurant were looking at their phones getting the same news. Misery loves company, but in this case, I was really wondering what happened between we are leaving late and we aren't leaving today.

We paid for our meal, and wandered back to our gate to see a long line of folks waiting to talk to 2 people. The guy announced that you could also go downstairs to talk with someone, but in us following that plan, we ended up all the way back at the main terminal. Once we got in line for Alaska, I was trying not to go ballistic. I just wanted to get home, but no one would tell us anything. When I finally got to the front and was talking with the woman behind the counter, I said "We're on the flight to Portland that has been mysteriously cancelled.." It was at that point that she explained that the plane expected to arrive that night wasn't coming but they had a special flight planned for us in the morning at 9 AM. She booked all three of us on that flight, and then asked how many rooms we needed. I said, "Huh?" She indicated that because the delay was mechanical, Alaska was paying for us to stay that night at the Hampton Inn on Tropicana. We could catch a shuttle to the hotel, stay the night, and then come back in the morning. Realizing that it was probably best to leave, get some sleep and shower, and come back was the best plan, we left to collect our bags.

The bag collection was hard enough to find, but then finding the place where hotel shuttles were at was even more difficult, as it was below ground a couple of floors. I had even called the hotel to ask where it was, and got some decent directions, but once we found it, we saw that there was a lot of us waiting for the same shuttle. It was now well past 8 PM, and all I wanted to do was get out of the cold and just relax. Nearing 9 PM, the shuttle finally arrived, but it was a madhouse as the courtesy of the queue got thrown out the window as people crammed on to find a spot. I decided to try and help with the luggage a bit, and once there was no spot for me to sit, I took my seat in back on some luggage with another guy. Girl had gotten a standing spot in the row, while Mom found a seat of sorts, as it was packed to the hilt inside. The ride was fast and furious, and we drove past some of the sights we saw on our shuttle earlier in the day. The Hampton was a bit off the strip, but at least there was a Jack in the Box close by.

Apparently, the staff was hoping for a quiet night, but it was anything but as there were about 30 people checking in all from our cancelled flight. And the clerks treated everyone professionally, checking everyone in, taking information as needed, and explaining how things would work in the morning getting back to the airport. The Hampton had some slot machines there and a smallish bar in back, but most folks went straight to their rooms. Some decided to head to the strip to party one more night, while girl and I found our room and decided to chill for a bit. It wasn't a bad sized room, and the cable package included HBO and Cartoon Network, so we had something to watch finally. I wandered up front to get a few snacks later on, and the front desk gave me a big pile of food for $4. I felt bad for the staff at the Hampton because it appeared they didn't know what was going on, and they were scrambling to get people to drive and take care of this issue, and they were doing what they could to help. And with it being Christmas time, everyone just wanted to get home.

We ended up watching some bad HBO TV showing sex advice from a porn star, and then watched Adult Swin until almost 2 AM. Yeah, we probably didn't get much sleep, but knowing that we wanted to catch the 6:30 AM shuttle, it was hard to really lie down and relax.

Wednesday, December 24th (Christmas Eve) - It didn't take much to wake us up, as we were ready to go early. We hadn't unpacked much, and I decided to wear the same clothes as the previous day, so getting ready was a quick process. We left our room right after 6 AM, which was the first shuttle in the morning. Mom had been there to see the chaos in the morning, where there were more people than seats, and so some taxis had been called in to help. We decided to eat again at the airport, so once we got outside, it was wait for the shuttle or catch a cab and pay for it to get us there. A SUV looking cab showed up, and so the three of us were put in a cab with another nice gentlemen I saw the previous night at dinner. He was trying to get home as well, so the camaraderie amongst us was pretty strong. We wanted to get to Portland, no matter what.

The cab pulled up, and we said we had 4 and didn't mind getting close. Our cabbie was laughing and said I'll try but can't promise anything. We got all the bags and people in barely, and soon we were off to the airport again. But our cabbie decided to turn the ride into a one man comedy show, talking about what SLUT meant and telling Scottish jokes. It was crazy fun, although our fourth person seemed a bit uncomfortable about all the sex talk. It was a good time, and we even got some Life Savers for our trouble, which was a nice touch. We gave him a big tip, and Mom even got a big hug from the cabbie. We made his day apparently, but honestly, he gave us a laugh and hope that we were getting back home.

We made it to the Alaska counter to check in for our flight, now labeled the "mystery flight" by us as girl and I said "We're here to check into your mystery flight." It didn't have a flight number, it wasn't on the boards, but we were told a plane was here to take us to Portland. We were assured that yes, there was a plane, and we would be able to get out of here. Portland's weather was holding steady, so planes were coming and going, but they expected a big storm on Christmas Eve, so it had become a race to get there before things got worse.

Security the second time was actually even easier than the first run through, but with girl and I flying so much, you get used to the questions you'll be asked and the drills you need to do. I'm used to pulling my shoes off, even if I don't need to, and packing things so that TSA can see what's in my bag. We got through security in time to catch our tram to the gate, ironically the same gate as yesterday, and by 7:15 AM, we were back where it all started.

One of our adventures last night was watching a gal sell a credit card to get air miles, and she was quite chatty and loud yesterday. Another gentleman had taken over the kiosk, who took a more stealth approach to getting applications. Girl and I both agreed that this job of getting applications could possibly be the worst job ever, but at least this guy was having fun, and chatting with various folks trying to catch planes. Many of the people we saw last night were arriving in waves, probably from either waiting for the shuttle or catching cabs, but the faces were familiar. We decided on some Starbucks for breakfast, getting us caffeinated and ready to deal with the day. Our flight was scheduled for 9 AM, although we now saw that there was a flight up to Seattle due out around 9:30 AM, so it was going to be a quick boarding.

As we settled near the gate, we heard an announcement that our flight had a number finally, but that the paperwork was still being completed so things might be delayed. Hey, at least there's a plane here for us to use, so a short delay isn't terrible. However, our flight and the flight to Seattle were using the same gate, so then they announced a change to the Seattle flight to the gate next to us. This still didn't prevent many people from getting in the wrong line to catch a flight. I was also impressed with how many people decided to wedge up front as close as they could to ensure that they could see what was going on while restricting the flow of people. But, their flight finally started boarding when another announcement came on that said TSA was doing extra security checks for our flight, so some people may be picked from the line to go through additional screening. Of course, pick a cancelled flight with people already on edge to then keep in town just a bit longer. Nice work.

But soon, we were boarding, and it was the same crew from yesterday, and apparently it was the same plane as they were able to fix the problem during the night. We got on board only an hour behind, but the collective cheer when we started to taxi from the terminal was great to cheer. This was only met in loudness by the cheer as we got off the ground, and as we landed in Portland about 12:30 pm that day. I've never been so happy to be back in Portland, but we were finally able to see the true effects of the cold and snow, as the entire town was covered. Roads were pure white, and you didn't see much traffic around at all. It took our plane almost a half an hour to taxi to the terminal, which was met with some amusement by some passengers who tried to use the bathroom while the plane was moving. Apparently, the crew didn't find it nearly as funny. We also had a medical emergency on board, as paramedics met our plane to escort someone off. I overheard that she was one of the party girls from the previous night, and apparently the hungover feeling didn't merge well with flying. But she was whisked off the plane, and soon, we were all moving to get off the plane as well.

The snow on the roof of the airport appeared to be about 10 inches, and the coldness in the air was felt all over the lobby, but I was still happy to be home. We saw many people trying to start their journey to somewhere or wanting to pick up their loved ones, everyone sitting with nervous anticipation of either leaving or somebody arriving. We finally picked up our bags from the claim area, and wandered off to wait for our shuttle home. The driver wasn't too terribly late, although it did take us a moment to find the right bay to pick up our transportation. Our driver took us and another gal that lived near here, and we packed up ready to go. The snow on the ground was melting a bit, but we saw another shuttle driver showing the evidence of falling early by his dirty shirt, and our own driver showing us the two previous pairs of boots that were soaked by being out driving around.

The ride home took forever, as the road was plowed up until Airport Way meets 205, and then it was packed snow all the way to our house. I was worried a bit about the hills near us, but our shuttle driver got us through no problem, even though she chatted non stop the whole drive, and missed our turn at least a couple of times. Apparently, she felt the need to share with us her entire life story, whether we cared to hear it or not. I felt like I was listening to a Lifetime movie, but I couldn't turn the channel.

We finally got home, about 18 hours and an unexpected hotel stay later. The cats were happy to see us, even if initially they shied away from those strangers. Soon, we couldn't move without them being near us. Our car was also buried under a foot of snow, so even if I wanted to leave the house, it wasn't happening anytime soon. But we were home, and while I enjoyed the lights of Vegas, I was glad to be back in the Rose City.

I've traveled enough during the holidays to know that things happen, and you have to just go with the flow. I would have liked to been more prepared here for the weather, have all my gifts purchased ahead of time, and be able to have the Christmas we all expect to have with our family. But each experience is what you make it, and what I found by this trip is that I love to travel and I've found a companion that loves to see new things as much as I do. And I'm lucky to have someone so complimentary in personality. I just need to remember to talk every now and again...

So that's my holiday story. Things have mellowed out a bit here, as we finally celebrated with girl's dad on New Years Day, spend new years eve here with a small gathering, and I celebrated my birthday last Friday. I'm looking forward to the antics of 2009, and you can read more about them here. Just keep the safety belt fastened, as it could be a bumpy ride...

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